Tim here. With Black History Month still in full swing, I thought it would be worth spending some time diving into the history of African-American animation and reporting back to everyone with what I found, which turns out to be easier said than done. Despite a history of animation as an independent and avant-garde form welcoming any and all groups trapped without a voice in the mainstream reaching into the silent era, there has been shockingly little overlap between black cinema and animation down through the years. Which isn’t the same as saying that there’s none, and I am certain that there’s probably more than I was able to scrounge up over a couple of days of researching.
Pioneering animators Frank Braxton (L) and Floyd Norman (R)
By and large, though African-American animators have been associated primarily with big studios, beginning in the 1950s, when Frank Braxton signed up with Warner Bros. By the end of that decade, Floyd Norman had become the first African-American employee of the Walt Disney Company, and his association with that studio continued well into the 2000s (and may continue yet – he’s still actively working, with a credit on a non-Disney production as recent as last fall’s dire Free Birds). The first significant branching out happened in the ‘60s, when Norman left Disney after its namesake and founder died, to join forces with new artist Leo Sullivan to create Vignette Films, a studio focused on making short animated explorations of African-American history (of any of these films still exist, the internet doesn’t seem interested in sharing them).