Black Character Revolution
A Retrospective Of 1970′s Saturday Morning Animation Art Featuring Black Characters
The Museum Of UnCut Funk is pleased to announce that our first traveling exhibition, Funky Turns 40: Black Character Revolution, successfully completed it’s first showing at the ToonSeum in Pittsburgh, Pa. They have a beautiful space and we are very excited to have worked with them to kick off this historically important traveling exhibition.
Funky Turns 40: Black Character Revolution, our retrospective of 1970′s Saturday Morning Animation Art featuring Black Characters was on exhibition in the new Lou Schiemer gallery at ToonSeum from January 18 – March 25, 2012. The opening reception was held on January 27, 2012. Forty pieces of art from our collection commemorating the 40th anniversaries of these Black characters and cartoons were on display, along with Fat Albert art from the ToonSeum archives.
First Visit To ToonSeum
Prior to the start of the exhibition I had an opportunity to visit Toonseum and meet with Joe Wos (Executive Director) and John Mattie (Gallery Manager) who run ToonSeum.
Check out more of my pictures from my ToonSeum visit before the show opening in the slideshow below.
"“The ToonSeum is proud to showcase this important period in animation history,” said ToonSeum exec director Joe Wos. “This is a unique opportunity to highlight the role that animation has played in promoting diversity, equality, and pathos.”"
Here are a couple of videos shot at ToonSeum where they talk about the Funky Turns 40: Black Character Revolution exhibition:
Opening Night 70′s Party – January 27, 2012
I went back to ToonSeum for the opening night 70′s themed party held in conjunction with the area gallery crawl in downtown Pittsburgh. Both the art and cartoon lovers of Pittsburgh came out. The place was packed and the 70′s music from D.J. Orlando “Buscrates” Marshall was sure nuff funky!!! The brother was definitely workin’ it out! Check out the video and pictures from the opening night event below:
Funky Turns 40: Black Character Revolution
As a kid growing up in the 1960’s, I saw images of Blacks being beaten and tortured. I saw the aftermath of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and I couldn’t understand why people who looked like me had been treated in this manner.
Then the 1970’s arrived and brought an explosion of color to Saturday Morning cartoons. As a pre-teen, I could see positive Black characters that looked like me and real people that I admired, like the Jackson Five and The Harlem Globetrotters. I was glued to the television.
I couldn’t wait to see these animated characters fill the small screen. These cartoons changed my life…filling me with pride and self esteem. They brought adventure, mayhem and fun to a generation of Black children.
Forty years later, my perspective on these cartoons is a little different. Besides being an integral part of Black children’s lives, these cartoons also benefited white children and the broader society as a whole. A number of these cartoons addressed issues like cultural differences, racism and multiculturalism. It is my belief that these cartoons are national treasures. They are an important part of American culture, and in particular the Black experience. I fondly remember the decade when these revolutionary Black cartoon characters made their mark on animation history.
"These cartoons are National Treasures. They were seen by a generation of children and not only changed the way that Black kids saw themselves but the way White kids saw them as well"
Exhibition Historical Overview
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, The Censored Eleven, 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, personal responsibility and sportsmanship.
Also, for the first time cartoons like 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 Funky Turns 40: Black Character Revolution exhibition features 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 – 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.
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.
Exhibition Historical Firsts
1970′s Black Animation Character Introduction Timeline
The art featured in the Funky Turns 40: Black Character Revolution exhibition represents several historical firsts:
- First Black Super Villain in a Saturday Morning cartoon series – Black Manta – Superman / Aquaman Hour Of Adventure (1967)
- First positive Black male character in a Saturday morning cartoon series – Peter Jones – The Hardy Boys (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 – first positive Black cast Saturday morning cartoon series featuring Black athletes – 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 – 1984)
- First truly multicultural Saturday morning cartoon series – Kid Power (1972)
- First School House Rock episode to feature Black Characters – I Got Six (1973)
- First Black character to appear in a Peanuts television cartoon special – Franklin Armstrong – There’s No Time For Love Charlie Brown (1973)
- First positive Black character from a television series to appear as the same character in a Saturday morning cartoon series – Lt. Uhura – Star Trek (1973)
- First Black male superhero character in a Saturday morning cartoon – second School House Rock episode to feature Black Characters – Verb (1974)
- First Black female superhero character in a Saturday morning cartoon series – Astrea – Space Sentinels (1977)
- First Black superhero duo to appear in a Saturday morning cartoon series – Micro Woman and Super Stretch – segment in Tarzan and the Super 7 (1978)
- First team of Black superheroes to appear in a Saturday morning cartoon series – The Super Globetrotters (1979)
Funky Turns 40: Black Character Revolution exhibition art
The ToonSeum Exhibition
You can learn more about the historical importance of this artwork by reading the catalogue that accompanies this exhibition (see below). This includes an exhibition review by Christopher Lehman, the author of the book The Colored Cartoon.
You can see press coverage of the Funky Turns 40: Black Character Revolution Exhibition below:
You can learn more about 1970′s Black animation characters and the cartoons they starred in by checking out our cartoon profiles in the Can’t Get Enough Of That Funky Stuff blog, or simply clicking on the links in the Black Cartoon Profiles box in the sidebar. You can see more animation art from the Museum Of UnCut Funk Collection by visiting our Black Animation Collection.
For more information about the Funky Turns 40: Black Character Revolution Animation Exhibition, our Funky Turns 40: Black Character Revolution Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids Animation Exhibition or our Funky Turns 40: Black Character Revolution Jackson 5ive Animation Exhibition please contact the Curator, Sista ToFunky. To book one of our Funky Turns 40: Black Character Revolution animation exhibitions please contact Jeffrey Landau, Landau Traveling Exhibitions, firstname.lastname@example.org, 310-397-3098.
© 2013 Classic Media Inc.: Archie / U.S. Of Archie, Casper & The Angels, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids / The Brown Hornet, Hardy Boys, Kid Power, Space Sentinels, Star Trek, Superman / Aquaman Hour Of Adventure / Black Manta, Tarzan And The Super 7 / Super Stretch and Micro Woman, The Jackson 5ive
© 2013 Disney: Schoolhouse Rock
© 2013 Farmhouse Films: I Am The Greatest
© 2013 Paramount Pictures: Bebe’s Kids
© 2013 Peanuts Worldwide LLC: Franklin
© 2013 Sesame Workshop: Billy Jo Jive
© 2013 Soul Train Holdings: Soul Train
© 2013 20th Century Fox: Our Friend Martin
© 2013 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.: All New Super Friends Hour / Black Manta / Black Vulcan, Captain Caveman & the Teen Angels, Harlem Globetrotters, Hong Kong Phooey, Josie And The Pussycats, The Plastic Man Comedy / Adventure Show / Rickety Rocket, Sealab 2020, Super Globetrotters, Where’s Huddles