Free the Warner Bros Censored Eleven!
Photo Credit: S & A
Film

Free the Warner Bros Censored Eleven!

The Censored Eleven - Banned Cartoons; Bob Clampett's parody of Disney's "Snow White" with a cast of Black characters

What precisely are the Warner Bros Censored Eleven? They are 11 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons made during the Golden Era of Warner Bros’ cartoons, from the early 30's to the mid 40's, and have been deemed so racially offensive and insensitive, that they were pulled from distribution for fear of creating major controversy.

But, as they always say, you just can’t keep a good controversy down. And, as always, some background is required.

Around 1969, United Artists, when it was in existence as a major film company, made a deal with Warner Bros to buy their entire library of films and cartoons from 1928 to 1949, for what was then a staggering sum of $20 million dollars.

Now that may sound pretty paltry today, but back then it was considered a pretty sweet deal. Older films at the time weren't considered very valuable. The thinking was that the public wasn’t interested in them. But the joke was on Warners, and UA got their hands on a gold mine, which included many WB gems, including "Casablanca," "King’s Row," "The Adventures of Robin Hood," "The Treasure of Sierra Madre," "Mildred Pierce" and the list of classics goes on and on.

UA definitely got the better part of the deal, and their investment made the company untold millions of dollars in TV syndication, theatrical showings and rental deals.

But what I’m getting to is this: UA, after they bought the WB library, started to take a look at what they had, and, to their horror, they realized that they had all these WB cartoon shorts loaded with all sorts of ugly racial stereotyping.

Now granted a lot of cartoons made by studios back then had more than their fair share of racially offensive stuff. In fact, it was par for the course. Take a look at some of those older MGM, Disney or Universal cartoons, and you’ll see that Warners wasn’t the only sinner.

One particular grating example is Universal’s "Scrub Me Mama With a Boogie Beat," made by Walter Lang - the same guy who created Woody Woodpecker. It’s a stunner. Take a look below.

And so Warners was no exception. But in their cartoon catalog there were 11 shorts that UA thought were so beyond the pale that they pulled them from distribution altogether, and pretended that they never even existed.

Later, when Ted Turner acquired the Warner library from MGM/UA in 1986, he swore that the Censored 11 would stay just that - censored - and would never see the light of day.

He went even further, cutting out any racial stereotyped jokes or images in any other Warners or MGM cartoons, aside from the Censored 11, which were deemed offensive.

The Censored 11 were: 1) "Hitting the Trail for Hallelujah Land" (Dir. Rudolf Ising, 1931); 2)  "Sunday Go to Meetin’ Time" (Dir. Friz Freleng, 1936); 3) "Clean Pastures" (Dir. Friz Freleng, 1937) ; 4) "Uncle Tom’s Bungalow" (Dir. Tex Avery, 1937) ; 5) "The Isle of Lingo Pongo" (Dir. Tex Avery, 1938); 6) "Jungle Jitters" (Dir. Friz Freleng, 1938);  7) "All This and Rabbit Stew" (Dir. Tex Avery, 1941); 8) "Tin Pan Alley Cat" (Dir. Robert Clampett, 1943) ; 9) "Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs" (Dir. Robert Clampett, 1943) ; 10) "Goldilocks and the Jivin’ Bears" (Dir. Friz Freleng, 1944); 11) "Angel Puss" (Dir. Chuck Jones, 1944).

But as I've asked before - why these 11 and not others?

One can argue that there are other WB cartoons that might have been worthy of "censorship" such as the series of “Inki” cartoons, all directed by Chuck Jones.

Those cartoons, which always involved the same premise of a little African pigmy after a strange self-processed myna bird, who seems to slip in and out of some fourth dimension, to the oddly syncopated strains of Felix Mendelssohn’s "Hebrides Overture," are particularly non-PC.

Then there are all those offensive World War II cartoons mocking the Japanese, such as "Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips." But then again, we were at war with the Japanese and no one makes nice with the enemy during wartime.

There are so many other WB cartoons with black stereotypes sprinkled in here and there that it would take a lifetime to cut them all out. But why would anyone want to? There's no point hiding your head in the sand pretending that these things did not exist. People should face up to the reality of the attitudes and beliefs of the period, and should examine and discuss them.

Besides, as I always like to say, how do you know where you’re going, if you don’t know where you’ve been? Also one could argue, how different are those images compared to anything you see today, for example, in any reality TV show?

The cartoons are, themselves, pretty much the same to varying degrees, repeating similar exaggerated minstrel images, but "Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs" is something special.

The caricatures practically defy description to an extreme Salvador Dali-like surrealistic degree, and the blinding speed of the pacing is mesmerizing. The cartoons reflect the technique and style of Robert Clampett who was Warner Cartoons’ most energetic and anarchistic director.

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But his portrayal of black people nearly approaches the level of being sub-human. And the over sexualization of So White (though the cartoon is titled Coal Black, perhaps a last minute title change) is pretty obvious and very in your face. Add to that the relentless boogie-woogie jazz score, and you have a cartoon that is truly unique. It is exactly these types of images that Ralph Bakshi himself was commenting on and subverting in his 1975 film "Coonskin." However, whether you'll enjoy watching "Coal Black" is another matter (Trivia note:  Dorothy Dandridge's mother, Ruby Dandridge, voiced the mother, and Dorothy's sister Vivian voiced Coal Black).

But you can take a look below and see for yourself (Note: Some visual jokes will "fly over your head" since they refer to the rationing of materials like rubber, tin, tires, food and dairy products that the American public went through, and the subsequent hoarding of those items by others during WW II).

But censored doesn’t mean unseen, and since they were "banned,” these cartoons have been real collectors’ items, and were bootlegged on video. You can even watch many of them online.

In fact, Warners may have had a change of heart, realizing that there is huge interest and demand for remastered versions of these cartoons, and the studio actually screened 8 of the 11 in newly restored versions in Los Angeles, at the annual TCM Film Festival back in 2010.

And shortly after those screenings, it was announced that all the 11 cartoons had been completely restored, as the studio planned to release them in a special exclusive DVD multi-disc set, along with other controversial cartoons. However Warner's has yet to release them, most likely still suffering from an extreme case of cold feet.

You can’t run away from past, but you can come to terms with it.

See for yourselves why, as well as what all the fuss was about below.

Here's one of the "Inki" cartoons:

And here's a bit of the infamous "Coal Black":