Africa According to Classic American Animation: A Story of Racism

Western civilization has contributed very early to build a stigmatized and racist vision of the African continent. A territory that has also suffered colonization and wars that still today continue to erode the social, economic and cultural fabric of a population punished by history.

When Renaissance Europe discovered that the world was larger than previously believed, a Europeanist and erroneous conception began in relation to the rest of the individuals who inhabited the globe.

Slavery, derived from this age of discoveries, became a serious episode for black Africa, which lost a quarter of its population; and caused great political instability in the coastal kingdoms, most affected by the huge demand for slaves to trade in Europe.

Read more:
African slavery and its legacy in the Caribbean

colonial primitivism

After this chapter of slavery came later that of colonization, which not only affected the coastal areas, but also the interior. In the colonial context arose what became known as “primitivism”, a term used to describe the influence of “black art” –which included both Africa and Oceania– in the works of different avant-garde artists, such as Gauguin, Van Gogh, Cézanne or Picasso.

None valued this type of manifestation within its original context, but rather it was a mere instrument for their own creation.

The feeling of superiority of one culture over another was also made visible in other types of actions. This same idea was also present in other more popular media such as music. An example of this is the song civilization (1947, Bob Hilliard and Carl Sigman).

Sy Oliver and his orchestra perform civilization (Carl Sigman and Bob Hilliard, 1947)

american animation

The audiovisual field was not alien to this vision either, as can be seen in some of the animated short films that were made in the first half of the 20th century. During the thirties and forties a series of short films were made from the United States whose content was revised decades later.

Some of the works that make up the The Censored Elevenknown in Spanish as The censored eleven. Belonging to Merry Melodies (Warner Bros. Pictures) and Looney Tunes, were censored in 1968 for their continuous and derogatory references to the black race and for being considered offensive to contemporary audiences.

Within these eleven proposals there are two short films that make a direct allusion to African tribes: Jungle Jitters (Friz Freleng, 1938) and The Isle of Pingo Pongo (Tex Avery, 1938).

cliches and racism

Jungle Jitters is a cartoon short film set within the series Merry Melodies. The clichés used to represent Africans are continuous, both in relation to their way of acting (childish and irrational); as with their physical appearance, which they endow with some western element in a burlesque way, such as the top hat.

The racism present in the work coexists with a macho and retrograde notion, in which women are relegated to household chores.

Animation film Jungle Jitters (Friz Freleng, 1938) remastered.

In The Isle of Pingo Pongoas was the case with Jungle Jittersthe inhabitants of the island are caricatured showing them with very characteristic features – lips and big, tall feet… – thus following the stereotyped vision that was held of Africans.

Secondly, All This And Rabbit Stew It is not properly carried out by an African, but rather a hunter who has been painted black.

primates and jazz

There were, in turn, other examples in which case they did not even contemplate the African as a human being, but directly sought to ridicule him by presenting him as an animal. A practice that served to increase the contempt towards this population, reduce their dignity and attribute primitive and savage behavior to them.

the short film African Squeaks (Bob Clampett, 1940), parody of the documentary African Speaks! (Walter Futter, 1930) is within this group. Two of the most repeated stereotypes in this type of production are the characterization of the African as a primate and the use of jazz as a musical genre inherent to the black population. It is what happens in Congo Jazz (Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising, 1930) or Swing, Monkey, Swing (Ben Harrison, 1937).

Decolonization and change of vision

Starting in the fifties and coinciding with the decolonization process experienced by many African countries, the more purely slave-owning vision that the West had of the inhabitants of these regions began to change.

A slow process that continued for a long time under the shadow of this type of prejudice.

At present there is a trend that advocates banishing the racism present in any type of demonstration, both public and private. However, there is still a long way to go, and what is clear is that any contribution in this regard will help to achieve a fairer world. Also from the world of animation.

The importance of being aware

Knowing and studying this type of short film, understanding the context and the time in which they were created, contributes to reflect on all the progress that has been made in this regard, what remains to be done and, above all, be alert so that it does not happen again. repeat.

Working against xenophobia also means remembering, and with the use of these audiovisuals as a didactic tool, new generations are able to empathize and become aware of the problem.

Only by working in this direction will it be possible to definitively correct the exclusionary tendency that dominated a large part of the 20th century, and which in the 21st century has undoubtedly remained something “primitive”.

Africa According to Classic American Animation: A Story of Racism