It seemed like everything was going according to schedule last night on TCM: the introduction to the racist and insulting themes presented by the upcoming Popeye Meets Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves aired as planned. But what followed was not the spinach-eating sailor and his adventures with Arab stereotypes. Instead TCM aired Love Tails of Morocco -- a completely unrelated film.
Cartoon Brew reported the change this morning, questioning whether TCM dropped the show out of fear of backlash to the racist themes. But a swift update reported not long after that TCM reps claim the change was a matter of a scheduling error. So the introduction that discusses the content of the cartoon in great detail was successfully entered into the schedule, but the expected film didn’t follow?
Times have changed dramatically since the 1937 Popeye cartoon was made and first seen. Though the images and stereotypes are no less racist than they once were, the political climate has changed quite a bit. Today people of Arab descent face probably some of the worst discrimination of any ethnic group on the planet. Is it possible someone at TCM pulled the film on purpose to avoid some angry letters? Did the network simply get cold feet, although they deny it?
It begs the question of whether or not we should try to hide the racist films of earlier eras, or use them as a learning tool. Certainly Arabs are not the only ethnic group to have been victims of a heavily bigoted Hollywood back in the day; and the stereotyping seen in this and many other films both animated and live action was pretty much universally accepted. Today we see these films and feel a little embarrassed by the overt racism inherent in them, but let’s face it: racism hasn’t gone away. It’s just better hidden, and denying it doesn’t get us anywhere. Perhaps letting the discussion that airing such a film is sure to bring forward is a better choice than sweeping it under the rug.
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