Carton of the Day: Coal Black And De Sebben Dwarfs

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Coal Black And De Sebben Dwarfs

Coal Black And De Sebben Dwarfs

Eas­ily the most con­tro­ver­sial of all Bob Clampett’s films, Coal Black And De Sebben Dwarfs was never intended to offend, but rather to enter­tain. What Clam­pett had intended as a cel­e­bra­tion of Black music and cul­ture of his time has turned into a touch­stone of racist film mak­ing at Warner Bros. Addi­tion­ally, being a War film, there are some very dis­parag­ing com­ments about the Japan­ese in the film. So what do you think– is this car­toon his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant enough to rise above it’s racial over­tones, or is this more of the man keep­ing prej­u­dice alive?

A black­face par­ody of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with a strong swing back­beat… and no apologies!

Mammy (who resem­bles Aunt Jemima) tells her “Honey Child” the story of “So White” and the wicked Queen who “was as rich as she was mean.” “She had every­thing,” includ­ing sugar, cof­fee, auto tires, scrap metal, Chat­tanooga choo-choos, and a fam­ily coat of arms con­sist­ing of dice and switch­blades. So White is a las­civ­i­ous sex­pot forced to wash miles and miles of laun­dry as she sings “Blues in the Night.” “Magic Mir­ror on the wall, send me a prince about six feet tall,” intones the Queen. When zoot-suited, thick-lipped hip­ster Prince Chawmin’ (who has dice for teeth!) finds So White “dyna­mite,” the Queen calls in Mur­der Inc. to “black out So White.” Prince Chawmin’ and the dwarfs are all minia­ture car­i­ca­tures of Fats Waller, except for one who resem­bles Stepin Fetchit. The prince kisses and tries to revive the heroine.

Accord­ing to Beck and Fried­wald, Coal Black is a Bob Clam­pett mas­ter­piece, and cer­tainly one of the great­est Warner Bros. car­toons ever made. Sure to offend, but not to be ignored.

In 1968, United Artists (then own­ers of the A.A.P. library of pre-1948 Looney Tunes and Mer­rie Melodies car­toons) com­piled the car­toons they con­sid­ered too poten­tially offen­sive to be shown on tele­vi­sion, and with­held those car­toons from dis­tri­b­u­tion. AT that time, UA felt that these eleven car­toons should be with­held from broad­cast because the depic­tions of black peo­ple in the car­toons were deemed too offen­sive for con­tem­po­rary audiences.

This car­toon is one of those with­held from dis­tri­b­u­tion, one of the so-called “Cen­sored 11.” (The “Eleven” are: Hit­tin’ the Trail for Hal­lelu­jah Land (MM,1931), Sun­day Go to Meetin’ Time (MM, 1936), Clean Pas­tures (MM, 1937), Uncle Tom’s Bun­ga­low (MM, 1937), Jun­gle Jit­ters (1938), The Isle of Pingo Pongo (MM, 1938), All This and Rab­bit Stew (MM, 1941), Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (MM, 1943), Tin Pan Alley Cats (MM, 1943), Angel Puss (LT, 1944), and Goldilocks and the Jivin’ Bears (MM, 1944)). More recently, when Ted Turner became owner of the library, he con­tin­ued the ban, and refused to allow any of these car­toons to be shown or released on video. To date, these shorts have not been offi­cially broad­cast on tele­vi­sion since 1968. How­ever, accord­ing to a recent e-mail, a woman in Phoenix claims that she has seen this on tele­vi­sion there recently.

Along with black stereo­types, this car­toon fea­tures sav­agely anti-Japanese jokes (the film was made a year after Pearl Harbor).

Vivian Dan­dridge (the voice of So White) and Ruby Dan­dridge (the voice of Quee­nie) were the sis­ter and mother, respec­tively, of actress-singer Dorothy Dandridge.

Jimmy Durante is caricatured.

A unique “That’s All, Folks!” card fea­tures an ani­mated shot of Mammy and a lit­tle girl rock­ing in an armchair.

Work­ing title: “So White And De Sebben Dwarfs.” It was changed at the last minute because some­one in film mar­ket­ing at Warner Bros. pointed out that in those days the the­aters some­times included the name of the car­toon short on the mar­quee, and was con­cerned that some peo­ple would think that the Dis­ney fea­ture was being shown, and be angry about the “false adver­tis­ing.” So the name was changed and became “Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs”.

Clam­pett wanted an all-black band to score the car­toon, much like how the Fleis­ch­ers had Cab Cal­loway score the Betty Boop car­toons they were fea­tured in. Pro­ducer and noted tight wad Schlesinger refused to fund the endeavor, and the black band Clam­pett had hired, Eddie Beals and His Orches­tra, only recorded the music for the final kiss sequence. The rest of the film was scored, as was stan­dard for Warner car­toons at the time, by Carl W. Stalling.

In the late sev­en­ties, Bob Clam­pett defended this car­toon. He said:

In 1942, dur­ing the height of anti-Japanese sen­ti­ment dur­ing World War II, I was approached in Hol­ly­wood by the cast of an all-black musi­cal off-broadway pro­duc­tion called Jump For Joy while they were doing some spe­cial per­for­mances in Los Ange­les. They asked me why there weren’t any Warner’s car­toons with black char­ac­ters and I didn’t have any good answer for that ques­tion. So we sat down together and came up with a par­ody of Disney’s “Snow White” and “Coal Black” was the result. They did all the voices for that car­toon, even though Mel Blanc’s con­tract with Warn­ers gave him sole voice credit for all Warn­ers car­toons by then. There was noth­ing racist or dis­re­spect­ful toward blacks intended in that film at all, nor in Tin Pan Alley Cats which is just a par­ody of jazz piano great Fats Waller, who was always ham­ming into the cam­era dur­ing his musi­cal films. Every­body, includ­ing blacks had a good time when these car­toons first came out. All the con­tro­versy about these two car­toons has devel­oped in later years merely because of chang­ing atti­tudes toward black civil rights that have hap­pened since then.

Alter­nate Title: “So White And De Sebben Dwarfs” (Work­ing Title).
 

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