My blackface cup runeth over.
I started talking about blackface and it’s influence on the project a few weeks ago and now it’s everywhere. Seriously though. Take Sunday night – I thought I was just going out to see a nice double feature of classic film noir, innocent enough, yes? One of the films, A Double Life, starring Ronald Coleman and Shelly Winters, was about an actor’s decent into lunacy while playing Othello. White actor + Moor role = blackface!
Having worked in Shakespearean theater, I’ve seen and read Othello many times. These days theatres tend to cast black, or otherwise colored, actors in the role, instead of applying a layer of makeup to what would normally be a white person. The meaning totally changes when the actor in Othello’s role is using blackface. Believe me, it does. In any case, flashbacks to O.J. ensued. I realize how far back all of these stories go.
I also remembered working on a play where myself along with 2 other dressers, a makeup artist, and some wig girls had to change an actor from white to black in under 30 seconds. Black in 30 seconds. This quick change always got a big laugh from the audience, but the play itself was pretty horrible. Which makes me wonder, is the use of blackface a last stitch effort that lacking forms of entertainment try to use to wow their audience? Is blackface becoming the new indicator of when a show or personality has jumped the shark? Does the entertainment industry desperately cling to blackface to garner attention and create commotion around shows that are loosing steam?
Here are a few instances of modern blackface:
1) Mad Men
I haven’t seen the whole episode, so I’m not sure how to comment on it. I also know that Mad Men is insanely popular, so I’m not sure my theory stands up in this case. We’d have to take a look at the Nielsen ratings, I suppose.
2) Will.i.am with Nicki Minaj at MTV’s VMA’s (4 months ago)
I think my favorite thing about Will’s all black getup is the weird ass plastic headpiece, and Nicki’s expression. This was his response via Twitter:
“Just because I where all black, including head mask, as expression and emphasize my outfit, it shouldn’t be looked at as racial. Let go of the past. There are far more important things 2 bark about. (Jobs, health, education) not a black man wearing all black everything.”
I have some very strong feelings about this, but basically I can sum them up by saying this: Show me a man in blackface and I’ll show you a man who’s run out of good ideas.
Blackface these days seems to be an easy way to get some cheap thrills, create a little bit of commotion, and remind us of the history that we’ve been simultaneously clinging to and denying for far too long.
Love and Enjoy.