From the early 1900s to the late 1960s, Hollywood produced over 600 racist cartoon depictions of Black people as “cannibals, coons, mammies and Stepin Fetchit characters with exaggerated features and ignorant dialect.”
The 1970s ushered in an era that boasted “25 Saturday morning cartoon series, one primetime cartoon series, one weekday cartoon series, two after school cartoons and 16 cartoon specials starring positive Black characters, 17 of which had a predominately Black cast.”
Replacing several banned Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons were shows like Bill Cosby‘s Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, The Jackson 5ive featuring Michael Jackson and his brothers, The Harlem Globetrotters, and I Am The Greatest featuring Muhammad Ali.
Realistic and affirming storylines changed the way Black children saw themselves.
Strong Black female characters and multicultural casts were also introduced in Josie and The Pussycats, Star Trek and Kid Power.
To celebrate the legacy of this revolutionary time period in animation and television, the Museum Of UnCut Funk is bringing its traveling retrospective exhibit, Funky Turns 40: Black Character Revolution to Harlem’s Schomburg Center starting February 5th.
Originally launched at the Lou Schiemer Gallery at ToonSeum in Pittsburgh, PA last year, the show included 40 pieces of art commemorating the 40th anniversaries of these Black characters and cartoons. Curator Sista ToFunky reflects on the importance of the showcase:
“As a kid growing up in the 1960’s, I saw images of Blacks being beaten and tortured. I saw the aftermath of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and I couldn’t understand why people who looked like me had been treated in this manner.
Then the 1970’s arrived and brought an explosion of color to Saturday Morning cartoons. As a pre-teen, I could see positive Black characters that looked like me and real people that I admired, like the Jackson Five and The Harlem Globetrotters. I was glued to the television.
I couldn’t wait to see these animated characters fill the small screen. These cartoons changed my life…filling me with pride and self esteem. They brought adventure, mayhem and fun to a generation of Black children.
Forty years later, my perspective on these cartoons is a little different. Besides being an integral part of Black children’s lives, these cartoons also benefited white children and the broader society as a whole.
A number of these cartoons addressed issues like cultural differences, racism and multiculturalism. It is my belief that these cartoons are national treasures. They are an important part of American culture, and in particular the Black experience.
I fondly remember the decade when these revolutionary Black cartoon characters made their mark on animation history.”
The exhibit features original production cels, drawings and limited edition cels of Fat Albert And The Cosby Kids, The Jackson 5ive, The Harlem Globetrotters, Valerie (Josie and The Pussy Cats), Lt. Uhura (Star Trek Animated Series), Muhammad Ali (I Am The Greatest), Billy Jo Jive (Sesame Street), Verb: That’s What’s Happening (School House Rock) and Franklin (Peanuts).
Following its Harlem run, the Funky Turns 40 will hit the DuSable Museum For African American History in Chicago (July 13 – October 20, 2014) and the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle, WA (November 22 – March 1, 2015).
See NYC exhibition details below and check out a full character introduction timeline at museumofuncutfunk.com.
Exhibit: Wednesday, February 5, 2014 – Saturday, June 14, 2014
Hours: Monday through Saturday | 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Schomburg Center For Research In Black Culture
515 Malcolm X Blvd
New York, NY 10037