Was Betty Boop Black? The Inspiration Behind the Iconic Character

People take the origins of fictional characters very seriously. While it may seem like a silly thing to be concerned with, the argument can be made that art and culture have a greater impact on people’s psyches and personal belief systems than pretty much anything else.

So it’s understandable why so many people are interested in knowing everything about fictional characters like Betty Boop. Many wonder about the inspiration behind the character.

The real life Betty Boop was indeed black, and the cartoon character was whitewashed.

There are some influences for popular characters that are just undeniable. Once you see this 1979 Tom Waits interview that aired in Australia, you can see where Heath Ledger got a lot of his idea for the Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight. The biggest difference is that, you know, the Joker was more of an anarchistic maniac and Tom Waits is … well …Tom Waits.

Source: Getty

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Both women incorporated the use of a “baby” voice, and Esther Jones would employ the use of scat-talk in her jazz performances. That’s where the “boop boop de doop” originated from.

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However, after her first appearance in Popeye the Sailor Man, Betty was featured with light skin in every appearance until her retirement in 1939. Betty Boop underwent a renaissance in the 1970s, and you can still see her on bumper stickers and car decals today.

While Fleischer Studios made a pretty penny off of Betty Boop, Esther Jones never got her day in the sun.

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She was well-respected and mostly recognized only in New York City as a prominent artist in the Harlem Renaissance. She often performed at the Cotton Club, and her act would go on to influence what is arguably the first American animation sex symbol.

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