Below if my final draft of my essay.
This essay will discuss how my discipline, Animation, responds to issues relating to society, as ‘animation is an integral part of society, and it’s seemingly magical hold on the human mind will forever captivate and excite the imagination with new possibilities’ (Nkosi Anthony, wordpress.com, accessed 29th December 2015).
The lecture I found most interesting and which influenced my choice of theme was by Sharon Davies. It covered the history and evolution of dance, and how it spread throughout the world. This lecture was centred on society, however it can also be linked to the other themes, such as movement and body, as well as technology. My interest spurs from the evolution of the Charleston to the Lindy Hop, which began in Harlem, New York. However, it wasn’t until after the opening of the Savoy Ballroom that Lindy Hop got its name and a home (savoystyle.com, accessed 29th December 2015).
Although the Savoy wasn’t segregated, it was in an African American area of New York, and so was mainly populated by people from the area (Davies, S, 2015). Racism was extremely common at this time, and it wasn’t excluded from the Lindy Hop either. Old movie clips are great inspiration for modern day Lindy Hoppers, however the context of the videos and the way they are dancing is extremely important. Black people were portrayed in ways that white people were comfortable with: blacks were seen as musical, entertaining, athletic (even animalistic), outrageous (even wild), not-so-smart, and happy-go-lucky. These video clips help us to understand that what we are seeing is a manifestation of the dance infused by racism, and is a product made to confirm white people’s beliefs about black people (thesocietypages.org, accessed 29th December 2015).
I am particularly interested in animations made during the 1930’s and 40’s, which was considered the Golden Age of Animation, and how they were extremely racist (museumofuncutfunk.com, accessed 29th December 2015). I will also look at how this has had an effect on modern society. The content of animations at this time is due to the influence which society had, and although it is shocking to us now to think that it was accepted, at the time it was completely normal.
Over the course of this essay I intend to first look at the views of white society during the 1930’s and 40’s, and secondly to explore how dance also represented these views. This will help me to understand the ways in which African American’s were represented in animations during this time, allow me to discuss different examples of animation and what they meant in the 30’s and 40’s, as well as in modern society. I will then discuss the effect this has had on people in today’s society through the use of another example, how relevant society is in my discipline, and how my own practice may develop in response to the topic.
There are a lot of issues and questions around racism, and there always will be. The first thing I wanted to do after the lecture programme was to research the views of white society towards African American’s during the 1930’s and 40’s due to an interest in the segregation present not only in society, but also in dance.
To answer this question we need to look at the views of society at the time. The 1930’s were a turbulent time for race relations in America, and racism was continually common in the Southern states. Due to World War II and the Depression, there was an increase in migration from the South to Northern cities and there was an apprehension which many rich white New Yorkers felt at the presence of so many blacks in what they considered to be their city (xroads.virginia.edu, accessed 29th December 2015).
However, a lot of new programs gave black Americans opportunities they had often lacked in the past, whilst also helping to show their daily struggles to Northerners. But, at the same time competition for WPA (Works Project Administration) jobs in the South during the thirties also brought to light the persistence of inequality even in the government (xroads.virginia.edu, accessed 29th December 2015).
During the same time the Lindy Hop was developing in Harlem, New York, and African American’s were using it as a way of showing themselves and their freedom. This dance spread to the white population, renamed as the “Jitterbug”, as if it was something you could catch. The young white population saw this dance as a rebellion against their parents, and it wasn’t being done for the same reasons as the black population (Davies, S, 2015).
A lot of these African American dancers were very good at what they did, and Herbert White (Whitey) wanted to capitalise on the Lindy Hop. He formed a group known as Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, and they became internationally famous. They also performed in films, such as Hellzapoppin’, one of the greatest moments of Lindy Hop caught on film, choreographed by Frankie Manning, the leader of Whitey’s group. Even though these dancers were exceptionally good at what they did, and were being noticed for it, they were never presented as the lead characters in any movies they were in. They were always shown as servants or “help” when on film (Davies, S, 2015). This is due to black dancers being represented in a certain way to uphold particular views that the white population had about them (thesocietypages.org, accessed 29th December 2015).
This research prompted me to ask my own questions in regards to animation, such as, how did animation companies and animators get away with stereotyping and portraying people in this way? In particular, how are African Americans represented in animations during the 1930’s and 40’s, and in todays society?
Through the above research I came to a conclusion for the first question and was able to see that animation companies and animators were able to stereotype and portray people in a particular way due to the beliefs that society and the white population in general had during that time. The animations made during that time period portrayed African Americans in a racist manner, and this was accepted because white people believed it was an accurate representation. In today’s society we know that it is not accurate or acceptable to portray people in this way.
To explore the second question of how African Americans were represented in animations during the 1930’s and 40’s, and in todays society, I will first look at some examples and then discuss why these animations are unacceptable, but at the same time crucial to the development of animation.
My first example is Jungle Jitters made in 1938 by Warner Bros. Pictures. This animation shows African culture as viewed by white America in the late 1930’s (bcdb.com, accessed 30th December 2015), and they are portrayed as being cannibalistic African savages with humongous lips, who sing and dance to tribal music (banned-cartoons.com, accessed 30th December 2015) (See Fig 1 and Fig 2). During the late 30’s this animation would have been seen as entertainment, but it now serves as an example of the ignorance and arrogance of society at the time. This cartoon is very educational in seeing why racial troubles still exist today, particularly in America (bcdb.com, accessed 30th December 2015).
My second example is Fantasia, a very popular Disney film from 1940. Not many people know that when it was first released it contained a lot of gender expectations for men and women, which can be seen in all of the centaurs ending up in colour-matched heterosexual pairs (thesocietypages.org, accessed 29th December 2015) as well as racial imagery, in the character Sunflower from the Pastoral Symphony segment of the film, who is depicted as being a hybrid of a young black girl and a donkey. She is shown performing duties as a servant to the other centaurettes who are depicted in a wide variety of pastel colours (quora.com, accessed 29th December 2015) (See Fig 3 and Fig 4).
The films controversy comes from the censorship and these scenes being deleted in the 1960’s, although there is much debate over whether the character should have been removed or not. Some say that she should be censored in order to move away from the attitude of depicting black people as negative stereotypes. Whereas, others say that she shouldn’t be censored because such portrayals were very common in animated films of the time, and that removing them is the same as saying that they never existed in the first place (quora.com, accessed 29th December 2015).
I believe that both of these statements are relevant, and that although it is a very sensitive topic to talk about, it is important for these original animations to be kept and studied, because they represent the views of society during the time, and they can help animators, as well as others, to understand the history of animation and how it affects and is effected by society.
I will now look at an example which shows the effects of racism in today’s society. It is Yellow Fever by Ng’endo Mukii, who stated;
‘I am interested in the concept of skin and race, and what they imply; in the ideas and theories sown into our flesh that change with the arc of time. The idea of beauty has become globalised, creating homogenous aspirations, and distorting people’s self-image across the planet. In my film, I focus on African women’s self-image, through memories and interviews; using mixed media to describe this almost schizophrenic self-visualization that I and many others have grown up with’
(Ng’endo Mukii, 2015).
This film is a modern example of the beliefs people have due to racism. It highlights the dissatisfaction that some darker skinned women may have towards their complexions and skin tones, and the often harmful measures taken in their desire to achieve a lighter skin tone; mostly through the use of skin bleaching products (okayafrica.com, accessed 30th December, 2015) (See Fig 5).
It is terrible to think that people are uncomfortable with their own skin colour due to racism in the past and the way that society presents ideals of being “beautiful”. Animation contributed to this racism, however at the time it was considered entertainment which was intended to be funny, not hurtful, and that racial stereotyping was popular, not just in animation, but in media during the first half of the 20th century (banned-cartoons.com, accessed 30th December, 2015).
As stated at the beginning of the essay, ‘animation is an integral part of society’, and similarly society is an integral part of animation. Animations would not be as successful as they are if they did not appeal to consumers, and one of the best ways they can relate to consumers is through occurrences in society and the world.
During the 1930’s and 40’s, racism was very common in society, so it would make sense that animation companies and animators would make animations that included African Americans being represented in a racist and derogatory manner. However, in animations now we generally try to avoid anything that would be considered offensive to consumers.
Warner Bros. Pictures make a very good point at the beginning of their older animations, which was obviously added at a later date. It is crucial for us to see these animations as it can help us to understand so much more about the medium itself as well as society at the time, and it can have a great impact on the formation of ideas for animators and how ideas are perceived. However we must remember that these animations are ‘products of their time’, and they are not representative of the views this company, or indeed myself, have of society now (See Fig 6).
Globalisation and racism is a hard topic to fully understand, because there is no clear answer. It is possible that globalisation in the sense of migration decreases racism, as the more people are exposed to eachother, the more they will gradually become accepting. At the same time, global slavery was a type of globalisation which encouraged racism (users.auth.gr, accessed 28th December 2015). Either way, due to society’s encouragement of racism it was able to spread more rapidly through animation, as well as other forms of media.
Racism is still important in today’s society, not just to myself as an animator, but to others as well. It is important because we don’t want there to be a repetition of past mistakes, and we do not want to endorse racism in today’s society as it goes against everyone having equal rights. A critical part of an animators job is to create work to be shown to the world. For large-scale animation companies they particularly need to be aware of what consumers want, and what consumers might think of animations through the way characters etc are portrayed. A lot of these animations will be shown to children, and companies do not want animations to contain anything that could encourage children about a negative stereotype, such as the animations in the past doing so. Old animations, such as the ones used as examples above, show characters portraying people in a racist way. These animations are quite shocking and graphically illustrate how pervasive and institutionalised racism was in our culture only a short time ago. But it is also valuable for animators to have access to these animations as they are important historical documents that are necessary for the development of everyone’s cultural and historical literacy (banned-cartoons.com, accessed 30th December 2015).
This research has helped me to understand that animation helped in the spread of racism due to it being shown in a funny way, not only to adults but to children as well. I also have a better understanding of the ways black people were shown and portrayed, not only in animations but in films during the 1930’s and 40’s as well.
In the beginning dance was segregated but it has changed over the years and it is now open to everyone and has become a diverse community with no segregation like before (Davies, S, 2015). In the same way animated films were racist in their depictions of people for a long time, but this has changed as it moved with the changes in society. There are new animated films being made now that have lead characters which are black and are no longer depicted in racist and derogatory ways.
Society has a huge impact on people all over the world, and there is almost a set of social rules that people need to follow in every generation. Although we don’t know who physically makes these rules they are a part of society that everyone knows about, such as it being socially unacceptable for men to wear dresses (Davies, C, 2015). These social rules are constantly being challenged, and currently I am unaware whether my work will also challenge these ideas, or if it will follow them.
Over the course of this essay I have researched the views of white society towards African American’s during the 1930’s and 40’s and the segregation present not only in society, but also in dance. I found out that during this time there was an increase in migration of black people to northern cities which was unsettling and created an apprehension for the rich white population of New York. In regards to dance, the Charleston began to develop into the Lindy Hop in Harlem, New York, and it was given a name and a home at the Savoy ballroom. The dance was mainly performed by African Americans, and after some time it spread to the white population under a different name, the jitterbug.
Whilst doing this research it prompted me to ask my own questions in regards to animation. I was able to find out why animations made during that time were able to portray African Americans in a racist manner, and how it was accepted because white people believed it was an accurate representation. I also researched how African American’s were depicted in animations during the 1930’s and 40’s, and in today’s society, and came to a conclusion that they were represented in a racist and derogatory way and show a negative stereotype of black people. However, the modern example I chose shows the effects of racism on some darker skinned women in today’s society who are unhappy with their skin tone, and so use harmful ways to try and change how they look.
This research has helped me to understand that animation helped in the spread of racism due to it being shown in a funny way, not only to adults but also to children. I also have a better understanding of the ways black people were shown and portrayed, not only in animations but in films during the 1930’s and 40’s as well.
After all of my research, I can see that although dance was segregated in the beginning it has now become open to everyone and is now a diverse community with no segregation like before. Similarly, animated films were racist in their depictions of people during the same time, but gradually it has moved away from these ideas and moved with society. There are now animated films being made with black characters as the leads, and they are no longer portrayed in the same racist and derogatory way as before.
I have a greater understanding now about one of the key principles of animation; exaggeration. From movement to reactions, facial expressions to facial features, in cartoons it tends to be exaggerated. The exaggeration of facial features to portray characters in a racist way is evident in both Fantasia and Jungle Jitters. The research I have done has made me think more about the way in which I design characters and how I will do so in future.
The research I have done for this essay will help to inform my future practice as I now have a greater understanding of this time period in animation and how racism in animation was perceived, both at the time and in today’s society.
(Word count: 3,010)