Politics in Animation: Obvious vs. Oblique

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I recently wrote a research paper for my course, titled Politics in Animation: Obvious vs. Oblique. I chose this subject because I was embarking on my first politically themed short, and wanted to see what type of work was being made along these lines. Most interesting to me was how clearly or obliquely filmmakers choose to disclose their own political opinions on specific subjects.

Here is a sample from the films I researched, mostly ordered from films that address politics very obscurely (“Is this even about politics?”) to films that are overtly political (“OK, I get it already!”).

This is just a list, but please visit my personal blog for thoughts on each film and the videos themselves.


1. Yuri Norstein: Tale of Tales (1979)

2. Jiri Trnka: The Hand (1964)

3. Martinus Klemet: In the Air (2009)

4. Veljko Popovic: She Who Measures (2008)

5. Ariel Belinco & Michael Faust: Beton (2007)

6. Martha Colburn: Destiny Manifesto (2006)

7. William Kentridge: Johannesburg, 2nd Greatest City After Paris (1989)

8. Max Hattler: Collision (2005)

9. Drew Christie: The Ghost of Gun Control (2013)

10. Mark Fiore: George Zimmerman, Off the Hook (2013)

Subjects addressed in this sample of animated shorts are oppression by a dictatorial force, consumerism or media in society, war, discrimination and current events.

Some of the films are strong allegories, and a political opinion is only seen through the general notion of good vs evil (Tale of Tales, The Hand). Most of the shorts fall somewhere in the middle, using symbolism, satire, tragedy and humour to get their political point across without actually stating it outright (In the Air, She Who Measures, Beton, Destiny Manifesto, Collision and William Kentridge). It seems the only animated shorts where political viewpoints are stated outright are shorts made for editorial sections of newspapers, where personal opinions are expected (The Ghost of Gun Control, George Zimmerman, Off the Hook).

All these films have been successful, though it is interesting to note that the editorial animations don't seem to have a festival life, and instead live almost exclusively online, while some filmmakers like William Kentridge and Martha Colburn (who address specific political situations, albeit obliquely) win fewer festival prizes but have extensive gallery careers.


Overall this research was quite useful for me as I embarked on my first political short, a one minute film about the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case called One Night in Florida. Keep an eye out for it!

About the author


Tess Martin is an independent animator who works with back-lit paper cut-outs, ink, paint, sand or objects. She is the recipient of three 4Culture grants, two City of Seattle grants, and numerous others in support of her films, including The Whale Story, animated on a 16 foot high wall in…

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