Mrs. Allotherpersons loves this video clip, and she insists that I put it on my blog. It’s from the Our Gang/Little Rascals series. I think it’s OK… here it is, take a look and let me add some comments.
As a child, one of my favorite shows was The Little Rascals, also known as Our Gang. As described by Wikipedia,
Our Gang/The Little Rascals… was a series of American comedy short films about the adventures of a group of poor neighborhood children. Created by comedy producer Hal Roach, Our Gang was produced… starting in 1922 as a silent short subject series. Roach changed distributors… in 1927, went to sound in 1929 and continued production until 1938, when he sold the series to MGM. MGM in turn continued producing the comedies until 1944. In the mid-1950s, the 80 Roach-produced shorts with sound were syndicated for television under the title The Little Rascals.
I started watching TV in the early 1960s. The fact that my viewing included Little Rascals shows which were made in the 1930s and 1940s is a testement to the fact that back in the ’60s, there wasn’t a lot of content on network television. (That may be why I never cease to be amazed by the hundreds of TV channels we get today on cable or satellite.)
So I watched The Little Rascals, in all their black and white glory. And I’m not just talking about the film color. The Rascals was unique, in that it featured an integrated cast, and, the black characters were not treated as ridiculous stereotypres.
My favorite character on the show who was a black kid named Stymie. He got a lot of lines, he had good comedic timing, he was a master of facial expressions even as a youngster, and he was something of a leader among his cast of characters. He was funny without being ridiculously silly. (Now Alfalfa-a white character on the show-he was ridiculously silly.)
But The Rascals did sometimes reflect the stereotypes of the day (see the above video), and that’s gotten it in trouble with people who look at the show with today’s sensibilities. As mentioned in Wikipedia,
The Our Gang series is notable for being one of the first times in movie history that blacks and whites were portrayed as equals, though a number of people, including members of the Black community, do not look favorably upon the characters of the black children today.
The four black child actors who held main-character roles in the series were Ernie “Sunshine Sammy” Morrison, Allen “Farina” Hoskins, Matthew “Stymie” Beard, and Billie “Buckwheat” Thomas. Ernie Morrison was, in fact, the first black actor signed to a long-term contract in Hollywood history, and was the first major black star in Hollywood history as well.
In their adult years, Ernie Morrison, Matthew Beard and Billie Thomas became some of Our Gang’s staunchest defenders, maintaining that its integrated cast and innocent story lines were far from racist. They explained that the white children’s characters in the series were similarly stereotyped: the “freckled kid,” the “fat kid,” the “pretty blond girl,” and the “mischievous toddler.” “We were just a group of kids who were having fun,” Stymie Beard recalled. Ernie Morrison stated that “when it came to race, Hal Roach was color-blind”.
Other minorities, including Asian Americans (Sing Joy, Allen Tong, and Edward Zoo Hoo) and Italian Americans (Mickey Gubitosi), were also depicted in the series, with varying levels of “stereotyping” – commonplace in the stylized, slapstick comedy tradition in which the Our Gang films are firmly rooted.
My own take on this: I loved the show. The fact is, there were very few other (and probably, no other) TV programs that either featured black kids, or, that featured black and white kids in a mixed setting.
The Little Rascals made it seem natural for black and white children to play together. That’s a legacy for which everyone involved in the show should be proud.
According to TVParty.com, the above clip is from the 1933 short The Kid from Borneo. (Not to be confused with the later movie The Wild Man of Borneo.) In it, Dickie, a white kid, mistakenly (but wholeheartedly) believes his uncle is an untamed African jungle man. When he shows a picture of his ‘uncle’ to his best friend Stymie, who is black, the conversation went as follows:
Dickie: “Hey fellas c’mere. Take a look at our uncle. Pop says he’s plenty wild, too.”
Stymie: “He sure do look wild. What makes him so black?”
Dickie: “Mom says he’s the black sheep of the family.”
Stymie: “Them horns make him look more like a goat!”
Dickie and Stymie discuss Uncle George in The Kid from Borneo.
Answers.com notes that The Kid from Borneo was pulled from the Little Rascals TV package “due to its allegedly offensive ‘racist’ content, although it remains a favorite on the home-video market.”