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

Nicholas Sammond, Author

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Introduction, Page 2

Mickey’s Mellerdrammer (1935) is one of many cartoon adaptations of the classic abolitionist tale Uncle Tom's Cabin.

In this cartoon interpretation of the Stowe tale, set in a converted barn, Mickey uses a firecracker to blow himself up into blackness. Offstage, Goofy operates stage machinery that moves minstrelesque cutouts who stand in for plantation slaves, singing as they pick cotton.

Like other adaptations of the Stowe melodrama, this one confuses a sincere depiction of the horrors of slavery with blackface minstrelsy, and the categories just keep on slipping, as the cartoon drifts toward vaudeville: the short ends with Horace Horsecollar as Simon Legree being buried in the vegetables thrown by audience members.

Dan Emmett's "Dixie" is perhaps the best-known song to emerge from blackface minstrelsy. Shorthand for the antebellum South, Dixie plays in the background of Mickey's Mellerdrammer discreetly signifying plantations, slavery and the minstrel shows that were popular well into the early twentieth century.
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