Hollywood has a long and colorful history. Unfortunately, most of those colors are various shades of white. When films aren’t outright ignoring non-white ethnic groups, they’re all-too often employing insensitive stereotypes instead. Some racist films live on indefinitely as tasteless relics of more hateful times. In some cases, however, the filmmakers or studios behind the films realize their prejudices, and work to sweep them under the rug. Let’s remember these films, even if the people who made them don’t want us to.
Like many Disney films, Fantasia is revered as a beloved classic, particularly for its artistic blend of colorful, fluid animation and classical music compositions. One segment of the 1940 film, accompanied by Beethoven’s “The Pastoral Symphony,” features a slew of Greek mythological creatures like fauns and centaurs, including one female centaurette named Sunflower. The big-lipped, dark-skinned Sunflower is shown happily polishing the hooves of a white centaurette. The paltry four shots of Sunflower were removed from the film for its 1969 theatrical reissue, and all subsequent home video releases omitted the scene with Sunflower.
2. The Mask of Fu Manchu
This 1932 film features a performance by the white Boris Karloff (of Frankenstein fame), who plays the titular villain Fu Manchu, who hopes to find the tomb of Genghis Khan so he can proclaim himself the reincarnation of the famous conqueror and mobilize the peoples of Asia to wage war against and exterminate the white race. Despite critical acclaim and financial success, the movie was subject to controversy even upon its release, as the Chinese government and Chinese embassy in Washington complained about its depiction of Asians. A 1992 VHS release removed several of the most reviled scenes, including one wherein Fu Manchu calls for his followers to “kill the white man and take his women!” More recent DVD releases, overseen by Warner Bros. instead of the film’s original production company MGM, have restored these scenes.
3. Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs
This short film is one of the most notoriously controversial in the Warner Bros. catalog of Merrie Melodies cartoons, along with the rest of their so-called “Censored Eleven. The Bob Clampett-directed cartoon is a parody of Disney’s adaptation of the classic Grimm brothers tale of Snow White, employing an all-black cast. It’s essentially blackface in animated form, all of its characters employing stereotypes and caricatures of black Americans and black culture. The protagonist, So White, is especially sexualized, drawn with a voluptuous figure and visible cleavage. Rights for the cartoon have been held by both United Artists and Warner Bros., and both kept it out of circulation on television or home video.
4. Song of the South
Fantasia’s brief use of an offensive black stereotype is nothing when compared to this 1946 live action-animation hybrid feature focusing on black Southern culture. Apparent former slave Uncle Remus (James Baskett in the primary live-action role) tells a circle of children folk tales about the journey of Br’er Rabbit in Reconstruction-era Georgia, employing the broad use of black stereotypes and the so-called Negro accent. Though the film inspired the Disneyland ride Splash Mountain and featured the enduring Disney tune “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” the studio has resolutely refused to release the film on home video. Creative director Dave Bossert, however, did state in a 2010 interview that there had “been a lot of internal discussion about Song of the South. And at some point we’re going to do something about it. I don’t know when, but we will. We know we want people to see Song of the South because we realize it’s a big piece of company history, and we want to do it the right way.”
5. Goodbye Uncle Tom
This absolutely bonkers 1971 Italian film uses the guise of time-traveling documentary chronicling the evils of slavery to craft a fictional, exploitative snuff film that most consider racist despite the directors’ insistence. Roger Ebert savaged the film in his 1972 review, wherein he called it the “most disgusting, contemptuous insult to decency ever to masquerade as a documentary.” While directors Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi have made a point to defend their film, it remains out of print on DVD. The rights are owned by Blue Underground, a company that specializes in re-releasing rare cult and exploitation films.
6. The Eternal Jew
The most famous Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of the Will, has essentially become a fixture of film and world history, but this anti-semitic documentary remains little seen despite its shameful content. As its title suggests, the German film, directed by Fritz Hippler under the supervision of Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, relies heavily on voiceover narration and footage of Polish ghettos to convey themes of Jewish inferiority, comparing impoverished Jews, who were specifically chosen for looking dirty, to rats. The film also disparages famous Jews around the world, including Albert Einstein, who is described as “the relativity Jew, who masks his hatred of Germany behind his obscure pseudo-sciences.” Hippler was tried after the Allied victory for directing the film, but not found guilty. He has since claimed that Goebbels was the film’s true director and that the film is a “the most disgraceful example of antisemitism.”
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