Today I Discovered The 'Censored Eleven', Warner Bros Racist Looney Tunes Cartoons

Some of the largest animation houses in the US have a troubled history of cartoons that heavily feature racist stereotypes. Both Walt Disney and Warner Bros have seen accusations of discrimination leveled against them in the past - and fairly so.

In particular, a group of 11 Warner Bros cartoons have become infamous in animation history for their depictions of African Americans and the use of black stereotypes. These cartoons are known as the "Censored Eleven" and they were banned from syndication in 1968.

I was led to the Censored Eleven after a Spotify track list threw up the famous Disney track "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" song, from the 1946 film Song of the South. That film has remained controversial since its release, because of its portrayal of African-Americans and the idea that the setting - a plantation - is glorified. In fact, it has been regarded so controversial that a home video release has never been realised in the United States.

After that discovery, I travelled a little further down the rabbit hole.

Song of the South led me to the Censored Eleven, a series of 11 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons created between 1931 and 1951 that feature racist themes and stereotypes, preventing them from ever being syndicated in the US.

Of the 11, a short by the name of Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs is routinely cited as an example of racist iconography, blackface and playing to the idea of black women as exotic sexual beings.

However, all the cartoons are notable for the depiction of ethnic stereotypes including those of Native Americans and Asians.

Interestingly, these cartoons were not able to be viewed (almost) anywhere until the internet came along and ruined everything. With the introduction of websites like YouTube - and even further back, forums, humour sites and emails - these cartoons that were once lost were now able to be found. To this day, you can still easily find them floating around the web and websites such as YouTube struggle to keep up with removal of the offensive shorts.

This New York Times article from 2008 discusses the difficulty of censorship in an age where we can simply upload videos to the internet - and how this has repopularised cartoons such as these ones.

On the other hand, there have been numerous calls throughout the years to preserve the 'history of animation' and to prevent these shorts from being censored as they form a critical part of the medium's history. There are also arguments that censoring the cartoons would be worse than leaving them in the state they were created, essentially denying that the racism ever happened.

It appears that, over the years, Warner Bros has considered giving the cartoons a general release, but as of today, they're yet to feature on any of the company's retail offerings.


Comments

    I always bring up Songs of the South every time my gf shows off her Disney dvd collection.

    Who can forget the stories of the happy slave made babysitter.

      Top film though. I always cheer the bull on.

      I should watch it again, haven't seen it since I was a little kid- too young to notice any races/racial connotations...

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