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Fantasia Afterthoughts: Is This a Racist Studio?

with 19 comments

“Excuse me, we need to shoot animation reference for a big, fat hippopotamus. You look like a big, fat hippopotamus who could stand some degrading, will you take the job?”


Written by Thad

April 5th, 2009 at 3:31 pm

Posted in classic animation

19 Responses to 'Fantasia Afterthoughts: Is This a Racist Studio?'

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  1. My only hope is that you’re not quoting a specific Disney studio employee (or Mr. Disney himself) in the above quote. ;-)

    Matt Yorston

    5 Apr 09 at 5:58 pm

  2. Well, the same film ALSO contains the infamous black centaurs in the Pastoral Symphony segment, so this is just more damning and disgusting confirmation of the fact.

    K. Martinez

    5 Apr 09 at 6:02 pm

  3. WTF ? SHE was the model for that scene ? Disney was a dirty fuck.

  4. Ricardo, that’s a bit harsh. Have you seen the live action reference footage for the “Silly Song” dance sequence, with the big fat WHITE GUY as a dwarf? The footage helped realistically animate movement, both active and reactive. The results are very impressive, albeit for different effect. Do you feel any differently about enjoying a hamburger or steak knowing how it’s made?

    Keith Paynter

    6 Apr 09 at 10:09 am

  5. There’s simply too little known about the application and selection process to get to a conclusion of racism here. What share of the morbidly obese female candidates were black? How urgently did this woman express her desire for the job? As far as I know, we don’t have any such answers.


    6 Apr 09 at 1:10 pm

  6. You know, Disney’s dwarfs were white males, which is probably why they chose a white guy for the reference footage. Given what we know about Disney animations, I think it’s likely that they chose Hattie for the hippo because they imagined the hippo as a large black woman.

    By the way, “big fat” white guy actors didn’t have to settle for a career of playing maids and/or mammys. Even if Hattie “urgently” wanted the job, it may have been because she didn’t have a lot of alternatives in her career, simply because she was a “big fat” black woman.

    Keith, comparing racism with butchering cows is one of the weirdest and most disturbing comparisons I’ve seen on the ‘net. This includes Usenet.


    6 Apr 09 at 3:18 pm

  7. Disney really was a disgusting fuck, I don’t care what kind of justification you use.


    6 Apr 09 at 4:06 pm

  8. That is for real?


    6 Apr 09 at 5:20 pm

  9. The quote is completely fabricated, but given how she looks beyond humiliated and degraded in the photo, it’s probably not far off from the truth.


    6 Apr 09 at 5:24 pm

  10. Yes guys, because nobody else was racist in the late30s/early40s.

    What does name calling and finger pointing accomplish, aside from making everyone look foolish and juvenile?

    Trying to prove people were racist 70 years ago is like trying to prove that most men wore hats back then. It’s a no brainer. So wow, Disney used a fat black woman as a model for an overweight dancing hippo. If they did that today I’d be shocked. The fact that they did that in the 1940s doesn’t shock me at all. That sort of insensitivity was par for the course. I give you Hannah and Barbara’s entire 1940s output while at MGM. If the Disney Studios were the only ones doing this sort of thing back then I’d be sitting here crying foul too.

    Mike Russo

    6 Apr 09 at 6:12 pm

  11. Relax Keith, I was joking. I find it rather hilarous actually.

    “Do you feel any differently about enjoying a hamburger or steak knowing how it’s made ?”

    I love to see the slaughter of that cow actually, it makes me hungry thinking about it. No, I am not joking.

  12. MGM actually probably was just flat out racist to an extent that other studios weren’t. There seemed to be a mandatory quota of black jokes for every director of any kind there.

    Mike, while it may seem foolish and juvenile to you, I think it’s fascinating how clearly degraded the woman is in these photos, and how the animators managed to turn that into the happy animation of the hippo. As ahead of its time Fantasia it is, it’s as much a product of it.


    6 Apr 09 at 7:38 pm

  13. Ricardo, I keep having that ‘Family Guy’ flashback (feel the hate!) with Ricardo Montalban as the talking cow. (“Including my beloved wife!”)

    Anyway, we can’t all be Marge Champion.

    Keith Paynter

    6 Apr 09 at 8:19 pm

  14. It does seem odd that they would even use a live model for such a cartoony part of the film. Any accomplished ballerina could have provided the dance steps for this number, and by 1939, Preston Blair and the other animators on this scene would have been more than capable of drawing a dancing hippo. This isn’t the same as the fat man reference for Happy the dwarf in Snow White, because they were studying the weight and volume of an actual human being and how a heavy person moves it around in relation to gravity in the real world. But in The Dance of the Hours, there are portions where the characters defy gravity, and all the physics pertaining to their movement is created by the animator himself. A live model would be useless for most of the hippo dance.

    John A

    7 Apr 09 at 10:46 am

  15. If these picutures were meant to be released to the public as say an ad campaign for Fat-Ass Ballerina Pancake Mix or something, then I would wholeheartedly agree that this is demeaning and racist on many levels. But, since this was meant for animator reference only and was finally unearthed about 70 years after the fact, it’s not nearly as bad as all that. Hell, if she had done this for refence at Looney Tunes, they probably would have put on similar out fits and joined her.

    David Germain

    7 Apr 09 at 12:38 pm

  16. I agree!

  17. Random OT question, but why did Thad remove the Cartoon Brew link from the blog, and vice versa?

    Mike Russo

    9 Apr 09 at 4:47 pm

  18. I was just returning the favor. Let me just say that it came completely out of the blue.


    9 Apr 09 at 5:42 pm

  19. I’m more interested in the topless centaur sequences. Have you any photos of that shoot? Did they have horses and nudes in the same room? How did they make the distinction of where the human ended and the horse began? Photos from the “Night On Bald Mountain” segment would have been just as interesting. I wonder if they used real demons?


    10 Apr 09 at 10:53 am

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