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Disney’s documentary on first black animator is now on Netflix

Floyd Norman is an unsung figure in history, but now receives tribute in ‘Floyd Norman: An Animated Life’

Floyd Norman penned his way into the hearts of Disney lovers more than five decades ago, sketching some of Disney’s greatest films. Norman, 81, was Disney’s first black animator, and now you can see the story of his life and the highs and lows he’s faced on Netflix in Floyd Norman: An Animated Life. The critically-acclaimed documentary ran in theaters in August and can be now be viewed on the streaming service to kick off this holiday season.

In the film, he discloses his experience in the world of animation as a black man and accounts some of the instances when he was often mistreated in the industry.

“People have often asked me, ‘How did I feel being the first African-American in Disney?’ Well, I wasn’t even aware that I was an African-American,” Norman jokingly said. Although 1956 wasn’t a progressive time for blacks, especially in the world of animation, Norman proved that he was at the top of his game and entered the industry based on “raw talent.”

Norman was raised in Santa Barbara, California. He spent some time as a writer/animator for Hanna-Barbera Productions Inc. He wrote Mickey Mouse comic books for Disney Publishing. After Walt Disney’s death in 1966, Norman left the company to start Vignette Films Inc. (Vignette Multimedia) with fellow black animator Leo D. Sullivan and other colleagues. Together they created the first Fat Albert television special, produced the original Soul Train logo and worked on projects with Sesame Street, among other ventures.

Norman’s journey led him back to Disney, where he worked with the Disney subsidiary, Pixar. In the film, he discusses how he was forced into retirement at age 65, though he’s had a presence at Disney for the past 16 years.

The film features Whoopi Goldberg, Leonard Maltin and other industry leaders.

“There’s always rumors of black people at Disney,” Goldberg said in a trailer for the film. “It’s always like, ‘No, I think there is one.’ But no one ever saw [Norman].”

Norman has been honored as a Disney legend for his contributions and is featured on Disney’s DVD release of the classic Jungle Book. His resume also includes work on Sleeping Beauty, Toy Story, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mulan and Monsters, Inc.

Today, Norman, along with Sullivan, runs AfroKids.com — an interactive website and entertainment venture.

The mission of AfroKids.com is to empower families as well as build children’s self-esteem and cultural heritage through educational and entertainment media.

Kelley Evans is a general editor at The Undefeated. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.