4 Facts about Actors and Blackface
Blackface was the makeup that non-black actors used in performances to caricature African-Americans.
There has been much discussion about the use of blackface lately, thanks to Megyn Kelly, H&M and Prada. Megyn Kelly lost her show, Megyn Kelly Today, on NBC, after she made controversial remarks about the use of blackface in Halloween costumes. Kelly sought to justify its use saying, “when I was a kid, that was okay as long as you were dressing up as like a character”. Kelly later apologized for her comments, but still lost her show.
The fashion brand, Prada, has also landed in hot water on the subject of blackface, after it produced and sold keychains that featured a black character with dark skin and full, red lips.
Prada said that the keychains were “fantasy charms” and weren’t intended to be racist. They have since removed the item from their stores and sought to clarify its intent.
With all the recent uproar over the subject, it’s a good time to revisit some basic facts about actors and the use of blackface.
#1: What is “Blackface”?
Blackface was the makeup that non-black actors used in performances to caricature black people. Its use gained popularity in the mid-1800’s minstrel shows, and existed mainly for the entertainment of white audiences. The use of blackface perpetuated racial stereotypes of African-Americans and minimized the harsh realities of slavery.
#2: Blackface perpetuated racial stereotypes
The use of blackface perpetuated racial stereotypes of African Americans as buffoons, ignorant, lazy, untrustworthy and criminal. Its use had a dehumanizing effect, as white audiences, many of whom had little contact with African Americans, were shown portrayals of them as unsympathetic, even in the face of slavery and harsh treatment.
#3: Blackface was widely accepted at the time
The use of blackface was fairly common and widely accepted, until attitudes about racial insensitivity began to change in the 1900’s. Many actors and artists made blackface portrayals, including The Three Stooges, Judy Garland, Amos and Andy and cartoons like Bugs Bunny.
#4: Blackface had an impact on racial views and resulting laws
Blackface influenced racial attitudes among whites. In fact, the Jim Crow laws, which established a system of segregation and discrimination in the South, was influenced by a popular song called, “Jump Jim Crow” which featured a white actor, Thomas D. Rice, performing a character named “Jim Crow”.
Come, listen all you gals and boys, Ise just from Tuckyhoe;
I’m goin, to sing a little song, My name’s Jim Crow.
First on de heel tap, den on the toe
Every time I wheel about I jump Jim Crow.
I wheel about and turn about an do just so,
And every time I wheel about I jump Jim Crow.
CHORUS [after every verse]
Weel about and turn about and do jis so,
Eb’ry time I weel about I jump Jim Crow.