Animation as an artistic means of expression has long been put to use in the name of politics. Animated films have served as political propaganda, expressed political protest, and dealt with political questions in many genres such as fiction, documentary, and satire. With the digital turn in media production and especially the advent of the so-called ‘Web 2.0’, animation also became a powerful tool in political, educational and/or activist campaigns on the Internet. Online, animation finds wide and diverse audiences who, thanks to the growing availability of software, may even be engaged to produce animations themselves – from automatically generated GIFs that comment on political events to elaborate animated short films.
But what are the characteristics that make animation so prone to political content? In this video essay, we discuss representations of race in selected short animated films. We argue that animation is characterized by a special set of affordances that make it an essentially persuasive, evidential, and argumentative artform: its ability to exaggerate and simplify, to reduce complexity, to reiterate universal symbols, creative metaphors, and powerful iconographies, to provide images for the invisible and the unseeable, and to reveal the constructiveness of any image. By renegotiating the relation between ‘reality’ and ‘imagination’, animation can become a medium of transformation, which is the basis for all (political) change and thought.
The impulses for this video essay were manifold and shaped by several crises. The COVID-19 pandemic hit researchers hard in 2020, teaching and conferences went online. But despite the many restraints and hardships caused by this situation, academia also became more susceptible to, if not demanding of, unconventional, virtual forms of research exchange and collaboration. Around the same time, the Black Lives Matter protests raised global awareness of structural racism and racist crimes. Although the movement predominantly took action in the streets, online videos played an important role in documenting crimes and brutality from the start and, later, to express solidarity with the protesters, educate the public, and commemorate the victims. We were (and are) strongly sympathetic to the anti-racist cause but felt that our insights and influence as white European media scholars were limited. As researchers and educators, however, we decided to center our work on marginalized, non-canonical media (like animation, short film, web video) and to explore their specific potentials (and pitfalls) for anti-racist activism. So when given the time, means, and opportunity, we took the chance to transform an already existing lecture engagement on the topic of animation and politics into our first collaborative video essay and focus specifically on the works by Black artists, activists, and allies.
Franziska Bruckner (2015), “Hybrid Image, Hybrid Montage: Film Analytical Parameters for Live Action/Animation Hybrids,” Animation: an interdisciplinary journal, 10.1: 22–41.
Eric Herhuth (2019), “Political Animation and Propaganda”. In The Animation Studies Reader, ed. by Nichola Dobson, Annabelle Honess Roe, Any Ratelle, and Caroline Ruddell, 169–179. New York et al.: Bloomsbury.
Maike Sarah Reinerth (2020), “Der kurze Animationsfilm und das Politische,” Der Deutschunterricht 3: 52–61.
Nicholas Sammond (2015), Birth of an Industry: Blackface Minstrelsy and the Rise of American Animation. Durham: Duke University Press Books.
Paul Wells (2002), Genre and Authorship. London et al.: Wallflower.
Dr. Maike Sarah Reinerth is a postdoctoral researcher and was, until recently, also temporary professor at Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF. She is leading the funded network “Animation and Contemporary Media Culture” and, together with Anna-Sophie Philippi, “Creating Knowledge. Videographic-Essayistic Research as an Epistemological Instrument”. Maike’s postdoctoral research deals with animation and politics in online media. She is a founding member and spokesperson of AG Animation, a German-language working group advocating the academic recognition of animation. Selected Publications: “Audiovisual Metaphors and Metonymies of Emotions in Animated Moving Images,” in Animotion. Animating Emotions in the Digital Age (2018, with Kathrin Fahlenbrach); “Political Genres of Online Animation: Genre Theory, Animation Studies, and Digital Media,” in Media and Genre: Dialogues in Aesthetics and Cultural Analysis (2021, forthcoming).
Anna-Sophie Philippi is an academic assistant and Ph.D. candidate at Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF. Together with Dr. Maike Sarah Reinerth, she is currently leading the research project “Creating Knowledge. Videographic-Essayistic Research as an Epistemological Instrument”. In her Ph.D. research, she investigates the aesthetic plurality of Brazilian cinema of the 1970s along poetic concepts such as ‘cannibalism’, ‘hunger’, and ‘orality’. Recently, she co-edited a special issue on Brazilian audiovisual media by the German-language journal montage AV. Anna-Sophie has also been working as a film producer since 2016 and is co-founder of the film production company Contando Films.