October 25, 2021

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Academy Museum Animation Exhibition Tackles Racism, Sexuality and Violence

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When we hear the word “animation” most of the time, we think of the humorous images of Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse cartoons. We don’t usually think about sexual harassment, racism and violence.

But the Academy Museum of Motion Picture’s original exhibition, “The Story of Cinema,” shows a more problematic aspect of animation history. A three-gallery experience titled “Inventing Worlds and Characters” looks back at suspicious images and trolls. Through this gallery, they are exploring animations, effects and face to face. It both exists as its own genre and includes Western, Noir, Documentary and many more other genres. It is a craft that includes all other crafts such as manufacturing and apparel design, editing and so on.

“When you have a completely unlimited craft by the laws of physics, you can have wonderful examples of pure imagination,” said Assistant Curator Dara Jaffe. “Yet, you also get these very disgusting images that reflect the racism of the present time.”

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Disney Enterprise Inc.

One such example: the 1941 “Dumbo”, created during the Jim Crow Act and widespread racism in the United States, has a black bird named Jim “Dandy” Crow, who “speaks the tongue” and is voiced by white actor Cliff Edwards. But don’t worry, kids, big elephant ears are funny.

“To digest this ingredient, viewers need to put themselves in a mindset,” said Jenny Hee, curator of the exhibition. “We deliberately included it so we could start a conversation and dialogue. These are just springboards for them. “

The exhibition consists of three slideshows that examine the depiction of racial and sexual violence in animation – “The Legacy of Minstrelsy in American Animation”, “Racist Portraits and Cross-Racial Casting” and “Women in US Animation” – each with its own claim.

In the “Women in US Animation” slideshow, curators are not ashamed to put a spotlight on images that refer to sexual harassment, such as Betty Boop tearing off her clothes with an older man’s teeth, then take a look at the aggressively sensual Pepe Le Pew. (The Warner Bros. character was removed from the “Space Jam” sequel.)

Any kind of movie can be racist and racist, so what is it about the nature of animated cinema that has enabled this expression of racism?

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Mexican Shomos, 1959, Warner Bros. Entertainment
Warner Bros. Entertainment

In “Racist Portraits”, before you navigate to early examples like Winsor McCoy’s “Little Nemo” (1911), before revisiting significant errors such as “Mexicali Shomos” (1959) with Speedy Gonzalez. When you travel through this period, you see the decline of the aborigines in “Hiawathar Rabbit Hunt” (1941), the aggressive Middle Eastern stereotypes of “Fantasia” (1940) and “Aladdin” (1992).

In “Legacy” you will find some familiar images from “Dumbo” (1941) like Dandy Crowe that are painful and perhaps unfamiliar to viewers like “Mammy’s Lil Boy” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”.

The goal of curators is to avoid a checklist mentality when approaching these sensitive issues. He notes that the exhibition presents only 12 examples of such countless moments throughout the history of animation. “We weren’t trying to be perfect,” he says. “If there’s a cartoon that hurts you, we weren’t trying to exclude you. Rather, it’s just the beginning of a larger conversation that the museum wants to do.

If you don’t have a story or experience, the museum is listening.

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