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Adding to the scholarship on animation industrialization and the role of self-reflexive gestures within cartoons, Sammond links these familiar tropes to blackface minstrelsy.
He writes, Since animation shares with minstrelsy as one of its fundamental tropes the regulation of unruly labor—as many blackface minstrel characters were based on a fantasy of the rebellious or recalcitrant African American slave or free person—understanding this simultaneous fascination with labor and with its discipline through racially charged characters is this study’s central project.
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Indeed, Taylor argued that the film’s racial politics held the key to its formal mastery, undercutting the often-taught position that Griffith’s technological achievements could be discussed in isolation from its objectionable representation of African Americans. “The Re-birth of the Aesthetic in Cinema” gave the field an accessible, concrete, and eminently teachable way to approach Griffith’s epic in all of its complexities without having to make excuses for or ignore key aspects of its significance.
The Introduction traces the history of blackface minstrelsy through three distinct moments in American film from the early twentieth century to our contemporary day.
By highlighting the persistence of blackface minstrelsy in American culture, this long view helps place the discussion of animation within a wider cultural context.
Indeed, he explicitly builds his analysis from the presumptive position of a critical observer: for example, looking at recurrent characters such as Felix the Cat and Mickey Mouse, Sammond asks, “why the gloves?
” The answer, of course, has to do with minstrelsy, even if it was not explicitly labeled as such. In a moment where the status of the book as an object is in question, Sammond helpfully provides online access to a rich archive of cartoons, allowing the reader to directly and immediately engage with all of the works he discusses through the book’s digital companion (.