It is curious that, despite the importance of Ernie Sunshine Morrison and little Farina in the cast, this Our Gang episode should have focused in this manner on race issues. It is not simply the Klu Klux Klan take-off and Ernie Morrison senior's caricature of an ignorant leturer and his shambolic lecture-hall. This sort of thing was associated primarily with the Southern states and Northern blacks were by and large equally prejudiced with regard to the South - similar scenes can also be found with regard to hell-fire preachers in the so-called "race" films - but here the mélange of ignorance and comic pretension is made to appear of general application to the "supposedly educated" African American population (a man who looks at first glance like a serious black intellectual is shown expressing his approval). Note that most reviewers here refer to the character as a preacher which he is not but this indicates how the slippage works.
But it is also, most nonchalantly and yet in way most significantly of all, the school-room setting itself with which the film starts. The black kids are of course not present there with their white counterparts but are seemingly in the yard outside and not themselves attending school at all. It is a significant feature in a film that also mocks black illiteracy and ignorance.
It is often not the things that are highlighted in films concerning race that are interesting but the things that are simply taken for granted, which meant that even supposedly "liberal" takes on race, as late as the sixties, contained implicit racist assumptions (the "that's just how it is " syndrome) which largely invalidate the proclaimed "liberalism" (the absolutely appalling To Kill a Mocking Bird is a perfect example - the heart-rending story of how tough it is to be a a white liberal - and, oh, an innocent black guy, so irritatingly fails to take his advice, gets shot somewhere along the line - as they do, foolish fellows!). It was excellent that Roach employed the black youngsters and that, for most purposes, they figure on an equal footing with their white playmates but it could not of itself touch the racism that remained. One often finds amongst US comments on such films a modern equivalent of the "just how it is" syndrome expressed as a "that's just how it was" justification for the films.
(remains?) so ingrained in US culture.
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