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).