In 1956, Floyd Norman broke barriers in the film industry by becoming Disney’s first Black animator. Despite working on iconic films like Sleeping Beauty and The Sword in the Stone, his contributions were swept under the rug. Sixty years later, a documentary is paying homage to Norman’s legacy.
The film, titled Floyd Norman: An Animated Life, delves into Norman’s early beginnings at Disney and his rise in the realm of animation, reports The Huffington Post. After graduating art school at the age of 21, he started his career as an assistant animator and clean-up artist for Disney’s films. In the documentary, Norman recalls being told as a kid that he couldn’t get a job at Disney because he was Black. Despite the doubts, he defied the odds.
Over the course of his career, he worked on projects like 101 Dalmatians, Mulan, The Jungle Book, and Toy Story 2.
“Hollywood back then was a much more exciting place, especially at Disney,” Norman told The Pittsburgh Courier. “They had just built the theme park and had just gone into television with the weekly show, and the daily “Mickey Mouse Club” shows.”
When Norman – who is now 81 years old – turned 65, Disney asked him to retire, but he has continued to work for the company as a freelancer.
The documentary also focuses on the creation of his own ventures, which include AfroKids Animation Studio and Vignette Films. Both companies were designed to produce stories centered on African-American characters. Under those entities, Norman created some of the first animated films about Black history.
“There’s not a lot of exposure of art in the Black community. I’ve talked to a lot of kids and they haven’t been made aware of the opportunities in art,” Disney animator Ron Husband says in the film. “Floyd has been a trailblazer in that sense.”
Since stepping into the film industry, Norman has seen the landscape of animation continually change. However, he hasn’t allowed the changes to hold him back from doing what he loves. “The work is different, but not any more or less so if you’re smart, accept the changes and go forward,” said Norman. “Technology has always changed things, but it hasn’t affected me because I still do what I’ve always done—try to tell effective stories and make entertaining movies.”
Floyd Norman: An Animated Life was the recipient of San Diego Comic-Con’s best documentary award. The film is currently streaming on Netflix.