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Clean Pastures is a Merrie Melodies animated cartoon directed by Isadore "Friz" Freleng, produced by Leon Schlesinger, and released to theatres on May 22, 1937 by Warner Bros. and Vitaphone. The cartoon is a parody of Warner Bros.' 1936 film, The Green Pastures. It tells of an ersatz Heaven called "Pair-O-Dice" and its angels' efforts to win souls from "Hades Inc." A Stepin Fetchit caricature fails to recruit any souls in Harlem, New York City. However, jazz-singing angels incorporate "rhythm" into the pitch, and Harlem's African Americans follow them as they dance their way to Heaven.
Schlesinger and Warner Bros. had problems with Clean Pastures from the start. Hollywood censors alleged that the film ran afoul of the Hays Production Code because it burlesqued religion. Later commentators surmise that the censors also objected to the portrayal of a Heaven run by African Americans. In 1968, the short's stereotypical portrayal of black characters prompted United Artists to withhold it from distribution as one of the infamous Censored Eleven.
Modern critics have been no kinder to the film and cite its portrayal of black characters as offensive and reliant on negative stereotypes. Musicologist Daniel Goldmark interprets the film as a send-up of black religion and culture and the increasing identification of 1930s white audiences of jazz music with black culture. Religion scholar Judith Weisenfeld sees Clean Pastures as a metaphor for the replacement of rural, minstrel show stereotypes of blacks for modern, urban ones.
The Lord sees that the stock value of "Pair-o-dice" is dropping on the exchange so he dispatches a slow-witted and slow-talking angel to sinful Harlem to recruit new customers. When this fails, God finds success sending a group of musical angels with a little more swing in their style, so much so that even the Devil wants to join up!
- This and Uncle Tom's Bungalow were released before and after each other, respectively.
- The Censored 11 DVD has yet come to fruition. Transfers are done, but has yet to have a release date.
- Oscar Polk
- Louis Armstrong
- Cab Calloway
- Fats Waller
- Jimmie Lunceford