"Babes In Arms"/"Babes On Broadway"--minstrel shows are "hep and modern"?! What? Cultural confusion

Note–I put this in GQ because I’m asking about the history of the time, not about the plot or quality of the movies. That said, if it gets moved to CS, I’m not gonna be all that upset.

I just watched Babes in Arms and Babes on Broadway for the first time. FTR, Broadway is about 23,000,000 times better than “in Arms”. But that’s not the point of this thread.

Ok–in both movies (circa 1939) Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland play young talented aspiring actors. In both cases, old fuddy-duddies don’t get their jive, hep, modern new ways. In both cases, Mickey and Judy (and friends) decide to put on a show in a barn/abandoned warehouse. In both cases, to demonstrate their hep new swingin’ act to their parents, the town and the stuffy producer they…put on a…minstrel show. Wid de blackface and de dia’lect and de shufflin’ and Mr. Bones and Mr. Tambo and de big white lips and de polka-dot pants.

Note that these are set in the then-present day. 1940-ish. Minstrel shows
A) Died before vaudeville except in rural locations, right?
B) Featured music by Stephen (“doo-dah”) Foster–who’s heyday was…what? about 1880?

How in the world were minstrel shows supposed to convey the swingin’ hep modern Broadway talent that Mickey and Judy represented? Forget the fact that these numbers were cringeworthy* by our standards (and they are), they were creaky by their standards. And the plot in both hinges on Mickey and Judy being new and modern.

I don’t get it. These “broadway” shows the kids are putting on are set 12 years after Show Boat, 8 years after “Anything Goes” and 1 year (or so) before Oklahoma! What gives?

*“Babes in Arms” was so bad as to be embarassing to watch. “Babes on Broadway” had decent production values, so while watching it is creepy and wrong, at least it’s well directed and produced.

Babes in Arms. 1937

Babes on Broadway. 1941.

Anything Goes 1934 on Broadway.

Oklahoma. Only a Broadway play by that name in 1943.

Blackface was common in films throughout the 30s, so its appearance in throwback films - Rooney and Garland were not supposed to be cutting edge hip in these movies; they were extremely safe models of what adults wanted cutting edge hip to be - doesn’t surprise me.

I don’t have access to any good histories of Hollywood right now, but a quick trip to Wiki’s page on blackface gives some quick answers.

Here’s a useful scholarly piece. MICHAEL ROGIN
“Democracy and Burnt Cork”: The End of Blackface, the Beginning of Civil Rights
Representations 46 (Spring 1994)

The blackface scene in Holiday Inn is often cut out today, but note that it came after the two Babes movies.

Really, nothing at all changed about racial attitudes in America or Hollywood prior to WWII.

This. They weren’t supposed to be professionals performing on Broadway; they were supposed to be kids, putting on a neighborhood show.

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