Tuesday, November 15, 2011

a black Snow White? plus Black Orpheus

Some antiracists are saying Snow White and the Huntsman looks too white. Now, I would think that identitarians would think making that story anything other than European in setting and cast would be "appropriation". I personally love cultural mashups, but I gotta say that complaining that a European tale is told too Euro is just too silly for me.

However, this reminded there's a black Snow White which you can find on online: Coal Black And De Sebben Dwarfs. I don't think that's quite what the antiracists want. Wikipedia has a good piece about it: Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs.

Three notes about the cartoon:

1. I don't think its handling of Snow White is racist, but its handling of Prince Charming is—at that time, white folks were more comfortable with sexually attractive black women than black men.

2. People who complain about the dialect may be revealing their class prejudice.

3. The music's great. Makes me want to find more songs sung by Dorothy Dandridge's sister and mom.

The issue of non-Euro casting in Euro tales makes me want to see Black Orpheus again; I have no idea how well it holds up, but I'm guessing it's still great.


  1. I've seen Coal Black and the other "censored eleven" on YouTube and enjoyed it as a parody. The music and animation truly are brilliant. There's another of the "censored eleven" that also has wonderful music.

    The characters clearly are caricatures, but then white people don't necessarily get off better in Warner Bros cartoons (Elmar Fudd, Yosemite Sam and Jacques Shellacque are not exactly sterling examples of humanity). And Coal Black strikes me as a black version of the stereotypical sexy Warner Bros cartoon girl. Swingshift Cinderella and the Little Red Riding Hood version by Tex Avery would be white counterparts. I actually liked the naughty hints at the sexual undertones that we all know are in the original fairytale. The dialect just sounded Southern to me.

    However, I freely admit that I am not as attuned to the racist stereotypes presented in these cartoons, because they are removed from my own experience by an ocean and seventy years of time. So I accept that this cartoon and the other "censored eleven" are as offensive to African Americans as those noxious WWII propaganda cartoons are to me. Though the propaganda cartoons took a lot longer to be withdrawn from regular circulation than the "censored eleven". I still saw the WWII propaganda cartoons on TV as part of the children's programming cartoon shows as a child. Interestingly, at least one or two of the "censored eleven" were still included in the broadcast package as well, because I immediately recognized them, when I saw them again. However, Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarves most definitely wasn't, because I certainly would have remembered that one.

    Stuff like Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarves or the WWII propaganda cartoons certainly has no place in the regular broadcast packages that are watched by children and in permanent rotation on TV. I remember how deeply the WWII propaganda cartoons disturbed me as a child and I don't think any child should innocently be exposed to something grossly offensive.

    However, I still believe that those problematic cartoons should be available in premium DVD boxsets as well as for special performances, educational purposes, etc... These things are a part of our history and culture and if an adult wishes to see them (with sufficient warning) they should be able to do so.

    I have seen Black Orpheus years ago and liked it. A similar example would be U-Carmen e-Khayelitsha, which takes the classic tale of Carmen (not a fairytale, but a story so well known it has a similar status) and sets it in a South African township. I thought that both were interesting interpretations and did not consider them appropriative at all. Meanwhile, I have always disliked the Thor comics, which IMO are appropriative. So the line between potentially offensive appropriation and legitimate intepretation is very fine and I can't really say where one ends and the other begins.

  2. Of course, Carmen is itself an example of cultural appropriation. A French writer and a French composer tell a story set in "exotic" Spain featuring a Romany woman as the seductive other - that's of course problematic as hell. And Bizet also appropriated Cuban music for his opera - the famous Habanera was not written by him at all but licensed from a popular Cuban composer.

  3. Cora, apologies if this reply is brief; I wrote a long one and had it eaten by web gremlins.

    I agree that the racial caricatures put Coal Black on the list of art that needs some sort of intro for modern audiences. Of the youtube comments I read, this one fascinates me: "Um could someone point out the racism to me a black person other than the drawings?? I rather find it funny and mind you I am a black person. When Bob Clampett did this he sat down with BLACK persons to create it and they did provide the voices for it. Oh people are just so............................­...."

    Thor bugged me as a kid 'cause I loved mythology and knew his hair was supposed to be red. There is a run of Thor comics by Walt Simonson that's fun and makes smart use of the lore.

  4. ***spoilers!***

    Ah, "Black Orpheus", still one of my favorites after all these years. I rather like the idea of an afterlife as an underground office where you have to sweep up papers, grim as it is. And the medium as Eurydice is pure genius.
    The only thing that doesn't hold up is Death as a guy in a tacky Halloween skeleton suit. I keep expecting him to say "Trick or treat!"