Tim Burton and Henry Selick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas is such a wonderful holiday film that fans enjoy watching from Halloween to Christmas. It’s hands down one of my favorite holiday movies! I’ve watched it a ton of times over the years, and I never looked at the villainous character of Ogie Boogie and saw “ugly, dangerous, racist” connotations. I just saw a fun and playful Bogeyman villain who is made out of burlap sackcloth made to look like a ghost and filled with insects.
Well, the writer of the film, Caroline Thompson, saw something completely different in the character. She recently appeared on the podcast Script Apart and shared that she had a creative disagreement with Burton regarding the depiction of the Oogie Boogie character. Thompson explains that she begged Burton to make some changes to the character of Oogie Boogie to make him less racist. She says:
“The Oogie Boogie character looks like a Klansman [from the Ku Klux Klan]. Oogie Boogie is a derogatory term for African Americans in the American south. I begged the powers that be to change something about that character, because of that. I said: this is so ugly and dangerous and antithetical to everything inside me. I did not win that fight… It was a troubling part of the film for me, to be frank. Plus, his song is sang by a black man. So it’s like a trifecta of wrongness. And as I said, I really did beg Tim to reconsider. Particularly the name… it’s a really evil derogatory term. That’s not a fight I won. I think it’s a fun segment of the story as it was executed but it’s a troubling one.”
I can see where she’s coming from, but I didn’t get that at all from the character. As for the name of the character, it’s more obvious to me that it’s inspired by The Bogeyman, a Bogeyman who knows how to boogie, as in dancing.
Also, the character is voiced by Black actor Ken Page, which seems to be another reason that the character representing racism doesn’t make sense. When composer Danny Elfman expressed his concern about the character being seen as racist years ago, there was some backlash and Selick responded and explained that the character was inspired by the Betty Boop cartoon The Old Man of the Mountain:
“Cab Calloway would dance his inimitable jazz dance and sing ‘Minnie the Moocher’ or ‘Old Man of the Mountain’, and they would rotoscope him, trace him, turn him into a cartoon character, often transforming him into an animal, like a walrus. I think those are some of the most inventive moments in cartoon history, in no way racist, even though he was sometimes a villain. We went with Ken Page, who is a black singer, and he had no problem with it.”
It seems to me like the racist connotations of the character that some people are seeing seem to be coincidental. Every time I’ve watched the film, I’ve just seen a fun and villainous ghost-like, glow-in-the-dark character, who kidnaps Santa and sings a great song.
What do you think about the character Oogie Boogie? How have you seen the character as you’ve watched the film over the years?