Picking up where comic strips left off in the early 20th century, theatrical cartoon film shorts portrayed Blacks in a racially derogatory and stereotypical manner as cannibals, coons, mammies and Stepin Fetchit characters with exaggerated features and ignorant dialect. From 1900 to 1960, over 600 cartoon shorts featuring Black characters were produced by some of Hollywood’s greatest White animators and biggest film studios. Several famous Black jazz musicians such as Cab Calloway, Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong were also portrayed as stereotypical caricatures.
In the 1950’s, several of these racist cartoons were shown on television. As a result of the civil rights movement, in the 1960’s the racial content of many of these cartoons was edited out or the cartoons were pulled from television altogether. Notably, a group of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons were banned from broadcast because they were deemed to be too offensive for contemporary audiences. In the case of The Censored Eleven, racist themes were so essential and so completely pervasive in the cartoons that no amount of selective editing could ever make them acceptable for distribution. After sixty years of negative cartoon images, it wasn’t until the early 1970’s that Saturday Morning television cartoons started to feature image affirming Black characters with a modern look and positive story lines that delivered culturally relevant messages.
It was during the 1970’s that for the first time Black children could see cartoon characters that looked, talked and acted more realistically like them, such as Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, as well as more positive depictions of their favorite Black music icons and sports heroes like The Jackson 5ive featuring Michael Jackson and his brothers, The Harlem Globetrotters and I Am The Greatest featuring Muhammad Ali. For the first time Black children were able to see their cartoon role models teach positive messages like family values, the importance of education, friendship, civic duty and personal responsibility and sportsmanship. Also, for the first time cartoons like The Hardy Boys and Josie and The Pussycats featured multi-cultural casts where Black and White characters lived, played and worked together, which provided very different images for White children as well. The Museum Of UnCut Funk Black Animation Collection includes original production cels and drawings and limited edition cels from this turning point in cartoon history where Black and White animators created positive Black characters and Black stories for all to enjoy, including: Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids; The Jackson 5ive; The Harlem Globetrotters; Valerie Brown – Josie and The Pussy Cats; Lt. Uhura – Star Trek Animated Series; Muhammad Ali – I Am The Greatest; Billy Jo Jive – Sesame Street; Verb: That’s What’s Happening – School House Rock and Franklin – Peanuts. The Museum Of UnCut Funk Black Animation Collection includes artwork from many cartoons and characters that are celebrating 40th anniversaries and represents several historical “firsts”, such as:
- First positive Black character, Black male character in a Saturday morning cartoon series – Peter Jones, The Hardy Boys – the cartoon and real life drummer in the Hardy Boys band (1969)
- First positive Black female character in a Saturday morning cartoon series – Valerie Brown, Josie And The Pussycats (1970)
- First positive Black cast Saturday morning cartoon series – Harlem Globetrotters (1970)
- First positive Black cast Saturday morning cartoon series featuring Black musicians – The Jackson 5ive (1971)
- Longest running positive Black cast Saturday morning cartoon series – Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (1972)
- First truly multicultural Saturday morning cartoon series – Kid Power - based upon Morrie Turners Wee Pals comic strips and books (1972)
- First School House Rock episode to feature Black characters. – I Got Six (1973)
- First Black character to appear in a Peanuts TV cartoon special – Franklin Armstrong (1973)
- First positive Black character from a TV series to appear as same character in a Saturday morning cartoon series – Lt. Uhura, The Star Trek Animation Series (1972)
- First Black male superhero character in a Saturday morning cartoon - School House Rock – Verb (1974)
- First Black female superhero character in a Saturday morning cartoon series – Astrea, The Space Sentinels (1977)
- First Black superhero duo to appear in a Saturday morning cartoon series – Micro Woman and Super Stretch, Tarzan And The Super 7 (1978)
- First team of Black superheroes in a Saturday morning cartoon series – The Super Globetrotters (1979)
The broader 1970’s Black animation collection also includes additional pieces of original artwork from adult animated feature films such as Coonskin and Hey Good Lookin’, as well as opening sequence to the dance television show Soul Train. Other pieces in the collection include racially stereotypical art from 1930’s and 1940’s cartoon shorts. At one time, thousands of hand-painted cels were created and used under the camera to animate every TV and theatrical cartoon. Today’s animation is all computer generated, so hand painted cels represent a lost art form. As relatively little Black animation was produced in the 1970’s and beyond, original production artwork is scarce and rare. Although limited edition reprints of selected scenes from many cartoons and films have been produced, there are very few that have been created from Black animation.
Here is a recent interview that Sista ToFunky gave to Collector’s Quest on the Black Animation Collection: