Disney’ live action remake of “Beauty and the Beast” will be released to theaters soon enough, and like the release of the live action “Cinderella” and Sleeping Beauty spin off “Maleficent”, many people were excited to see this classic Disney musical come to life! This hype lasted until the director, Bill Condon, announced that one of the characters was officially homosexual. Despite the fact that the scene was small and easily inferrable, people became outraged over this turn of events. A theater in Alabama went as far as banning the film from their theater just because the owners did not agree with the decision to make a classic character gay. This is not the first time a controversy was caused over a minor scene if anyone can recall the outrage over seeing a lesbian couple in the very background of “Finding Dory”. While modern cinema and entertainment has been bringing forth more progressive ideas that have enraged older audiences, history has shown that there have been even more profane topics displayed on TV and in the theaters.
Art and theatre has existed for more than 2000 years, and the first motion picture film created was “Roundhay Garden Scene” back in 1888. From there the film industry began to take off, and by 1908 “Fantasmagorie” became the first cartoon to ever be created and it eventually caused animated cartoons to become popular as technology began to develop. For a while cartoons and films were a form of free expression that could easily be accessed via the movie theatre. While Walt Disney gave his studio strict rules to follow, studios like Paramount and Educational Pictures let their producers freely express themselves. It was because of these policies that shorts like Betty Boop and Baby Burlesks started out the way they did. Many of these cartoons featuring themes relating to sex and drugs were banned from public view by organizations such as the National Legion of Decency, a Catholic organization that was trying to keep moral decency in movies and prevent people from behaving in undesirable ways.
Now, the National Legion of Decency (or NLD) may have not been a government organization but since the majority of the American population were Catholic it was easy for them to review movies and publish lists of movies to avoid. Many people back during the 1930’s actually supported the NLD’s cause and because of the Great Depression during this point in time, most movie and animation studios couldn’t afford to have anyone boycott their works. It was because of these fears that the cinema industry gave into what the NLD wanted. Companies would send their productions to the NLD for reviewing and they would have their ratings sent to them based on the Hays Code, which was a rating system the NLD used back them to rate moral indecency.. If they were given an “A” rating for being morally unobjectionable they were good to go! If they were given a “B” it meant that they were not going to recommend it nor condemn it, but onwards they had to tread carefully. “C” meant that the movie was outright condemned, and if they didn’t cut out the offensive material out of the film then they were going to have people boycott the showing.
Betty Boop, being the first example brought up, was designed with the intention of bringing the nostalgia of the Roaring Twenties into the 1930’s. The creator, Max Fleischer, didn’t hide many of the sex and drug related themes that went on during the 1920s either. From an episode where Betty attempts to run away from home and encounters a ghost singing about prostitutes and drug addicts to one where Betty almost gets sexually assaulted by a man she was working for, it was no surprise that it was affected by the Hays code within 4 years of being on air. Paramount animation studios tried to make up for this by completely changing Betty’s character from being a carefree girl to being a housewife or a career girl. They took away her classic red dress and replaced it with lengthened dresses and skirts, took away her hoop earrings, and they even gave her a boyfriend at some point in an attempt to keep people from boycotting their cartoons. Instead people stopped going to them entirely since the character they were viewing was nothing like the original Betty Boop.
While Betty Boop’s popularity declined, characters that thrived under Walt Disney Studios were no more innocent. In the oldest cartoons shorts such as “Mickey’s Mellerdrammer” Mickey Mouse and Clarabelle Cow are seen wearing blackface while putting on a stage performance of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin. A constant theme you can find with the character Minnie Mouse in her older portrayals was that she had occasional sexual references thrown her way from Mickey and Pete, but the majority of it was actually coming from Mickey. Even some classic Disney movies had some racist references like a black centaur is waiting on a bunch of caucasian centaurs in “Fantasia” and an important supporting role in “Dumbo” is a crow by the name of “Jim Crow”. Another interesting reference is an old Disney movie called “Song of the South”. In this live action movie that’s mixed in with animated musical sequences, it had actor James Baskett play as a freed slave referred to as “Uncle Remus” in a setting after the Civil War. When the film was released in 1946 it was met with outrage over its inaccurate depiction of slavery, as well as Disney forcing negative stereotypes on Uncle Remus’s character. While many people claimed to have loved the artistic and musical beauty of the movie, other people of different races and ethnicities picketed the premier and hated the movie outright. The film has only been shown in theaters and while it has been released on home video in other countries Disney has never released it in America, and perhaps they never will.
When it comes to film, however, the “Baby Burlesks” produced by Educational Pictures were probably the creepiest filmed shorts to come out during the 1930s. The plot behind these 10 to 11 minute shorts were mostly satirizing movies, celebrities, and current events of the time. All of the cast members were children age 5 and under who were acting out the roles of adults and participating in adult situations such as pretending to get drunk on milk or even making sexual references and wearing racy clothing along with a diaper fastened with an oversized safety pin. Many of these scenes contained sexual innuendos, racial references, young girls playing out the parts of prostitutes, and even the children kissing each other on the lips. Only 8 of these films were ever created thanks to the passing of the Production Code of 1934 which resulted in this part of Educational Pictures being shut down. After going under in 1939, all of their leftover motion pictures were auctioned off. This infamous series continues to be sold to this day with Shirley Temple DVDs since it was the child star’s first appearance on the big screen.
Now, in comparison to the information that I have presented, let us look towards present information about what we see today now that we have the current MPAA Movie Rating System as well as TV Parental Guidelines. Every movie or television show will get some sort of rating, and if it doesn’t have a rating yet it will make it clear that the movie has yet to be rated. By dropping the Hays Code we have still managed to regulate who can see what at a certain age based on the scenes and nature of particular movies and television shows. Even when a movie barely comes out it’s not hard to look online to see the rating and any warnings for parents if they want to keep their kids away from certain topics, while in TV shows a rating is displayed on the upper corner of the screen when a show is rolling for about 15 seconds in order to let a parent know if a show is suitable for their child. Going back to the topic of the new “Beauty and the Beast” movie, it wasn’t hard for me to look for warnings about the movie. While most of the warnings were in the violence section about the fights, there was a single warning in the “Sex and Nudity” section that simply stated “One homosexual scene”. Now if you were to compare that to the Baby Burlesk “War Babies”, you would see a 4 year old Shirley Temple wearing an off the shoulder top and attempting to dance around in a very suggestive manner. Is a single homosexual scene that does not define the entire movie as bad as children under the age of 5 making sexual references while dressing and behaving like adults?
Chiba, Naomi. “The World History of Animation by Stephen Cavalier (review).” Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal. Center for the Study of Film and History, 20 Dec. 2015. Web. 17 Mar. 2017. <https://muse.jhu.edu/article/604517/summary>. To bring up Fantasmagorie and explain how it got the ball rolling in the animation industry. While it was mostly a simple drawing animation, it was only soon after it became know how it was made that people started creating their own methods to create their own cartoons.
Black, Gregory D. Hollywood Censored: The Production Code Administration and the Hollywood Film Industry, 1930-1940. Vol. 3. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana U Press, 1989. Jstor. Indiana University Press. Web. 18 Mar. 2017. <www.jstor.org/stable/3814976>. To explain the history behind the Hays Code and the National Legion of Decency. While it was not an official government organization it still played an influential role in cinema’s history. Hollywood movies has no official regulation system between 1930 and 1980, and this was the people’s solution to keep morality in Hollywood up until the MPAA was formed.
Bottomly, Jessica, Linda Gwilym, and Jen Malczewski. Film Archives: The Role of Digitization in Preservation and Access. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2012. <http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.465.6053&rep=rep1&type=pdf>. To explain that Roundhay Garden Scene and how it was a major achievement compared to regular photography. After this point in history was when the silent movie era began, and eventually the sound movie era.
Gaeta, Kathleen. “It Begins: Alabama Drive-In Becomes the First Theater to Boycott ‘Beauty and the Beast’ Over Openly Gay Character.” IJR – Independent Journal Review. Independent Journal Review, 05 Mar. 2017. Web. 3 Mar. 2017. <http://ijr.com/2017/03/816831-it-begins-alabama-drive-in-becomes-the-first-theater-to-boycott-beauty-and-the-beast-over-openly-gay-character/>. To open the report with a recent controversy in cinema. The article goes to explain that an Alabama theater banned the showing of Beauty and the Beast because the owners didn’t want their children to be influenced by homosexuality.
Harmon, Steph. “Baby Burlesque, And Some Other Weird Things You Didn’t Know About Shirley Temple.” Junkee. N.p., 11 Feb. 2014. Web. 18 Mar. 2017. <http://junkee.com/baby-burlesque-and-some-other-weird-things-you-didnt-know-about-shirley-temple/28843>. To explain the Baby Burlesks in depth with evidence. This article not only provided the recolored films themselves but even went further by bringing quotes from Shirley Temple’s autobiography about how she felt about working with Baby Burlesk.