Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat
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|Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat|
|Universal/Walter Lantz cartoon studio "Car-Tune" series|
Original title card
|Directed by||Walter Lantz|
|Produced by||Walter Lantz|
|Story by||Ben Hardaway|
|Voices by||Mel Blanc|
|Music by||Darrell Calker|
|Animation by||Alex Lovy
|Studio||Walter Lantz Productions|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Release date(s)||March 28, 1941 (USA)|
|Running time||7 min (one reel)|
"Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat" is a 1941 hit boogie-woogie popular song written by Don Raye. A bawdy, jazzy tune, the song describes a laundry woman from Harlem, New York whose technique is so unusual that people come from all around just to watch her scrub. The Andrews Sisters and Will Bradley & His Orchestra recorded the most successful pop versions of the song, but it is today best recognized as the centerpiece of an eponymous Walter Lantz Studio cartoon from 1941.
The short version, released on March 28, 1941 by Universal Pictures features no director credit (Woody Woodpecker creator Walter Lantz claims to have directed the cartoon himself), with a story by Ben Hardaway, animation by Alex Lovy and Frank Tipper, and voice work by Mel Blanc. The short is awash with what is now considered offensive blackface stereotypes of African-American people and culture, and of life in the rural Southern United States.
The "Scrub Me Mama" short is today in the public domain. Clips from it are featured in Spike Lee's 2000 satirical film about African-American stereotypes, Bamboozled. The film's setting, Lazy Town, is not to be confused with the children's television program of the same name.
The short opens to an orchestral rendition of Stephen Foster's "Old Folks at Home", immediately setting the scene in the rural South of blackface minstrelsy. The setting is Lazy Town, perhaps the laziest place on earth. Neither the town's residents (all stereotypes of African Americans) nor the animals can be bothered to leave their reclining positions to do anything at all. Their pastoral existence is interrupted by the arrival of a riverboat, carrying a svelte, sophisticated, light-skinned woman from Harlem (who bears a resemblance to Lena Horne), whose physical beauty inspires the entire populace of an all-African-American "Lazy Town" to spring into action.
The visiting urbanite admonishes one of the town's residents, "Look here, Mammy. That ain't no way to wash clothes! What you all need is rhythm!" She then proceeds to sing "Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat", which the townsfolk slowly join her in performing. Thus begins a montage which is the short's centerpiece. The townsfolk are infected by the song's rhythm and proceed to go about playing instruments, and dancing suggestively. By the time the young light-skinned lady from Harlem is due to re-board her riverboat and return home, she has succeeded in turning a dark-skinned Lazy Town into a lively community of swing musicians simply by singing. The cartoon concludes with the mammy washerwoman bending over, displaying the words "The End" across her rear end.
This cartoon has been withheld from distribution by Universal since 1949 due to its portrayal of African-Americans. The decision was made after a strong objection was raised by the NAACP upon the short's reissue in 1948. The entire short was a shock to Lantz who prided himself on avoiding problems with the censors. He repeatedly stated that his cartoons were never meant to offend anyone. After the 1948 decision, Lantz made a major effort to make sure that offensive caricatures of any racial or ethnic group would never appear in his cartoons again. He also personally made sure that Scrub Me Mama would never be distributed on television, although it was seen in European countries, such as Ireland, France and Spain.
The short was re-released in 1948. On October 20, 1948, the NAACP wrote a letter to Universal Studios. It objected to the "vicious caricature of Negro life in the South". They found the short to depict Black people as lazy and only activated by swing music. They also objected to the images of scantily clad, dancing young women. They requested the end of distribution for the film and better judgement from Universal.
On October 29, 1948, a representative of Universal wrote to the NAACP. He pointed out that none of the company's theaters had received complaints concerning the film. On November 3, 1948, Madison Jones, Jr met with E.L. McEvoy at the New York office of Universal. Jones represented the NAACP, and McEvoy represented Universal. McEvoy defended the racist humor of the film. Jones responded that NAACP was holding an education campaign against this type of humor.
McEvoy offered to let the NAACP contact the West Coast offices of the company, but he warned that in consequence for taking action, "niggers" would be prevented from getting work in the industry. He also claimed the NAACP members were better educated than the average audience member, who would not object to seeing racist images. Jones responded that this was a reason to avoid the racist films, that the audience might think them to be based on fact.
McEvoy pointed out that caricatures of Negroes, Jews, Germans, and Irish used to be top entertainment. He also explained that the office language at Universal included the terms "sheenie" and "kike" (both used for Jews). He also pointed out that the film was only on re-release due to the Walter Lantz Studio being shut down at the moment.
On November 20, 1948, there was an article on the Los Angeles Tribune concerning the complaints of the NAACP. On February 3, 1949, Universal announced in a press release that the studio was withdrawing the film, following the protest. A memo on February 19, pointed that the Jewish Labor Committee had co-operated with the NAACP in protesting the film.
- "The Walter Lantz Cartune Encyclopedia: 1941". The Walter Lantz Cartune Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2013-06-01.
- Cohen (2004), pp. 51-53.
- Cohen, Karl F. (2004), "Racism and Resistance: Stereotypes in Animation", Forbidden Animation: Censored Cartoons and Blacklisted Animators in America, McFarland & Company, ISBN 978-0786420322