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.
This chapter examines the industrialization of animation and the decline of artisanal performing animators. Animation is labor-intensive and involves much repetitive labor. The American animation industry emerged rapidly. Early figures such as John and Margaret Bray, Earl Hurd, Max and Dave Fleischer, and Raoul Barré developed technical and artistic techniques that laid the groundwork for automating the animation process. They formalized systems for the division of labor, building on the contemporary craze for efficiency in the workplace and the home, and attempted to make individual artists into interchangeable workers on cartoon assembly lines. The animation industry worked to subsume the idiosyncratic practices of individual artists into the rationalized processes of the assembly line, providing the fuel for the ongoing conflict between the performing animator and the cartoon minstrel. Not only did American animation perform its own labor, it performed the resistance of that labor to its own industrial processes.