The Academy Museum’s animated exhibition addresses racism, sexism and violence


When most of us hear the word “animation,” we think of the cuddly cartoon images of Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. We usually don’t think of sexual assault, racism and violence.

But the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures’ main exhibit, “Stories of Cinema,” presents a more problematic side to the history of animation. An experiment in three galleries entitled “Inventing worlds and characters” revisits dubious images and tropes. Through these galleries, they explore animation, effects and encounters. It exists both as its own genre and encompasses all other genres such as westerns, noir films, documentaries, etc. It is also a profession which encompasses all other professions such as costume production and design, editing, etc.

“When you have a completely unlimited profession under the laws of physics, you can have wonderful examples of pure imagination,” says assistant curator Dara Jaffe. “Yet you also get these extremely grotesque portrayals that reflect the racism of the present day.”

Disney Enterprises Inc.

An example: “Dumbo” from 1941, made during the days of Jim Crow laws and pervasive racism in the United States, has a black bird named Jim “Dandy” Crow who “speaks jive” and is voiced by the white actor Cliff Edwards. But don’t worry kids big elephant ears are funny.

“Visitors will have to put themselves in a state of mind to digest this material,” explains exhibition curator Jenny He. “We have intentionally included this so that we can start the conversation and dialogue. This is only the springboard to have them.

The exhibit contains three slideshows that examine the portrayal of racialized and sexualized violence in animation – “The Legacy of the Minstrel in American Animation,” “Racist Portrayals and the Racial Cast” and “Women in the American animation “- each with their own disclaimer. .

In the “Women in US Animation” slideshow, the commissioners are quick to highlight images involving sexual assault, such as Betty Boop having her clothes ripped off by an elderly man with a tooth, followed by a look at aggressively lascivious Pepé Le Pew. (The character of Warner Bros. has been removed from the “Space Jam” sequel.)

Any type of film can be racist and has been racist, so what about the cinematic nature of the animation that allowed for this expression of racism?

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Mexican Schmoes, 1959, Warner Bros. Entertainment
Warner Bros. Entertainment

In “Racist Representations” you will navigate early examples like “Little Nemo” by Winsor McCay (1911) before revisiting such notable missteps as “Mexicali Shmoes” (1959) with Speedy Gonzales. As you travel through the period, you encounter the degradation of indigenous peoples in “Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt” (1941), the portrayal of young black girls in “Fantasia” (1940), and the offensive Middle Eastern stereotypes of “Aladdin” (1992). ).

In “Legacy” you will find familiar images such as Dandy Crow from “Dumbo” (1941) with painful and perhaps unknown visitors such as “Mammy’s Li’l Boy” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”.

The Conservatives have sought to avoid a checklist mentality when addressing these sensitive topics. He notes that the exhibition presents only 12 examples of many such moments throughout the history of animation. “We weren’t trying to be exhaustive,” she says. “If there’s a cartoon that traumatized you, we weren’t trying to exclude you. Rather, this is just the start of a larger conversation that the museum wants to have. “

If your story or your experience is not there, the museum listens to you.


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