Black & White
In which I continue to violate your childhoods.
The safety curtain labeled “assbestos” isn’t the half of it — this is one of those cartoons it’s probably best to dismiss as a bad dream.
This is the Mickey Mouse cartoon Uncle Walt probably doesn’t want you to see. It doesn’t seem to be included on the DVDs collecting the rodent’s b&w adventures. Along with SONG OF THE SOUTH, which is positively unproblematic by comparison, this has been, er, whitewashed from history.
SONG OF THE SOUTH, the Disney feature with the most worrisome rep, is certainly a quaint and disingenuous view of the south, and again features a certain amount of racial stereotyping. But I’ve always felt a certain fondness for it — despite the unwelcome revelation that Gregg Toland’s genius kind of evaporated when he shot in Technicolor — as a kid, I’d see Uncle Remus singing Zippedy-do-dah in all those TV specials, and I liked him. And I realized much later that I hadn’t even perceived him as ethnically different from myself. He was just an old man. So I can kind of feel the innocence in the film’s depiction of race.
My friend and Film Festival colleague Niall Greig Fulton got in touch after Sunday the 22nd’s post to mention TRADER MICKEY, “Which ends with Mickey Mouse eating cannibals.” It doesn’t quite, I’m afraid, but it still contains plenty of outrageous imagery and attitudes –
Should I attempt a Leonard Maltin-style defense of the above?I could say, “OK, *you* do a caricature of a cannibal that isn’t racist!” but I don’t think that would wash. While Buster Keaton’s cannibals in THE NAVIGATOR aren’t grotesque distortions of humanity like Disney’s, they still partake of a rather limited view of African civilisation — cannibalism has always been very much a niche activity in reality, so part of the racism is in depicting it so frequently. I don’t demand it be portrayed sympathetically… and I can’t stay mad at Buster.
At least Mickey befriends the natives, rather than defeating them in a warlike manner. Maybe, after the chief tragically suffers 90% scalding in the final shot, Mickey joins them in their life of anthropophagy, perhaps even taking over the tribe like Martin Sheen at the end of APOCALYPSE NOW. With Pluto as a kind of canine Dennis Hopper.
But really, all possible allowances aside, I do think this is (you should pardon the expression) rather beyond the pale.