Thursday, 14 April 2011

"Good Ol'Fashioned Family Racism" - Another Blab on Dumbo

Looking back at one of my earliest postings AGES ago - I noticed some stuff that I should've added back then that I must've forgot to do and I'm always changing my schedule. Like when I decide what topic to post - I leave it until next week if I have a mosaic or news to put up. Sometimes, I have an idea what to post and I forget what it was - and I have to make one up on the spot to make up for it.

Back on July 30 - I wrote that I was going to write about the controversial of Dumbo and to tell you the truth - I simply should've wrote that since July and I said that "I'll post it some other time". Well, it's about time I get started!

Dumbo is one of Walt Disney's shortest, earliest and by far one of his greatest movies he's ever made. It has a very simple storytelling with a lot of heart with a baby elephant who puts up with humiliation over his large ears -but he's persecuted by the group because of the ears, they'd call him a freak. But, his loyal friend, Timothy Mouse won't let this keep going - he'll find a way that large ears do come in handy. Although, they had to make it snappy if they want to be a success and not humiliated any longer.

True, the film has so many memorable sequences, with wonderful character animation, brilliant songs - the movie is itself a gem. Also true, the movie was criticized over the years because of the fact that there were black stereotypes in there. For example, the biggest black stereotype in the films were the Crows. They were even voiced by black actors. The crows were ghetto and they talked in a "black stereotype" way.

Of course, they were the characters who at the beginning mocked Dumbo with the big ears and Timothy had no trust to them. Although, when he tells them off saying how lonely the baby elephant is. The crow leader comes to help them. However, they still planned to trick and knew that he could fly. So, they pulled out one of the little crow's feathers and dubbed it as "the magic feather". Although, during the circus sequence, when Dumbo falls off an ever-high building - the feather falls off and since they were close to landing - Timothy had faith that Dumbo could fly and knew that the feather was a trick, and it was. Besides, the feather was obviously a trick because Dumbo already flew up the tree before he even got the feather.

During the production of the film, the Disney Studios named the Crow Leader as "Jim Crow", and of course - he isn't named that in the movie - but that is what he was known as production wise. The director of the crows sequences was Jack Kinney and the man who animated most of the crows was of course Ward Kimball. I've read somewhere that a "Jim Crow" is something to do with civil rights - but I don't exactly know what it means - and I guess that the Disney crew used some play-on words for the character - but it is unsettling. But, since the cartoon was made in 1941 - that's how the world went round back in those days.

Jim Crow didn't appear again until some 65 years later in Family Guy.

The crows have been controversial over the years and they have even been recognized in a Family Guy episode in 2005 called "The Courtship of Stewie's Father", and Peter and Stewie are in Disney World in Florida - and Peter can't find missing - and oddly enough he spots the crows that seem to come out from Ward Kimball's animation paper and into reality. Peter asks if they've seen his son around, and Jim Crow is stereotyped in what he says in the movie and says "I sure ain't your boy, no how?!", and then Peter remarks, "Ah, that's good old fashioned family racism.

Of course, the voice of the crow was in fact done by Cliff Edwards, and he was a really famous star back then - a year earlier he was recognized as the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio and provided the voice of the crow leader. The rest of the voices in the crew are unknown but we do know the fact that they were voiced by black people. Bill Peet claimed to have directed the recording session - but from pictures I've seen - it's clearly Jack Kinney directing the sequence.

Although, I must admit that I've never really had a problem with the crows - they were pretty funny characters to me although I suppose that there are certainly are stereotypes in it - but you have to accept the fact that we are talking about 1941 here and there weren't many civil rights for black people back then, and it wasn't really strict to do this.

It may have been a pretty medium length post - but I just wanted to talk a bit about the crows. However, I may come back to Dumbo for a bit and talk a bit more about it's animation and not just "blab" about it again but I might analyse the animation, and I might talk a bit about the roustabouts. I suppose this would a be a second chance for commenting.


Eric Noble said...

The crows in Dumbo are stereotypical, but racist is a bit strong. Racism to me implies willful malice towards someone. Also, as Mark Mayerson pointed out in his mosaics, that the characters are more sarcastic and snippy to the "white" characters, which never would have happened in other films of the time. I think this is a bit of a ying-yang thing. For every positive aspect of the characters, there is a negative.

Also, Jim Crow relates to a set of laws passed in Southern States, as well as the rest of the US at different points, that were meant to keep blacks from enjoying the same freedoms as their white brethren. These would include grandfather clauses, poll taxes, literacy tests, segregated schools and such.

Steven Hartley said...

Ah yes, I know that the south such as Atlanta barred black people from having civil rights.

I don't think the crows are really racist - I only used the title for the Family Guy quote. I certainly agree that they are stereotypical.