In the history of media, there exist works that may not seem overtly controversial at the time of their creation, but later come to be regarded as such as time passes and perceptions of morals, beliefs, and societial issues change. Animation is no different, and the best example of this within the medium is the "Censored Eleven", a group of eleven Looney Tunes animated shorts—ten of which were released under the Merrie Melodies label—that were created between the years of 1931 and 1944. The shorts were all banned from further distribution by United Artists (then owner of the 1934-48 Warner Bros. color cartoon library) in 1968 chiefly for the usage of stereotypical blackface character designs for African-Americans, alongside the depiction of Africans as savages. The full list is as follows:
- Hittin' the Trail for Hallelujah Land — 1931, directed by Rudolf Ising. This is the only short on the list directed by Ising, and is considered by many to be the least offensive of the Eleven.
- Sunday Go to Meetin' Time — 1936, directed by Friz Freleng.
- Clean Pastures — 1937, directed by Friz Freleng. This cartoon was nearly banned at its time of release—not for race, but for religious reasons (the Hays Office thought people at the time would be offended that black people are depicted as heavenly creatures and even The Devil wants to get into Heaven) and for glamorizing vices (gambling, sex (the showgirls dancing to "Sweet Georgia Brown"), swing-dancing, and booze).
- Uncle Tom's Bungalow — 1937, directed by Tex Avery.
- Jungle Jitters — 1938, directed by Friz Freleng. Watch
- The Isle of Pingo Pongo — 1938, directed by Tex Avery. The first travelogue parody done by Avery.
- All This and Rabbit Stew — 1941, directed by Tex Avery. This is the only Bugs Bunny cartoon on this list; it is also on the "12 Banned Bugs Bunny Cartoons" list. This short is in the Public Domain. Watch
- Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs — 1943, directed by Bob Clampett. Despite being banned for its outdated and racist content, it has made two lists (50 Greatest Cartoons and 100 Greatest Looney Tunes) and is considered by a lot of animation fans and historians to be one of Clampett's greatest works.
- Tin Pan Alley Cats — 1943, directed by Bob Clampett. This short also made it to the 100 Greatest Looney Tunes list, despite being banned for its racist caricatures of black people and its World War II references.
- Angel Puss — 1944, directed by Chuck Jones. This is both the only short released under the Looney Tunes label and the only short on the list directed by Jones.
- Goldilocks and the Jivin' Bears — 1944, directed by Friz Freleng. This was the only short on the list produced by Eddie Selzer- the previous entries were produced by Leon Schlesinger.
The "Censored Eleven" are called so because in 1968, Associated Artists Productions rightsowner United Artists deemed all eleven of the shorts—which contained numerous depictions of black people that are considered offensive—to be too offensive for contemporary audiences (especially in light of the Civil Rights Movement) and pulled them all from distribution. Unlike other shorts released at the time that were later edited to remove any racially-themed jokes (such as those found in various Tom and Jerry and Looney Tunes shorts), the racial themes in the Censored Eleven are so pervasive and thoroughly central to the plot of each short that editing them out would all but render the shorts into nothingness. Since 1968, the owners of the rights to these shorts—including the current rightsholders, Warner Bros. Discovery—have refused to show any one of them on television or (with a single exception) in theaters.
Several other racially-themed shorts (including Confederate Honey, Fresh Hare, Which Is Witch, all of the shorts featuring Inki, and MGM's Uncle Tom's Cabana and Half-Pint Pygmy) and numerous World War II-era cartoons that feature unflattering depictions of the Japanese are often associated by proxy with the Censored Eleven because of their racist content and their subsequent disappearance from television. (Fresh Hare was shown on TV, albeit with the ending cut. Which Is Witch was shown on TV up until the 1990s; Nickelodeon was the last channel to air it, again with a scene involving black savage stereotypes cut. It also aired on CBS Saturday morning TV with a scene of Bugs trapped in the pressure cooker cut.) These racially-themed cartoons are not officially associated with the Censored Eleven, however, and exist in a class by themselves. (Which Is Witch is part of a group of 12 Bugs Bunny cartoons, including the Censored Eleven's All This and Rabbit Stew, that were pulled by Cartoon Network due to Bugs facing off against a villain who happens to be an unacceptable racial target). Oddly enough, Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat (1941) is not one of the Eleven, as it precedes them, having already been pulled from circulation in 1949 following protests from civil rights groups.
At the Turn of the Millennium, several animation historians began to publicize the existence of the Eleven, which led to an article about the shorts in the New York Times which discussed how they could all be found on YouTube (or bootleg home video releases). This heightened public awareness led to a special theatrical airing of remastered editions of eight of the eleven shorts (Jungle Jitters, Rabbit Stew, and Angel Puss being the three left out) at the TCM Classic Film Festival in 2010. In October 2010, Warner Bros. announced the first legitimate home video release of the entire Censored Eleven; while initially pegged to be part of the Warner Archives "DVD-on-demand" program, Warner Bros. later confirmed that the release would be a traditional retail release. It would also have been a "high class" release that would have included several other rare cartoons from the time period of the Eleven and a number of bonus features. This release, however, was eventually shelved before its 2011 release date. According to animation expert Jerry Beck (circa 2016), the release was cancelled due to the low demand for DVDs and Blu-rays at the time.
For tropes in the individual Censored Eleven shorts, go to their pages. Tropes associated with the Censored Eleven in general include:
- Blackface-Style Caricature: Blatant versions appear in every one of the censored shorts, and are obviously a big part of the reason they're considered inappropriate today.
- Non-Indicative Name: While the Censored Eleven are the most infamous of the banned Looney Tunes shorts, there are a lot more banned shorts than that, as mentioned in the summary above. Jerry Beck estimated that there are probably almost 100 by this point that the powers-that-be deem inappropriate to release.
- Public Domain Animation: Three of the shorts on the list (Hittin' the Trail for Hallelujah Land, Jungle Jitters, and All This and Rabbit Stew) are in the public domain, which means anyone can legally download and distribute copies of them.
- Uncle Tomfoolery: Many jokes in the shorts poke fun at Black people, depicting them with enormous frog-like lips, lazy or dimwitted behaviour, and jive talk. Scenes of them eating watermelons, stealing chickens, being scared of ghosts, obsessed with throwing dice, and other such stereotypes are also rampant. Expect some imagery set in the days of slavery to turn up or jokes where their skin color turns out to be just black paint. Though a lot of it thrives on stereotypes that were typical of the time, this imagery was also seen in many live-action films of that time period, including works with actual Afro-American actors and musicians (including Louis Armstrong, Stepin Fetchit, Hattie McDaniel, and Josephine Baker). In some cases, these jokes were meant as innocent parodies that modern audiences, unaware of the stuff it referenced, will find offensive.