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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 23

The form of minstrelsy nostalgically invoked in films such as Babes in Arms (1939) or Holiday Inn (1942) took shape following the Civil War.

In this scene from Babes in Arms, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland perform their nostalgia for the good old days of minstrelsy. With a full marching band of people in blackface, minstrelsy is treated here as a memento, as Garland fondly recalls the days "when [George] Primrose was the king." This scene ends with Garland taking off her makeup to become 'white' again, uniting with her blackfaced lover as a storm blows in to wash the burnt cork off Rooney's face. 

Similarly, Holiday Inn scene offers a tribute in honor of Abraham Lincoln's birthday, performing Irving Berlin's  number "Abraham" as a blackface minstrel show. Not only are the two performers, Jim (Bing Crosby) and Linda (Marjorie Reynolds) in blackface, so is the entire band and all of the waiters and waitresses serving a white audience. The song details Lincoln's freeing of African American slaves. 

The scene features a counterpoint in which the inn's housekeeper, Mamie, sits in the kitchen singing the song to her two children. Her exclusion from the onstage performance, while she sings of black emancipation, deepens the racist irony of the scene.
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