Thursday, January 20, 2011
Title: Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs
Studio: Warner Bros.
Story by ....
Carl W. Stalling
Series: Merrie Melodies
Running time (of viewed version): 7:34
Commercial DVD Availability: -
Synopsis: The story of Snow White is retold with an all black cast on a wartime footing.
Comments: Traditionally, Coal Black is thought of as a lightning rod cartoon, due to it probably being the best made cartoon of WB's Censored 11, and it being full of racial caricature, leading to the censoring. But really, in the 15 days preceding it, Jasper and the Choo Choo and Cow Cow Boogie both came out, with similarly offensive racial caricatures, along with three extremely war based xenophobic Disney cartoons. "Let's slaughter some Germans" and additional racial caricatures (including a cartoon based on dice) from the time certainly lessen the shock the cartoon might offer if played only with your Bugs Bunny favorites. I think there's a good chance the missing Terrytoon Somewhere in the Pacific is missing for Censored 11 type reasons, just regarding the Japanese, but Terry or CBS ended up doing a much more effective job in destroying the work than WB did with this cartoon.
Open with a kerchiefed mammy and a young pigtailed child, both standard Hollywood depictions of blacks, but a little dated for Hollywood by the time, as I understand it. Mammy Two Shoes was still in Tom and Jerry, but the type was on the outs, certainly in a kerchief, in live action. The animation is also strangely realistic. The rich queen has treasure, but also tires, sugar and coffee. The Japanese had cut off American access to natural rubber, which was the source of tires at the time, making tires a valuable commodity. Gasoline rationing was supposedly intended actually to conserve rubber/tires, not gasoline. I'm not sure of the reasons behind sugar and coffee rationing off hand. The queen's symbol is two crossed razor blades with dice on either side; not exactly progressive, but then she is an evil queen. Queen might be Mel Blanc. The prince's musical horn plays "Who's A Horse's Ass". Tire scarcity is brought up in the tire made of shoes on the prince's car. Dice show up again in his teeth.
Remember, the lead's actual name is So White. She sings a bit of Blues in the Night. The song was popular enough they sung it consistently on Jack Benny for awhile; I took to singing it for a time as I kept being exposed to it while listening to those Bennys a few years ago. I ended up getting a bad sunburn on my legs; it eventually began to peel; I began to sing it as "My momma done tol' me, when I was in skin pants"; and now that lyric has a chance to repeat itself in your head whenever you hear the song. Good luck with that.
In addition to the racial caricatures, the cartoon is notable for a sexy main character, who has done a lot of influencing of cartoon girl designs in the last few years, at least in some circles. There's an anti Japanese bit, making this less free of the war based ethnic hating than Sufferin' Cats or Jasper and the Choo Choo. Some in front of the moon silhouettes. She "kissed" her way out of death, which, to be fair, is probably how Snow White saved her life off screen in the feature. The dwarfs have a razor at the end of their bayonet. The dwarfs have black face designs, but do not largely conform to the standard black character types of the time. So White doesn't even have black face, and does not conform to the tragic mulatto or mammy types identified by Donald Bogle (who recently provided remarks for a showing of this cartoon and others from the Censored 11; I'd like to see his remarks if they are out there; please leave a note in the comments if you have a link). Big Citizen Kane "Rosebud" reference. As the queen's possible boyfriend, isn't he kind of like So White's stepfather? The prince arrives in a purple car; like the artist currently known as Prince would. In spite of swallowing the whole apple, a core is next to her.
You may want to read my On Race post in the '39 blog. The lay of the land is a little different here, four years on, but it may generally address some concerns some readers may have.
You may also want to read the following for a fairly unemotional argument for the Censored 11 to become available: