Floyd Norman: An Animated Life

Words: Desmond Childs
Growing up, my “blackness” wasn’t necessarily something that I struggled with. I had a very diverse group of contemporaries, and although our teachers were often white–many were married to Blacks, Hispanics, or even Asians. I say this as a sort of reflection on the state of social issues. Comparing today to yesteryears, and I’ve definitely been singled out more so now as opposed to my childhood. Whether it’s jobs or even being picked first for basketball games simply because I was black. The color of my skin, not my values, are what many people have used as a way to interact with me.

The key difference between myself and legendary Disney animator Floyd Norman, is that he wasn’t a black man looking for a job with Disney—he saw himself as just another artist looking for a good gig with an iconic company.

This documentary mixes segments of animated anecdotes and biographical recollections about the historic career of one Floyd Norman–one the greatest, most consistent animators you’ve never heard of. From his work with Disney to his career as a writer and comic strip maker, and also his stints as an animator and writer with Hanna-Barbara. There’s even a well placed segment detailing Norman’s independent production company that focused mostly on Black history. The film doesn’t shy away from the struggle-hustle days of Norman’s making informational videos and his serving as a photographer in Nam’ before returning back to Disney to resume work on projects such as 101 Dalmatians. There is a segment, in which Floyd begins to throw out some of the names of shows he worked on throughout his career–some I heard of, others I was unfamiliar, but there were many that I absolutely loved and still do. However, instead of listing them here I suggest you look up Norman’s work yourself. Seek out his artwork, his legacy, and his impact.

My favorite part of this film had to be the discussions of how Floyd handled stress. Whether it was his drawing silly, yet insightful doodles of company bosses and co-workers; or quietly dealing with a separation and ultimate divorce from his first wife. Norman never was an emotional, excitable type. Actually (and arguably more unhealthily), he was a man who had trouble expressing his pain and heartache. Floyd did not vent often, at least verbally to others; he preferred to vent through his artwork. Interviews with his children, co-workers, and women in his life gave solid insight to Floyd’s dealing with his shortcomings and setbacks.

There are other segments that were just as engaging, but this is definitely not a film I want to spill into details over. Please do yourself a favor and check out Floyd Norman and his incredible run on Netflix today. Here’s the trailer below:

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