Acting in Blackface is BACK, Unfortunately

Acceptable????  Buffoonery???  Right, Buffoonery!!! Let one of my fav bloggers, Jasmyne A. Cannick,break it down for you. OH, and check out CNN’s take on it from this morning.

Buffoonery: Get some at a theater near you

Hollywood has finally found a way to get around hiring Black actors to portray Black people while at the same time further destroying the global image of the Black male-and make a couple million dollars in the process. Buffoonery, yes, it’s headed to a theater near you.

The latest assault on the Black image from Hollywood is the film Tropic Thunder that stares Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Hollywood’s favorite “white” drug addicted actor Robert Downey Jr.-in blackface.

In Tropic Thunder, a movie about a movie (how original), Downey, whom did I mention is white, takes on the character of an Oscar-winning actor named Kirk Lazarus-whose character in the war movie they are filming, Sgt. Osiris, is Black.

Still with me?

Now for the record, I don’t for one minute expect for Hollywood to take into consideration the history of blackface in America and how it makes me feel as a Black woman. I mean this is the same industry that forced Norbit on us-which single handedly managed to reinforce the negative stereotypes of obese Black women in 102 minutes to the tune of $95 million.

But at the same time, I know, like you know, that there won’t be any movies opening anytime soon that poke fun at or mimic their experience or their people.

I’m just saying that when it comes to Hollywood, the history of Black people in this country, and our image as a people, it’s like, “how much money do you need and how fast can you get the film done?”

Films like Tropic Thunder, to me, just open the floodgates and validate the use of blackface for entertainment purposes.

Consider this.

In just about two weeks, New Orleans will once again celebrate gay pride. Headlining the event-Shirley Q. Liquor. Liquor, is described by Charles Knipp as being “the Queen of Ignunce,” who is based on his experiences with and interpretations of Black southern women. Knipp, who is white and gay, performs the character – an illiterate, welfare collecting, mother of 19 children, who drives a Caddy, and attends Mount Holy Olive Second Baptist Zion Church of God in Christ of Resurrected Latter-Days AME CME – in blackface for mostly “white gay men and women, rednecks, and their moms” (his words not mine).

At the end of the day, this film is going to open regardless of how Black people feel about its use of blackface. From the controversy alone, it’s sure to rake in millions-and don’t think for one moment that was not the intention of DreamWorks execs from the beginning.

But before you buy that ticket to go and see Tropic Thunder and further contribute to the destruction of the global Black image and careers of Black actors, I want you to do three things-no make that four.

First, check the line-up of movies at the theater you’re at and count how many star

Black actors, feature Black actors, or are directed by Black filmmakers.

Then ask yourself how you feel about a white man who puts on blackface and an afro wig, calls himself the Queen of Dixie, and says things like “I’m gonna burn me up some chitlins and put some ketchup on there and aks Jesus to forgive my sins.”

Follow that up by asking yourself how you feel about white middle America college students like University of Alabama student Elizabeth Dennis, who dresses in blackface and mocks Blacks with her other Black friends. Dennis, recently changed her Facebook profile image from Piglet, the Winnie the Pooh character, who was in blackface with one hand holding a watermelon and the other holding a bucket of KFC Fried Chicken, with the word “Niglet” underneath.

If you still want to see Tropic Thunder, might I suggest a trip to your local neighborhood swapmeet, where more often than not there’ll be a brother out front ready to sell you a copy of Tropic Thunder for the ultra low price of $5. I mean I figure if Robert Downey Jr. is going to get paid for a role that could have easily been given to a Black actor, somebody Black ought to get paid, so why not your local bootlegger. I’m just saying it’s a good way to stick it to the industry and help a brotha out.

To most self-respecting Black Americans, blackface is an unacceptable form of entertainment, period.

I’ll close with this.

In published media reports, Robert Downey Jr. is quoted as saying in reference to his role in blackface in Tropic Thunder, “If it’s done right, it could be the type of role you called Peter Sellers to do 35 years ago. If you don’t do it right, we’re going to hell.”

Note to Downey: Do not pass go. Do not collect $200 million. Go straight to hell where Satan is anxiously awaiting your arrival.

Jasmyne Cannick is a critic and commentator whose work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times and Ebony Magazine. A regular contributor to NPR’s ‘News and Notes’ and, she can be reached at or


Filed under african american, black, black man, black women, blackface, blog, celebrity, culture, news, opinion, race, stereotype, video

10 responses to “Acting in Blackface is BACK, Unfortunately

  1. I feel ashamed, because I actually want to see this movie. I won’t make any excuses for it; I like Downey Jr. and his work.

    I don’t know what is more unfortunate. That we are still sensitized to a role that is clearly spoofing the ideal of blackface, or the fact many episodic comedies and reality shows accomplish the same feat at a much more regular rate.

    Ever checked out Bridezillas? Goodness gracious, family.

  2. Heather Leila

    I saw the movie. A black man could not have played Downey’s role because his role was a white man playing a black man, that was the point. The role of Lazarus was written for a white man so Downey himself didn’t steal the part from a black actor. Jackson’s character (the only actual black actor in the movie) points out all the problems with Lazarus and his refusal to break character even when filming has stopped. Jackson never lets up- which is good, it points out to anyone in the audience who might not get it, that Lazarus is being ridiculous. I have to say, the black character that Lazarus plays is not a negative portrayal of a black man. He is the organizer of the group, he is calm when everyone else is freaking out. If anything, Downey seems to be pretending to be Samuel L. Jackson. He pushes Stiller’s charcter around. Stiller’s character is a weak insecure person, what does that say about white men?

  3. Heather Leila

    But above all, the movie is about Hollywood and actors. It is about how self-absorbed, vain and out of touch actors are with reality. It is really arrogant of Downey to think he can play a black man. But he’s not. He’s playing a pompous white actor who is so full of himself he thinks he can play anyone.

    We’re not supposed to like any of the characters. Jack Black’s character spends the entire movie writhing around on the jungle floor from a drug withdrawal. I wonder how Downey felt about that, when we all know he’d been through various stages of drug addiction himself. Hopefully he can laugh at himself.

  4. KamikaK

    Thanks Heather Leila for bringing us back to reality and offering a clear perspective on the movie.

    I think we as black people tend to be OVERLY sensitive to such things. We do the same things to other races all the time and never point the finger at ourselves. White Chicks anyone? Or how about the white characters (or should I say caricatures) Eddie Murphy often plays. Hell! How about the black face tomfoolery on BET alone?

    We need to get better at picking our battles.

  5. Po'Sha

    I totally agree with Heather L. I mean I’m confident enough to laugh and let it roll of when I see stuff like that…however when I see routines like that of Shirley Q. Liquor I’m truly disgusted. I mean, not only does the character stereotype Black peoples religion, personalties, ect, it attacks our physical appearance. If you don’t understand what I mean, google images of this Shirley character…It’s so exagerated and just plain rude it opens old wounds from grade school learning of the racist propaganda of Blacks and Jews by Nazis.

  6. Hello there!

    I didn’t see the movie and never planned to but I do remember when Sir Anthony Hopkins played a black man who was passing for a white man in “The Human Stain”.

    There ARE films in which a white character can portray a black character.

    I believe that Robert Downey Jr. was chosen to be in black face instead of a black actor because the studio knew that this “twist” would bring in more money…and DID IT EVER!! I think the motive was financial.

    Is it still racist? Probably. I haven’t seen it.

    I have seen plenty of black actors and black actresses in roles that reinforce stereotypes and black people are packing the theatres….

    {shaking my head}

  7. Keebee

    “Note to Downey: Do not pass go. Do not collect $200 million. Go straight to hell where Satan is anxiously awaiting your arrival.” That was funny….I agree with Kamika K. We do need to pic our battles better. Yes, he played in black face and all of the controversy makes me want to see it more. But then our black actors and actresses are in movies that makes them look like they are in black face. Some of the black movies are making fun of us and we laugh. But I guess that’s ok ’cause it’s us doing it. No one wins in this situation.

  8. Big K

    How is anything Robert Downey Jr. did in “Tropic Thunder” (Where his character is CLEARLY a few bricks short of a load) any less offensive than the bufoonery Shawn and Marlon Wayans put on display in “White Chicks”? Everyone in “Tropic Thunder” knows Downey’s character is off his rocker and that he’s portraying Black people in a stereotypical fashion, The Wayans Brother’s insinuate that white women actually act in the way they were portrayed.

    Yeah, we as a people have been and still are oppressed and ridiculed, but just like back in the days when you played the dozens, if you gonna dish it out, you better damn be ready to take it.

    Better still, instead of waiting on racist Hollywood to stop being racist, why aren’t we getting our Oscar Micheaux on and making our OWN sh*t? Melvin Van Peebles pretty much put out Sweetback independently. In a world with Oprah, Will, Spike and Denzel walking about why are we still having this discussion?

  9. yvonnjanae

    I’m really getting fed up with Jasmine Cannick.

    Her argument is so, so 1950s.

    And I am still trying to understand her linking the southern comic to the Tropic Thunder character.

  10. Buena717

    saw the movie. it was not only the funniest movie of the year, but the message was clearly anti-plastic, anti-superficial, and not what you would perceive from the trailers. I reccommend it, might go see it again, and as a selective single-mom I normally don’t spend my $ or time on movies…

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