Directed by Robert Clampett
Produced by Leon Schlesinger
Story by Warren Foster
Voices by Vivian Dandridge
and Mel Blanc
Music by Carl W. Stalling,
Eddie Beals and His Orchestra
Animation by Rod Scribner, Robert McKimson, Tom McKimson & Art Babbitt
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
The Vitaphone Corporation
Release date January 16, 1943
Color process Technicolor
Running time 7 min (one reel)
I thought I would review this one early, as it is one of the most controversial cartoons ever made. Unfortunately when talking about this cartoon, which is a part of the infamous Censored 11 cartoons that have been banned from being shown on TV or released on home video/dvd because of the racial stereotyping in the film, it is hard to talk about this for its entertainment value.
Firstly if anyone tells you that this cartoon is not racist they are bullshitting. Yes, it may be a product of its time, Clampett may have been an aficionado of African-American culture and he may not have meant any harm in what he was doing, and the film may be one of the first cartoons to feature black voice actors in the lead roles, but that does not diminish the offensiveness of the film. The film was made specifically to parody African-Americans and their culture. It relies heavily on stereotypes that back in the 1940s were common but are now considered to be highly offensive. I suspect that even in 1943 there would have been some people who felt very uneasy at having seen this cartoon if they had been taking notice.
So how can I enjoy a film that is so racist? Well much like Birth Of A Nation it is the technical aspects of the film that make this such a great film, not the storyline or characters. The animation in this film is brilliant and some of the scenes as is the catchy song.
Should this film be banned? Mmmm… that is difficult to answer… perhaps it shouldn’t, although I don’t think that it is the type of cartoon that is suitable for children to watch. The problem with the banning of this film is that it has caused its reputation to increase to such mythic proportions. This is true of the other members of the Censored 11, although none of the others are even worth watching with perhaps the exception of Avery’s All This And Rabbit Stew.
Also it is true that this is one of, if not the first time black voice actors got the lead part in a cartoon. I think that even though they unfortunately making an unsavory caricature of their own culture by banning this film it does detract from their contributions. (Yes I do know that this is a weak argument.)
An African-American’s thoughts on Coal Black can be seen here.