1) Is it ironic that the "villain" in Mickey's Mellerdrammer is the white clansman? Or did Walt Disney do it on purpose? This was created in 1933, a time when racism was still abundant in the country, so what message was Disney trying to get across to his audience?
A - The only reason the "villain" in this cartoon is white is because slave owners were almost always white in American history, and the slave owner is portrayed as white in Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, which the cartoon is trying to resemble.
On the other hand, it is fair to argue that Walt Disney did purposefully black face Mickey in the cartoon in order to make fun of African Americans. For one, it is a common belief that Walt Disney himself had antisemitic views and Nazi sympathies. On June 8, 2014 - my twentieth birthday, but I digress - Meryl Streep, a widely respected and forward thinking actress, openly criticized Walt Disney for being a "gender biggot" and "supporter of an anti-Semitic industry lobbying group." She even quoted Ward Kimball, also an animator, saying that Disney "didn't trust women or cats" (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/meryl-streep-slams-walt-disney-as-racist-antisemitic/). Taking all of this into consideration, 1933 is before he worked with German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl in 1938, a well known propagandist for the Nazi party, one of the earliest cited controversial acts of Walt Disney (http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007410). However, if he did in fact sympathize with those types of views, it would not be a stretch to claim that his views are present in earlier work, such as this cartoon. Ultimately then, Disney used Stowe's novel as a setting for his humor, but the message he was trying to portray was not one that supported a progressive racial agenda. This is clear by the "explosive" black face and overall dirty look of the characters. The irony in the villain being the white clansman in this situation is that it probably goes against Walt Disney's personal beliefs. The overall result of this is the message from Disney, a comic genius, that racial stereotyping is funny, regardless of anyone's sentiments.
2) Williams argues "that since the mid-nineteenth century, melodrama has been, for better or worse, the primary way in which the mainstream American culture has dealt with the moral dilemma of having first enslaved and then withheld equal rights to generations of African Americans" (pg.44). Would she argue that nowadays, melodrama is attempting to deal with prejudice against women/minorities/the LGBT community?
A - Expounding on Williams's quote, melodrama has indeed been used as a tool to support progressive change in American culture and politics. Melodrama is a way to publicly express the evolving ideas of a society as it struggles to choose a decisive side of complicated, hot-button issues, such as prejudice against women, minorities, and the LGBT community. For example, there is still the claim that racism is alive and well, but some cartoons would argue otherwise. In the crude comedy cartoon south park, season 4 episode 7 called "Chef Goes Nanners," two of the town's citizens argue to keep or change the town's flag, bringing the case to the Mayor (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0705908/). The flag depicts a few white stick figures hanging a black stick figure. Chef, an African American resident of South Park, argues to change the flag claiming that it is racist; Jimbo argues to keep it for its historical significance. The protagonist in the episode is Chef and the antagonist is clearly Jimbo. Both characters embody racial stereotypes in the episode, Chef dressing in traditional African clothing and Jimbo wearing his KKK outfit throughout town. The Mayor decides to settle this issue with letting the children of the elementary school debate over the issue, and whichever side wins in the debate decides whether or not to change the flag. Again, this pivotal use of children to decide such complex issues can be argued as a melodramatic theme, their inherent pureness the leading factor in melodrama's labeling of bad or good. Ironically though, in the end, the children end up debating on the fact that a man was being hanged, not even seeing that the man was a different color than those hanging him. In this way, the episode argued that society has progressed past racism as a problem, that the new generations have outgrown this prejudice.
3) Williams says that The Birth of A Nation "generated racial controversies that altered the way white Americans felt about blacks, and how they felt about being white" (pg. 98). It made "the black man into an object of white fear and loathing" (pg. 99). What would Williams say about Mickey's Mellerdrammer? How would she compare the two melodramas? What would she say about the two opposite pieces?
A - Williams would probably say that Mickey's Mellerdrammer has similar racist tendencies to The Birth of a Nation. The most notable of these would be the instance of blackface, which portrays the African American race in America as barbaric, demonizing them and therefore perpetuating racial prejudice. Although the cartoon was not as controversial, both were controversial in their own right, but their differences stem from the media on which they were released as well as the time period. The Birth of a Nation, which aired about a decade before, was monumental in that it had large support and criticism, being the first movie screened in the White House by Woodrow Wilson, but at the same time the NAACP tried to ban the movie (http://www.whitehousemuseum.org/east-wing/theater.htm; http://chnm.gmu.edu/episodes/the-birth-of-a-nation-and-black-protest/). Mickey's Mellerdrammer, however, was controversial in that such outward racism was rejected by both parties.