Coal Black And De Sebben Dwarfs
Alternate Title: So White And De Sebben DwarfsCoal Black And De Sebben Dwarfs (So White And De Sebben Dwarfs) (1943) - Merrie Melodies Theatrical Cartoon Series
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- Leon Schlesinger Studios
- Animated Characters: So White, Queenie, Prince Chawmin', Seven Dwarfs, Mammy, Child, Worm, Hitman.
- Originally Released in 1943.
- Production Number: 827.
- Running Time: 7:45 minutes.
Cartoon Production Information:
In 1968, United Artists (then owners of the A.A.P. library of pre-1948 Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons) compiled the cartoons they considered too potentially offensive to be shown on television, and withheld those cartoons from distribution. AT that time, UA felt that these eleven cartoons should be withheld from broadcast because the depictions of black people in the cartoons were deemed too offensive for contemporary audiences.
This cartoon is one of those withheld from distribution, one of the so-called "Censored 11." (The "Eleven" are: Hittin' the Trail for Hallelujah Land (MM,1931), Sunday Go to Meetin' Time (MM, 1936), Clean Pastures (MM, 1937), Uncle Tom's Bungalow (MM, 1937), Jungle Jitters (1938), The Isle of Pingo Pongo (MM, 1938), All This and Rabbit Stew (MM, 1941), Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (MM, 1943), Tin Pan Alley Cats (MM, 1943), Angel Puss (LT, 1944), and Goldilocks and the Jivin' Bears (MM, 1944)). More recently, when Ted Turner became owner of the library, he continued the ban, and refused to allow any of these cartoons to be shown or released on video. To date, these shorts have not been officially broadcast on television since 1968. However, according to a recent e-mail, a woman in Phoenix claims that she has seen this on television there recently.
Along with black stereotypes, this cartoon features savagely anti-Japanese jokes (the film was made a year after Pearl Harbor).
Vivian Dandridge (the voice of So White) and Ruby Dandridge (the voice of Queenie) were the sister and mother, respectively, of actress-singer Dorothy Dandridge.
Jimmy Durante is caricatured.
A unique "That's All, Folks!" card features an animated shot of Mammy and a little girl rocking in an armchair.
Working title: "So White And De Sebben Dwarfs." It was changed at the last minute because someone in film marketing at Warner Bros. pointed out that in those days the theaters sometimes included the name of the cartoon short on the marquee, and was concerned that some people would think that the Disney feature was being shown, and be angry about the "false advertising." So the name was changed and became "Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs".
Clampett wanted an all-black band to score the cartoon, much like how the Fleischers had Cab Calloway score the Betty Boop cartoons they were featured in. Producer and noted tight wad Schlesinger refused to fund the endeavor, and the black band Clampett had hired, Eddie Beals and His Orchestra, only recorded the music for the final kiss sequence. The rest of the film was scored, as was standard for Warner cartoons at the time, by Carl W. Stalling.
In the late seventies, Bob Clampett defended this cartoon. He said:
In 1942, during the height of anti-Japanese sentiment during World War II, I was approached in Hollywood by the cast of an all-black musical off-broadway production called Jump For Joy while they were doing some special performances in Los Angeles. They asked me why there weren't any Warner's cartoons with black characters and I didn't have any good answer for that question. So we sat down together and came up with a parody of Disney's "Snow White" and "Coal Black" was the result. They did all the voices for that cartoon, even though Mel Blanc's contract with Warners gave him sole voice credit for all Warners cartoons by then. There was nothing racist or disrespectful toward blacks intended in that film at all, nor in Tin Pan Alley Cats which is just a parody of jazz piano great Fats Waller, who was always hamming into the camera during his musical films. Everybody, including blacks had a good time when these cartoons first came out. All the controversy about these two cartoons has developed in later years merely because of changing attitudes toward black civil rights that have happened since then.
That's most likely the only way that cable TV's Cartoon Network, which owns the rights to Bob Clampett's Snow White parody Coal Black an de Sebben Dwarfs (1943), would ever be able to air this cartoon. Most likely, the Cartoon Networkers won't consider eventhat ploy, as they have seen fit to remove any possible inflammatory material from their huge backlog of cartoons. That's a great pity, because most of those who have been fortunate enough to view Coal Black regard it as one of Bob Clampett's most jaw-droppingly funny creations.
As has been well documented elsewhere, the unfortunate fact is that, at the time of Coal Black's making, African-Americans were rarely treated as equals to whites on the silver screen. (Dooley Wilson's Sam in Casablanca  is a notable exception, depicting a warm friendship with Humphrey Bogart's Rick. Yet even Sam clears out of the room as soon as Bogie and Ingrid Bergman, the movie's iconic white lovers, reunite.)
And unsubtle stereotypes abound. Just to hit the highlights, "Prince Chawmin'" is a jive-spouting hero with dice for teeth (and he literally turns yellow when So White calls for him to rescue her). "De Sebben Dwarfs" are little more than thick-lipped comic relief. And the movie begins with the tale being told by a loving "mammy" to her child.
Yet the underlying irony is that the racial aspect is merely a smokescreen for what this cartoon is really about: sex. This film's Wicked Queen doesn't even consider whether she's the fairest one of all; her first words in the story are "Magic mirror on the wall, send me a prince about six feet tall." So White, far from Disney's virginal image of Snow White, wears a low-cut blouse and thigh-high shorts, and she sends blazes of erotic ecstasy through every male she meets. If it weren't for the movie's parody approach, it's difficult to believe that the same censors who got all worked up about Tex Avery's Red Hot Riding Hood series would have let Clampett get away with such brazenness.
The irony is that Bob Clampett intended his cartoon as a tribute to black culture. The movie's hot jazz score (by Eddie Beals) surpasses even Carl Stalling's usual high standards, with some incredible scat singing and white-hot trumpet playing. And So White is voiced by Vivian Dandridge, Dorothy Dandridge's sister, and the Evil Queen is voiced by their mother Ruby, which is enough to at least give the movie a legitimate pedigree.
Beyond that, this cartoon is to Clampett's oeuvre what "What's Opera, Doc?" is to Chuck Jones's canon- a look at a Warner Bros. cartoon director at the height of his control. Like Jones's opera parody/tribute, Coal Black goes beyond funny to just plain astounding. Even in fifth-generation bootlegs, the cartoon is rich in the sort of frame-exploding work that has made Clampett's reputation. Even though many of the wartime references (to shortages and the military) date this cartoon far worse that most WB efforts, the jokes still come across quite clearly. (When Mammy tells us how rich the Evil Queen is, the camera pans across her riches: piles of stockpiled sugar and rubber tires.)
There is plenty to be offended about in Coal Black an de Sebben Dwarfs, if offense is all that you seek. But the most memorable cartoons are usually the ones that get somebody's dander up. In an era where Keenan Ivory Wayans makes the most profitable Afro-American movie ever (Scary Movie) by taking R-rated swipes at penises and mental retardation, surely there's room in our culture for a comparatively benign (and far funnier) six-minute cartoon.
Review By: Steve Bailey
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