Wednesday, February 8, 2012
Title: Little Black Sambo
Animated by U.B. Iwerks
Processed by Cinecolor
Running time (of viewed version): 8:01
Commercial DVD Availability: Complete Weird Cartoon, Attack of the '30s Characters?
Synopsis: Kid with prank prone dog is chased by tiger.
Comments: There's something about the blackface in this that feels more offensive than in other cartoons; maybe it's that it's in color, maybe it's just Iwerks's art style, being a little more advanced than some of the simpler styles, but still not fully developed, puts it in an offensive uncanny valley, where the characters are growing more realistic and so the white Homer-muzzle looks more garish and out of place than it does in more abstract designs. The cartoon itself isn't really offensive other than the black face and the mammy trappings (with, I think there's a guy in a cauldron in a painting; and the baby powder is black, which may or may not be problematic; oh, and the dog does a limp wristed impression); no stereotypical behavior. Big rubbery arms on the mammy. Did the little black Sambo story take place in India, what with the tiger and all? It's certainly somewhere tropical; was there a significant population of blacks from the American south in some tiger infested country? Some sort of Dharma Initiative project maybe. Isn't the tiger supposed to turn into butter? (In the original story, Sambo was a Tamil; the name was also supposedly of Hindi origin, as a form of Shiva. The look in the original book was supposed to be of a golliwogg, a doll based on minstrels, but distinct from the blackface look. This was converted into a more regular blackface in American editions; Sambo was also supposedly already a racial term in some European languages, and was furthered in English as a slur by the story (even tho the story was not about an African or African American character, did not have the name based on the slur, and was a positive story about the character). The mirror tiger trick is kind of a cheat. The tiger ends up pissed off and alive at the end of the cartoon; hope Sambo isn't interested in walking around in the outdoors ever again.
This cartoon is reportedly sampled on Public Enemy's Fear of Black Planet; I have the album, and can't figure out where the sample is. It's also supposedly used in Spike Lee's Bamboozled.