That's Enough Folks: Black Images In Animated Cartoons, 1900-1960

book review by Giannalberto Bendazzi

Henry T. Sampson can boast a career as a scholar of cinema and theater, even though he was educated as a nuclear scientist, worked as a Senior Project Engineer for Aerospace Corp., and includes in his credits the patents on several inventions and numerous technical publications. He has previously published with Scarecrow Press Blacks In Black and White: A Source Book On Black Films (1977, new edition 1995), Blacks In Blackface: A Source Book On Early Black Musical Shows (1980), and The Ghost Walks: Chronological History Of Blacks In Show Business (1988).

A Probing Premise
The current That's Enough, Folks is based on this premise: that before 1960 it was the practice at the American studios which produced animated cartoons to depict people with dark skin as stereotypes that could be ridiculed. The author recalls in his preface: "Historically, all ethnic groups have been targets of animators' humor, including Jews, Irish, Italians, Native Americans and Asians. But for these groups, there appeared to be boundaries defined by sexuality, criminality, religion, and patriotism that constrained story content and the depiction of characters....My research revealed that for black characters, animators had few such constraints." He adds: "The cartoons in this book will demonstrate that the animation studios considered the collective sensitivities of African Americans to be insignificant." But this book is not a tract, as such a point of departure might suggest. Sampson is not a polemicist, but a man of the cinema and a judge of great intelligence, so he concludes his preface with these words: "It is an enormous public loss that many of these brilliantly conceived and produced cartoon shorts cannot be shown today because they are forever marked with the ugly and indelible stain of racism."

An Insightful Text
After a "Historical Overview" synthesized in five juicy pages, follows a most detailed chapter on "Black Stars of the Animated Cartoon Series," starting with Sammy Johnsin (1916-1917) created by Pat Sullivan, to more famous figures like Bosko of Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising (1930s), Jasper of George Pal (puppet animation, 1940s), and Inki of Chuck Jones (1930s-1950s), but not neglecting numerous other caricatures (for example, Mammy Two-Shoes, the maid in the house where Tom and Jerry live, who is usually depicted with only the lower part of her body in frame). A chapter follows on stories set in Africa, and another on stories set in the United States' Deep South. The next chapter, titled "The Animated Minstrel Show," analyzes the caricatures or direct references (even those only on the soundtrack) of African American entertainers, musicians, and singers. The text is full of dates, summaries of films, and critiques from the period: a monumental and admirable work of research and documentation.

This book enriches the consciousness of American animation history, as well as the whole of United States society, during the first 60 years of the century. One hopes that Henry T. Sampson will not consider his work finished, but rather will next take up the remaining 40 years of the century, which is much closer, and therefore, meaningful to us. There are many films, in particular some by Ralph Bakshi, about which he should have a great deal to say.

That's Enough Folks Black Images In Animated Cartoons, 1900-1960, by Henry T. Sampson. Lanham, Maryland and London, U.K.: The Scarecrow Press, 1998. 249 pages. ISBN: 0-8108325-0-X (U.S. $60.00 hardcover). This book is available on-line in the Animation World Store.

Translated from Italian by William Moritz.

Giannalberto Bendazzi is a Milan-based film historian and critic whose history of animation, Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation, is published in the U.S. by Indiana University Press and in the U.K. by John Libbey. His other books on animation include Topoline e poi (1978), Due voite l'oceana (1983) and Il movimento creato (1993, with Guido Michelone) .

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