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Birth of An Industry: Blackface Minstrelsy and the Rise of American Animation

Nicholas Sammond, Author

This page was created by Patricia Hill.  The last update was by Alice Xue.

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Introduction, Page 12

A satire of the advertising world, the 1969 Putney Swope - directed by Robert Downey Sr. - was meant to be a radical response to mainstream racist representations of African-American life, culture, and politics.

The title character is a black man accidentally put in charge of a powerful advertising firm. Downey was unhappy with Arnold's Johnson's vocal performance as Swope and decided to dub in his own voice over Johnson's, blaming the switch on Johnson's difficulty in memorizing and reciting his lines. Instead of hiring another African American actor, Downey instead chose to perform the lines as he imagined a black man would sound.

Both Paul Thomas Anderson and Jim Jarmusch cite Putney Swope as an influence, and the film was given an explicit homage in Anderson's 1997 Boogie Nights, which featured a character, played by Don Cheadle, named Buck Swope. Fortunately, Cheadle voiced his own lines. 

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