Birth of an Industry: Blackface Minstrelsy and the Rise of American Animation
Nicholas Sammond is Associate Professor of Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Babes in Tomorrowland: Walt Disney and the Making of the American Child, 1930-60, and the editor of Steel Chair to the Head: Essays on Professional Wrestling, both also published by Duke University Press.
Introduction: Biting the Invisible Hand
This chapter makes the case that continuing cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat, and Betty Boop’s sidekick Bimbo are integral figures in an ongoing history of blackface minstrelsy in the United States. It illustrates this continuity by contrasting the rise of cartoon minstrels with three anecdotes about minstrelsy that demonstrate how it remains a vital (and vitally wrong) performance tradition in the United States today—how at any given historical moment, blackface minstrelsy offers a window into fantasies of black–white relations. Comparing cartoon minstrels to early twentieth-century live minstrels, to minstrelsy in a popular American film of the 1960s, and to blackface in network television comedy in 2009, the introduction lays out the case that the blackface minstrel has for generations served as the embodiment of white fantasies of African American resistance to cultural, social, political, and economic normativity.