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"Funky" Exhibit Looks at Black Animation Icons of the 70's

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Just in time for Black History Month, a new exhibition in Harlem looks at the rise of black characters on classic Saturday morning cartoons. NY1's Roger Clark filed the following report.

If you grew up in the 1970's, or had kids or grandkids who did, you know who these guys are: "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids", created of course by Bill Cosby.

"He developed Fat Albert and it's based on his childhood, he had a staff of black animators and other people of color working on this," said "Funky Turns 40" Curator Pamela Thomas.

The big man is one of the stars of the new exhibition at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. It looks at the appearance of black characters on Saturday morning cartoons in the 70s, through dozens of drawings and production celluloids or cells.

"The animator may produce hundreds of these to get an actual frame under the camera to film a cartoon," Thomas said.

Strong, positive black characters like Lt. Uhura from "Star Trek", Peter Jones from "The Hardy Boys" and Verb from "Schoolhouse Rock" became cartoon favorites along with animated real life entertainers and athletes like The Jackson Five, Muhamed Ali and The Harlem Globetrotters. Before that, the depiction of blacks in animation was very different.

"The images were so derogatory either the black character had very big lips or extremely bulging eyes or their body parts were elongated," Thomas said.

"It was the first time that children as well as black America and white America were looking at images of black people that were both naturalistic and realistic, they weren't these stereotypes," Schomburg Center Assistant Curator Steven Fullwood.

And the cartoons did more than entertain. They sent positive messages on a variety of issues relevant to the young people watching.

"You can sit down and watch these cartoons with your children and they can get a life lesson learned right there in 30 minutes," Thomas added.

Thomas hopes visitors will first and foremost have fun.

"Because this is a fun exhibition and we wanted to do something that was out of the box and sort of strays away from what we do when we celebrate black history," she said.

The exhibit is called "Funky Turns 40" and it runs at the Schomburg Center through June 14.

For more information, visit museumofuncutfunk.com.

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