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

Nicholas Sammond, Author

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Performance, Page 72

The term "pickaninny" is a derogatory term for poor African American children, who were (and are) often stereotyped as immature, rebellious, and immune to pain. According to Felix the Cat creator Otto Messmer, Pat Sullivan, the producer of Felix, had first created a character, Sammy Jonsin, who was based on the stereotype of the pickaninny. That character eventually became Felix.

The pickanniny was a common figure in popular culture during the early twentieth century. A Blatz gum ad from a 1928 issue of the movie fan magazine Photoplay blithely asks why a pickaninny loves watermelon, implying that his uncontrollable appetites will lead him to steal that same fruit.

That voraciousness is on display when Felix dreams of an ideal future in which he can eat endlessly in Futuritzy (1928), simultaneously demonstrating the economy of line and of stereotype through which Sullivan Studios created its animated worlds.

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