The Incredibly Racist Roots of Cartoons You Love
You watch your weekend cartoons, marvel at the moral at the end of every movie, sing the catchy songs up to adulthood, but many of these shows and films that we once loved hid a lot of racial stereotypes underneath the innocent facade.
Scrap the Japs
This 1942 cartoon shows Popeye fighting Japanese soldiers all drawn identically, with derogatorily stereotypical buck teeth, slanted eyes, and halting accents. The cartoon was rife with symbolism: the unified look of the Japanese characters, for example, was a US propaganda ploy to dehumanize them, show them less as individuals and to represent their a ‘blind” loyalty to the emperor. Popeye also used the term “yeller,” which is of course, Popeye-speak for "yellow."
While one scene showed Popeye as the Statue of Liberty, the six-minuter highlighted the words “Made in Japan” in the Japanese characters’ planes and ships, referring to the alleged inferiority of Japanese equipment. In the end, when Popeye catches the Japanese soldiers, they turn into squeaky mice—another veiled reference to the Japanese’s high-pitched voices.
Popeye had earlier anti-Japanese propaganda cartoon that same year called You’re a Sap, Mr. Jap. Both are still banned in some countries for their depiction of racism.
We all watched Looney Tunes and Space Jam growing up so it might come as a surprise to realize that it has incredibly (though probably innocent at that time) racist roots. They have a set of 11 cartoons that were once considered masterpieces due to the deep, political and social references. They, however, have been banned from broadcast since 1968 due to the awful propagation of racial stereotypes, particularly of blacks. Several characters copped excessively superstitious behavior, foolish attitudes, stupidity, and other lazy stereotypes against African Americans.
This beloved classic seems innocent, but take a second look at the character Sunflower. (If you don’t remember her, that’s because she’s been edited out of film releases since 1969.) The centaur scene originally featured a servant that catered to the beautiful creatures. Sunflower was depicted as half a donkey with a smaller size, dark coloring, big thick lips and a missing teeth, and hair that stuck out from all angles.
On a side note, the centaurs were also paired off in color-coded pairs.
Lady and the Tramp
Remember Si and Am? They were two Siamese cats owned by Aunt Sarah. The villanous cats were slinky, thin felines with creamy colored fur, angular faces, and slanted eyes. They middle incisors stick out–a subtle reference to the buck-toothed Asian stereotype in the '40s and '50s.
Since Lady and the Tramp was released in the 1955, the racism would've understandably been a reference to the times, but the same Siamese cat trope was made in Chip n' Dale's Rescue Rangers (1989) and the Aristocats (1977).
You probably didn't get it the first time you watched this flying elephant because, well, you were five, but watch it again and notice the band of crows. The jive-talking flock was depicted with thick accents and this line "I'd be done see'n about everything/ when I see an elephant fly!" What's worse, the voice actors were white who were doing their best impersonations of African-Americans. The lead crow was named Jim Crow, after the laws that enforced racial segregation in the U.S.