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The Censored Eleven is a group of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons originally produced and released by Warner Bros. that were withheld from syndication by United Artists (UA) in 1968. UA owned the distribution rights to the Associated Artists Productions library at that time, and decided to pull these eleven cartoons from broadcast because the use of ethnic stereotypes in the cartoons, specifically black stereotypes, was deemed too offensive for contemporary audiences. The ban has been continued by UA and the successive owners of the pre-August 1948 Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies. These shorts have not been officially broadcast on television since 1968 and have only been exhibited once theatrically by Warner Bros. in Spring 2010 (see below for more details) since their withdrawal. They have turned up, however, on low-cost VHS and DVD collections over the last thirty years.
Many cartoons from previous decades are routinely edited on international television (and on some video and DVD collections) today. Usually, the only censorship deemed necessary is the cutting of the occasional racist joke, instance of graphic violence, or scene of a character doing something that parents and watchdog groups fear children will try to imitate, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, or self-harming activities such as depictions of suicide.
One classic cartoon gag, most prominent in MGM's Tom and Jerry cartoons, is the transformation of characters into a blackface caricature after an explosion or an automobile backfire. A sequence in the Tom and Jerry cartoon Mouse Cleaning (1948) turned Tom into a blackface caricature. Upon questioning by Mammy Two Shoes, Tom answers "No, ma'am. I ain't seen no cat aroun' here... uh unh, ain't no cat, no place, no how-no ma'am," in stereotypical African-American dialect. Such small amounts of supposedly objectionable material only require relatively minor cuts in the cartoon to make it palatable to censors, in spite of objections and occasional boycotts by fans.
However, in the case of the Censored Eleven, racial themes are so essential and so completely pervade the cartoons that the copyright holders believe that no amount of selective editing could ever make them acceptable for distribution.
Two of the Censored Eleven directed by Bob Clampett have been defended by some film historians: Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs and Tin Pan Alley Cats. The former is a jazz-based parody of Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, while the latter is a hot jazz re-interpretation of Clampett's now-classic 1938 short Porky in Wackyland. Author Michelle Klein-Hass wrote the following:
. . . some even look at Clampett's Jazz cartoons and cry racism when Clampett was incredibly ahead of his time and was a friend to many of the greats of the LA jazz scene. All of the faces you see in Tin Pan Alley Cats and Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs are caricatures of real musicians he hung out with at the Central Avenue jazz and blues clubs of the '40s. He insisted that some of these musicians be in on the recording of the soundtracks for these two cartoons.
Bob Clampett himself explained the evolution of "Coal Black" during his public appearances in the 70s and 80s, and during taped interviews:
In 1942, during the height of anti-Japanese sentiment during World War II, I was approached in Hollywood by the cast of an all-black musical off-broadway production called Jump For Joy while they were doing some special performances in Los Angeles. They asked me why there weren't any Warner's cartoons with black characters and I didn't have any good answer for that question. So we sat down together and came up with a parody of Disney's "Snow White" and "Coal Black" was the result. They did all the voices for that cartoon, even though Mel Blanc's contract with Warners gave him sole voice credit for all Warners cartoons by then. There was nothing racist or disrespectful toward blacks intended in that film at all, nor in Tin Pan Alley Cats which is just a parody of jazz piano great Fats Waller, who was always hamming into the camera during his musical films. Everybody, including blacks had a good time when these cartoons first came out. All the controversy about these two cartoons has developed in later years merely because of changing attitudes toward black civil rights that have happened since then.
The cartoon output of Warner Bros. during its heyday even sometimes had censorship problems more complex in some respects than those of features. Unlike feature films, which were routinely censored in the script, the animated shorts were passed upon only when completed, which made the producers exceptionally cautious as to restrictions. In 1983, director Chuck Jones commented on the television censorship of the Warner Bros. cartoons: "I don't like to see the films cut at all. [...] They make some cuts that are so arbitrary and stupid, you can't believe it." Independent stations that once ran the syndicated Warner Bros. cartoons never had the same type of censorship as first-run networks such as ABC and CBS did for the cartoons. Some stations even owned syndication rights to "a few they consider[ed] racially stereotypical," but never ran them.
When Ted Turner obtained the rights to the pre-1950 Warner Bros. library from MGM/UA in 1986, he vowed that he would not distribute or air any cartoons from the Censored Eleven. They were the only cartoons in this package not to be featured in the laserdisc series The Golden Age of Looney Tunes.
Since Time Warner bought Turner Broadcasting System on October 10, 1996, this policy has largely been upheld, but has also shown signs of weakening. A total of twelve Bugs Bunny shorts were not aired on Cartoon Network during its "June Bugs" marathon in 2001. However, Warner Bros. began to release DVD collections of classic cartoons in 2003 entitled the Looney Tunes Golden Collection with one of the cartoons (Frigid Hare, which depicts a stereotypical Eskimo trying to kill a baby penguin, and was still seen on Cartoon Network as late as 2002 and featured as a DVD extra in March of the Penguins) featured on the set uncut and uncensored. Also in 2001, Cartoon Network animation documentary show ToonHeads had a one-hour special centered on World War II-era cartoons and two World War II-era Bugs Bunny shorts Herr Meets Hare shown in full and Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips shown in clips in a short montage about the depictions of Japanese people at the time they were shown.
While none of the shorts included on the discs are part of the Censored Eleven, many of the cartoons that were included were routinely censored on television, but were included uncut on DVD. Furthermore, each DVD from the Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 3 opens with a foreword by Whoopi Goldberg, where she warns the audience about some of these shorts, stating that although the behavior was and is not acceptable, the cartoons depicting this are a vital part of history and should not be forgotten. The Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 4 collection includes a similar disclaimer, written on a gold card and merely summarized the point that while the cartoons are considered offensive today for what they depict, they are not going to be shown censored because editing out the racist depictions--and therefore effectively denying that the racism of the era ever happened--is worse than actually showing them.
Many of the Censored Eleven are available on bootleg video. Hittin' the Trail for Hallelujah Land, Jungle Jitters and All This and Rabbit Stew are now in the public domain and frequently appear on home video releases and internet video searches.
The cartoons in the Censored Eleven are:
|1.||Hittin' the Trail for Hallelujah Land||1931||Rudolf Ising||Merrie Melodies|
|2.||Sunday Go to Meetin' Time||1936, 1944 (reissue)||Friz Freleng|
|4.||Uncle Tom's Bungalow||Tex Avery|
|5.||Jungle Jitters||1938||Friz Freleng|
|6.||The Isle of Pingo Pongo||1938, 1944 (reissue)||Tex Avery|
|7.||All This and Rabbit Stew||1941|
|8.||Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs||1943||Bob Clampett|
|9.||Tin Pan Alley Cats|
|10.||Angel Puss||1944||Chuck Jones||Looney Tunes|
|11.||Goldilocks and the Jivin' Bears||1944, 1951 (reissue)||Friz Freleng||Merrie Melodies|
Friz Freleng directed the largest number of cartoons on the list with four, followed by Tex Avery with three, and Bob Clampett with only two cartoons to make the list. Rudolf Ising, like Chuck Jones, only has one cartoon on the list. Angel Puss is the only cartoon directed by Chuck Jones on the list as well as the only cartoon in the Looney Tunes series. The rest are Merrie Melodies. Hittin' the Trail to Hallelujah Land is the only black-and-white short on the list while the other 10 are in color, and the only "Piggy" on the list. Also, Goldilocks and the Jivin' Bears is the only cartoon on this list not to be produced by Leon Schlesinger. It is also the first to be produced by an uncredited Eddie Selzer. All This and Rabbit Stew is the only Bugs Bunny cartoon on the list. The Isle of Pingo Pongo is also the only Egghead (Elmer Fudd) cartoon on the list. The other 8 are one shot cartoons.
Several more cartoons have been removed from circulation since this list was created (but are not added onto the Censored Eleven list, though most of the cartoons censored do contain extensive blackface gags and/or black stereotypes), such as Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising's Looney Tunes featuring blackface caricature Bosko, and the Inki series of cartoons by Chuck Jones, as well as numerous World War II-era cartoons concerning the Japanese such as Bugs Bunny Nips the Nips and Tokio Jokio. The Tom and Jerry cartoon The Yankee Doodle Mouse (1943) has Tom in blackface.
Some cartoons that remain in release have been heavily edited to remove stereotypical depictions of blacks. The Gone With the Wind satire, Confederate Honey, is one. Fresh Hare is often shorn of a scene in which a blackface Bugs and Elmer sing Camptown Races. Friz Freleng's 1937 cartoon September in the Rain features some black characters, but is not entirely focused on them, so has occasionally reappeared without them. An early Porky Pig Cartoon with stereotypical depictions of Blacks is Porky's Railroad (1937).
Two cartoons directed by Tex Avery during his stint at MGM are often included in cartoon compilations that list the Censored Eleven: Uncle Tom's Cabana and Half-Pint Pygmy. Often included are the Popeye cartoons Pop-Pie a La Mode and Popeye's Pappy and also various WWII-era Popeye cartoons concerning the Japanese Empire such as You're a Sap, Mr. Jap, Scrap The Japs and Seein' Red, White n' Blue even though they are not Warner Bros. cartoons, but were part of the pre-May 1986 MGM and a.a.p. library that wound up under Time Warner control in 1996.
A number of shorts are rarely shown owing to stereotyping and potentially offensive characterizations of Native Americans. They include Slightly Daffy (1944), Tom Tom Tomcat (1953), Horse Hare (1960), A Feather in His Hare (1948), Hocus Pocus Powwow (1968), and Injun Trouble (1969).
As the 20th century came to a close, the Censored Eleven cartoons became more known to the public as several animation historians popularized their existence. The publicity these films received from various animation discussion websites eventually led to an article in The New York Times.
In February 2010, as part of a press release for the first annual TCM Classic Film Festival, it was announced that the Censored Eleven were to receive a special screening sourced from restored 35mm film prints. This special presentation was put together by George Feltenstein, vice president of Warner Bros. classic film catalog. Film historian Donald Bogle, who has six books published to his credit on the subject of African American stereotypes in film, agreed to host the event for the festival. On April 24, 2010 a total of eight of the Censored Eleven were screened at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. The three that were not shown at the event were Jungle Jitters, All This and Rabbit Stew and Angel Puss. According to animation historian Jerry Beck, this event was a way for Warner Bros. to test the waters for a possible DVD release of these controversial films possibly through the Warner Archives collection.
At the New York Comic Con in October 2010, Warner Bros. confirmed that it would be releasing the Censored Eleven, completely uncut, on DVD through the Warner Archives program sometime in 2011. On December 1, 2010, animation expert Jerry Beck announced on the Shokus Internet Radio call-in talk program Stu's Show that there were plans for a general traditional retail release and not via the Warner Archives. It would be a high-class release featuring all of the Censored Eleven and other rare cartoons restored plus some bonus materials. However, no further news of a DVD release has surfaced since.