A couple of years ago I decided to try releasing a limited edition cel from dad’s infamous cartoon, “Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs”. Although I had lived through years of controversy around this cartoon, I also knew the truth about Coal Black-that it was dad’s celebration of the African American Jazz culture. Here is the image of the limited edition cel we developed, along with an explanatory document that was sent to executives at Warner Bros. in an effort to convince them to allow me to do this project. I had purposely picked a scene to recreate that focused on Coal Black since she was such a cute, sexy character-and in my mind wouldn’t be construed as a negative stereotype by people who had no real understanding of the cartoon.
The Wicked Witch character is unappealing in every way, but isn’t that true of most wicked witches? And so I hired my friend, Darrell Van Citters to do the drawings from the original animation. Another friend, Hector Martinez recreated the original background for me. I loved the image, and felt confident it would be appreciated by collectors. The problem with the culture of corporate America is that it is always easier to say “no” then to take a chance by endorsing something different. Each group at the studio that reviewed the artwork, passed it up to the next chain of authority, not wanting to be responsible for approving something potentially controversial. It was passed around for several months until it was suggested that I might want to work on ideas from other cartoons. I was disappointed, but not at all surprised.
The delightful end to this story is that less than a year later I received a call from an executive in the home video division of Warner Bros. They had asked Whoopi Goldberg to do a commentary about some of the controversial cartoons of the Golden Age of Looney Tunes for an upcoming DVD collection release. Whoopi is not just a cartoon fan, but extremely well-versed in the historical significance of many of these cartoons. She has always been a vocal fan of “Coal Black” and as part of her compensation to do the commentary she wanted a cel from “Coal Black.” So the anxious executive was calling me to find out if my family had a cel we were willing to sell to them to give to Whoopi. “Well, funny you ask,” I replied. “I happen to have a wonderful cel we created recently.” After Whoopi received the special cel, she graciously called me and shared that dad was one of her favorite cartoon directors, and that she would treasure her “Coal Black” cel. And after all the struggles and disappointments, I felt satisfied knowing it couldn’t have ended up in better hands. To all of the fans of “Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs” thank you for looking beyond the controversy to appreciate the artistry and celebration of one of my dad’s most passionate works. You are the ones keeping his legacy alive.