Friday, August 12, 2011

Civilize the Cannibals!

   Watch this early Shirley Temple short film, "Kid in Africa" - one of a series of baby burlesque shorts that, over and over again, exploited young children by making them play roles fit for adults.
   "Kid in Africa" stars a host of toddlers on an African missionary party, led by Shirley Temple. In the middle of the jungle, she is captured by "savage" natives, who throw her in a large pot and begin to prepare her for a Shirley Temple stew. A young Tarzan parody named Diaperzan comes to save her, and together, he and Ms. Temple bring civilization to the natives. The closing scene shows the two young "heroes" in a tree-house full of squalling babies, and the promise of migraines to come.

   Cute, right?

   In a matter of 8 short minutes, we see young black children being used as pack animals - shirtless, and carrying sacks on their heads. While taking a rest, one after another, the little boys wake up and flee in fear from a "cannibal" tribe of little black toddlers in face paint. They don't alert each other - they focus on saving themselves. The kids then get into a brawl, where Ms. Temple pulls out her pistol, and the "cannibals" run around pouring salt on their potential dinner's heads.
   The natives who helped Ms. Temple in the Cannibal Expedition warned her to flee - but no. Ms. Temple is adamant that "these cannibals must be civilized"! Tall and proud, she exclaims that they wouldn't dare to touch her. Why? Because she is white, and she knows what's best. Skipping ahead past some of the stew scene, the head cannibal chef calls another cannibal tribe over for dinner. A little boy picks up and accepts the offer - because if there's anything he loves, it's stewed missionary. Yum.
   The last thing I'm going to comment on about this movie is the chase scene. Shirley Temple later recalls about the film:

   “I was being chased by the little black boys who were playing the African natives. The director wanted all the children to fall at one time. I got through on the path and then they put a wire up and tripped all the little black boys at once and, of course, they all fell in a heap, and some of their legs were cut.” - Shirley Temple, on "Kid in Africa"

   I'm going to leave you on that note. Comment as you will.

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