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A Morning Bath (1896)

"Mammy is washing her little pickaninny. She thrusts him, kicking and struggling, into a tub full of foaming suds." - from the Edison Catalog

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Against a plain backdrop, a mother holds her infant, probably six or eight months old, over a washtub of sudsy water. She holds him in one hand and has a cup in the other, which she fills from the tub and pours over the child. He struggles and fusses; she smiles and looks from him to someone off camera. She wears a patterned high-collar long-sleeve dress and a white apron. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

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african american | bath | remake | See All (3) »


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Not Rated
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31 October 1896 (USA)  »

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Featured in Edison: The Invention of the Movies (2005) See more »

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Quite Dated, But More Harmless Than Most Such Features Of the Time
23 November 2005 | by See all my reviews

This brief Edison Company feature is quite dated in its portrayal of its characters, but it seems more harmless than most movies of this kind from the era. Although it makes use of racial stereotypes, at the same time it also pokes fun at the way that African-Americans were commonly portrayed in the stage productions of the time, so it's something of a mixed bag when viewed today.

The movie simply shows an African-American woman giving her young child a bath in a large wash basin. Her repeated scrubbing and her displays for the camera were intended to poke fun at the way that stage productions often portrayed African-American characters by using 'white' actors who blackened their faces using burnt cork or similar methods (there was a time when this practice also became common in movies). This feature attempts to make fun of the practice through its reference to how hard it could be to remove the artificial color produced in such a fashion.

If you watch a lot of movies from the 1890s and the first decade of the 1900s, it soon becomes clear that racial stereotypes were used rather freely and with little apology. It often happened that the different studios would even film rival versions of the same idea (this is one such case). It does seem as if the Edison features are usually less harsh than those of some other contemporary studios, but it's possible that this is simply a consequence of their approach rather than any particular degree of enlightenment.

At any rate, features like this, regardless of whatever minimal entertainment value they may have, can be helpful now in enabling us to understand the way that such issues were viewed at the time.


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