Database for Animation Studies


A Thought on the Fleischer Brothers’ Rotoscope: the Problem of the Racial Repression of the Black Body.

Cab Calloway, one of the most famous jazz performers of the day, is featured in some of the Fleischer Brothers’ short animation Betty Boop series. Interestingly, Calloway himself never appears on the screen: what we see on screen is an animated character which has no resemblance of the singer. However, the audience could easily recognize the musician behind the fictional character because of the realistic reproduction of Calloway’s characteristic body movements and voice.
This essay examines the unusual representation of Calloway in the films by paying attention to the Rotoscoping process which generates such an impression. Given that the uncanny nature of his movement has often been associated with the movement reproduced by Rotoscoping, my investigation is twofold. It first attempts to locate where this uncanniness comes from. Then, I ask why the Fleischer Brothers featured Calloway in the films. Drawing on Freud’s concept of the Uncanny, this essay examines the underlying structure of repression and the subsequent appropriation of Calloway’s black body generated through the Rotoscoping process.

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