Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday August 14th 2018

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Hey, Hey, Hey: How Cartoons Shaped a Generation

By Shelby Smithey

Growing up in the ‘70s, Loreen Williamson and Pamela Thomas always spent Saturday mornings watching their favorite cartoons—the “Jackson 5ive” and “Josie and the Pussycats.”

At that time, those were just two of a small handful of cartoons that featured positive black characters that the girls looked up to.

The cartoons they watched as children stayed with them through adulthood, and they both began collecting memorabilia from those beloved shows, including hundreds of drawings and cels used in the animation and filming process. Eventually meeting over shared interests, Williamson and Thomas created the virtual Museum of UnCut Funk in 2007, an online showcase for original animation cels, posters, storyboards and other objects celebrating black culture of the 1970s.

That “funk” which inspired the two women so much in their childhood would eventually lead to a traveling exhibition, “Funky Turns 40: Black Character Revolution,” which opens this week at the Pensacola Museum of Art.

The exhibit, co-curated by Williamson and Thomas, will feature memorabilia from 24 animated productions, including Saturday morning and after-school cartoons and animated feature films that featured positive black characters in the ‘70s.

Who would have thought that a rather large, albeit civic-minded, character on Saturday morning cartoons in the ‘70s would have such an impact today? Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, premiering in 1972 and ending in 1984, was the longest-running positive black cast Saturday morning cartoon series.

“Thomas and Williamson are cartoon aficionados, and ‘Funky Turns 40′ commemorates the 40th anniversaries of popular ‘70s Saturday morning cartoons that featured positive and realistic black characters for the first time in television history,” the Museum of Uncut Funk’s website said. “Fueled by the civil rights movement and the overwhelming success of black musicians and athletes during the period, television producers began to explore projects with a wide, multicultural appeal.”

The museum’s website said that shows like “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” paved the way for other black characters and shows featuring music icons, sports heroes and multicultural casts such as “The Jackson 5ive,” “Josie and the Pussy Cats,” “The Harlem Globetrotters” and “I Am The Greatest” featuring Muhammad Ali.

Shows like “Hardy Boys” and “Super Friends,” which previously had overtly white casts, began to introduce positive black characters who worked side-by-side with their white counterparts.

“These shows helped empower a generation of children with cartoon role models who promoted family values, education, friendship, civic duty, personal responsibility and sportsmanship in fun, vibrant bursts of animation,” the museum’s website said. “Forty years later, the legacy of these cartoons pioneered the way for a new generation of black animation like “The Proud Family,” “Little Bill,” “Static Shock,” “Fillmore” and “Doc McStuffins.”

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