Sunday, April 3, 2016

Disney's zebra centaurs: the lost tapes

Here, after much searching, is a very brief but significant clip from the Pastoral Symphony segment of Disney's Fantasia. I wanted to see this because it features, if ever-so-briefly, two glorious zebra centaurettes who weren't erased from the final cut.

This voyage into cinematic racism in human/equine hybrids started with Sunflower, the little black girl who acted as a handmaiden/possible slave to the pastel-coloured centaurettes. Sunflower, who was half-donkey rather than half-horse, was edited out so thoroughly that she no longer appears in the DVD version of the movie at all, and even looks to have been photoshopped out of one scene.

That turned out to be wrong. The little black centaurette/donkey/possible slave who unrolled the red carpet for Bacchus/Dionysis and the gang was a character called Otika. It was nice of the animators to name her, but not so great when she almost instantly vanished from view.  Once she was photoshopped out, we were left with the bizarre phenomenon of the red carpet unrolling all by itself.

Better black magic than an admission of racist stereotyping. The solution seemed to be getting rid of the character altogether. But what of the zebra-ettes, who aren't even given names? They too act as servants: one of them fans the fat,drunken Bacchus, and the other keeps his wine glass sloshing over the top. Within ten seconds or so, both of them have quickly moved out of the frame.


I don't know what the rationale is here. These are grown women, obviously; but it is equally obvious they are black, perhaps even African, since their lower halves are not horse but zebra.

Were these exotic creatures serving Bacchus out of love, or because they were earning a salary? Disney was a known cheapskate who might just have kept his zebra hybrids on slave wages.

It's impossible to untangle this one because it's such a bizarre example of erasing something that is just too embarrassing to leave in. Having a sort of little black Sambo-ette/servant figure in the movie is inappropriate, but why is it OK to get rid of her completely? The magnificent Deviantart depictions of Sunflower are reclaiming her from obscurity, giving her her power back. And I'm all for that.

But Otika, her two-second film appearance now more rarefied than the unicorn or even the centaur, can take comfort in the fact that she is not the only actress whose performance has ended up on the cutting room floor.

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