Category: Blacks Movies

Our Gang’s Little Rascals, Racial Stereotypes, and Kids Just Having Fun

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,

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Check It Out: Links of Interest, 4/13/09

Here are links to some recommended reads.

Abagond has a blog entry about actress Ellen Holly:

Ellen Holly (1931- ) is an American actress, the first black actress ever to appear regularly on a soap opera. She played Carla Hall on “One Life to Live” from 1968 to 1985. She also played the president’s wife in “School Daze” (1988).

Holly grew up in New York, the daughter of a chemical engineer and a librarian. She studied acting at Hunter College and went on from there to act on stage. By 1956 she was on Broadway. She got in to the Actors Studio, the first black woman ever to do so. She later got parts in film and television too.

In 1968 Holly wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times about what it was like to be a light-skinned black woman. Agnes Dixon, who was then starting a new soap called “One Life to Live”, read that letter. It led her to create the character of Carla Gray (later Hall). She offered the part to Holly herself. Holly took it and became the first regular black female character on a soap. Other soaps soon followed their lead and had black characters of their own too.

I remember watching Holly on One Life to Live as a teenager. At the time, I didn’t appreciate that she was breaking new ground for black actors in the soaps.

I can see why so many people thought she was white: it wasn’t until the late 1960s that color TVs started selling in large numbers. On black and white TV, her light skin did make her look white.

She started out on the show doing a story line where she is a black person passing for white. A white male character on the show actually proposed to her, but she had to reject the proposal because she was not white. I later found out that the theme of the “tragic mulatto who passes for white” was a not an uncommon one for Hollywood (see Imitation of Life). But at the time, I was shocked that this kind of race-sensitive stuff was being shown on daytime television.
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Monroe, Louisiana is a city of about 50,000 in north central Louisiana. It’s about a half hour drive from Grambling University. The following is from a recent story in the Monroe Free Press, which is one of the city’s African American newspapers:

Monroe: The city where it’s safe to say Nigga
City won’t fire or reprimand foul mouthed department heads

It started a few years back when we started reporting about the tendency of our police chief to curse and use extremely foul and graphic language publicly. In one instance he even told the police chief of Sterlington to get under the table and suck his…

There were no reprimands, lost days of pay, or other slaps on the wrist. The subliminal message is that such language is acceptable for department heads…

The most recent problems occurred this year when Sean Benton the Superintendent of Monroe’s Water Distribution plant was accused of referring to black employees of his department as Niggas and routinely using foul language and expletives in his references to others. Police had to be called once when Benton took off his shirt to fight a subordinate…

What raises eyebrows is that Benton is black. Most of his “Nigga” comments were made to blacks. The issue that this raises is whether or not “Nigga” is an generally offensive by whites but acceptable when used by blacks.

Because Benton has not been fired or reprimanded by the city’s black mayor it appears to be an endorsement of “Nigga” as acceptable language for a black professional in a department head status to use toward subordinates.

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There’s been a slew of articles written in the past year or so about Tyler Perry. A recent piece about him in Entertainment Weekly, titled Tyler Perry: The Controversy Over His Hit Movies, claims to go “inside black America’s secret culture war”:

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In Texas, No Justice… Just Us: The Stories of Regina Kelly (Dee Roberts) and Timothy Cole

American Violet is a new movie that is based on a true story of the Texas criminal (in)justice system. As described on Youtube,

Based on true events in the midst of the 2000 election, AMERICAN VIOLET tells the astonishing story of Dee Roberts (critically hailed newcomer Nicole Beharie), a 24 year-old African American single mother of four young girls living in a small Texas town who is barely making ends meet on a waitress salary and government subsidies.

On an early November morning while Dee works a shift at the local diner, the powerful local district attorney (Academy Award® nominee Michael OKeefe) leads an extensive drug bust, sweeping her Arlington Springs housing project with military precision. Police drag Dee from work in handcuffs, dumping her in the squalor of the womens county prison. Indicted based on the uncorroborated word of a single and dubious police informant facing his own drug charges, Dee soon discovers she has been charged as a drug dealer.

Even though Dee has no prior drug record and no drugs were found on her in the raid or any subsequent searches, she is offered a hellish choice: plead guilty and go home as a convicted felon or remain in prison and fight the charges thus, jeopardizing her custody and risking a long prison sentence.

Despite the urgings of her mother (Academy Award® nominee Alfre Woodard), and with her freedom and the custody of her children at stake, she chooses to fight the district attorney and the unyielding criminal justice system he represents. Joined in an unlikely alliance with an ACLU attorney (Tim Blake Nelson) and former local narcotics officer (Will Patton), Dee risks everything in a battle that forever changes her life and the Texas justice system. AMERICAN VIOLET also stars Emmy Award® winner Charles S. Dutton and Xzibit.

Here’s the movie trailer:

This is an independent movie, and is not in wide release. But if it is in your town, it might be worth a look.

The movie is based on a true story, which is detailed here. Another site has an engaging interview with Regina Kelly, upon whom the Dee Roberts character is based. Kindly enough, the video was placed on Youtube:

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