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The Introduction traces the history of blackface minstrelsy through three distinct moments in American film from the early twentieth century to our contemporary day.By highlighting the persistence of blackface minstrelsy in American culture, this long view helps place the discussion of animation within a wider cultural context.Giggie, University of Alabama Grace Elizabeth Hale, University of Virginia Robert Jackson, University of Tulsa David Krasner, Emerson College Thomas Riis, University of Colorado at Boulder Stephen Robertson, University of Sydney John Stauffer, Harvard University Graham White, University of Sydney Shane White, University of Sydney “Recommended.
This book will complement other recent scholarship on this period.
Comedian and writer Paul Mooney often says, “everybody wants to be black but nobody wants to be black.” To be sure, Mooney is known for provocative claims and bold language in his own standup and with his work with Richard Pryor, but this statement is not just a colorful play on words: it also describes the strange dance of desire and repulsion regarding blackness in the American cultural imagination.
Rather, American animation is actually in many of its most enduring incarnations an integral part of the ongoing iconographic and performative transitions of blackface.
Mickey Mouse isn’t This is an uncomfortable assertion, at least for those who want to believe in an innocence of animated characters that their history refutes, but it is a necessary one.
takes a “bad object”—in this case, blackface minstrelsy—and details its centrality to the rise of early American animation and, by extension, the development of the national film industry more broadly.
Indeed, even if it garners no mention (an absence that reads as a deliberate gesture, given the book’s evocative title, and one that has a lexical effect that parallels the “vestigial minstrels” of his study).
Indeed, he explicitly builds his analysis from the presumptive position of a critical observer: for example, looking at recurrent characters such as Felix the Cat and Mickey Mouse, Sammond asks, “why the gloves?
” The answer, of course, has to do with minstrelsy, even if it was not explicitly labeled as such. In a moment where the status of the book as an object is in question, Sammond helpfully provides online access to a rich archive of cartoons, allowing the reader to directly and immediately engage with all of the works he discusses through the book’s digital companion (.
Moving beyond the familiar territory of blackface and minstrelsy, these essays present a fresh look at the history of African Americans and mass culture.
With subjects ranging from representations of race in sheet music illustrations to African American interest in Haitian culture, Beyond Blackface recovers the history of forgotten or obscure cultural figures and shows how these historical actors played a role in the creation of American mass culture.