does racism and cultural appropriation only work in one direction?

A History of the American Minstrel

Thomas Dartmouth Rice can be regarded as the father of the minstrel variety show that presents black people in a caricature manner, who modeled his Jim Crow figure on a dancing, singing, physically disabled man seen in the American South. Throughout his life, Rice played caricaturistic black characters throughout America and Europe, including burlesque versions of Othello or Brother Thomas.

Following the development of the minstrel, the obligatory template roles were formed, such as the uneducated villager, the urban know-it-all, the half-breed and the big-hearted, sprawling woman. The performances were based on the portrayal of black people, emphasizing their ridiculousness, excessive emotions and sexual appetite.

The performances were attended by the poorer people, the more educated already in the 19th century. in the 20th century, they tended to avoid it, as they were aware of the social context of the works, that is, that poor whites (primarily Irish immigrants) express their opinion in this way about the deceitfulness of the American dream, the inclusive society and the possibility of self-realization.

During this period, black actors also played in popular plays with blackface, although in the XX. by the 20th century, this custom had already worn out on the cinema screen. After 1927’s The Jazz Singer, many big stars, including Fred Astaire and Judy Garland, appeared in blackface, but thanks to the changes of the Second World War, blacks increasingly rejected Hollywood’s black stereotypes, and following the civil rights movements of the sixties, it was tacitly appropriate to avoid blackface. face painting.

Vaudeville Performers Dancing in a Minstrel Movie
An original minstrel show. Photo: John Springer Collection/Getty Images

Varieties of blackface

Nevertheless, even in the XXI. In the 20th century, many examples of blackface can be found in Hollywood films. There are basically four types oka can be for face painting. The first option is satire, the best example of which is Robert Downey Jr., nominated for an Oscar for his role in Tropic Storm in 2008. According to Gergely Szirmai, similar masking is acceptable because it illustrates the problematic practice.

The second type is the discussion of social judgment, an example of which is the 2008 episode of the series The Studio, which has since been removed from many platforms. In it, Jane Krakowski and Tracy Morgan’s characters argue about whether it’s harder to get by as a black woman or a white man, and then dress accordingly. This version is considered racist by today’s public consensus. The third – also controversial – form is when the director decides to paint it black without any particular reason. In the case of the fourth, the question is whether it is blackface at all. The chimney sweep scene in Mary Poppins in 1964 is an example of this, as is Ben Stiller’s 2009 Zoolander working in a coal mine. As a result of similar problems, it may happen that in the Netherlands today there is controversy surrounding the traditional companion of Santa Claus, Péter Fekete.

According to experts, the blackface phenomenon is related to cultural appropriation. According to the creator of the theory, law professor Susan Scafidi, culture should be understood as similar to intellectual works protected by copyright, so its use and financial utilization belong only to the community that created the culture and has been using it for centuries. Based on this, it is not allowed for actors of other races to play characters of different origins, so for example, whitewashing, which is considered a swear word in Hollywood, is prohibited, the improved form of which is a white actor masked as black.

However, this analogy does not work for white characters. Since the #Oscarsowhite scandal of 2016 (all the artists recognized with major awards were white), non-white actors have regularly played white roles.

There have been many studies that show that while whitewashing is the embodiment of white supremacy, blackwashing is a pseudo-problem, as it seeks to reduce the predominance of white actors in the film industry. The protestors are usually classified as racist in film and academic circles, saying that the organic diversity recommended by the opponents (characters of color naturally appearing in the story) is not enough to right the balance, it requires color conscious casting (skin color does not matter when choosing the actor) in which the overrepresented races other than white.

An example is often given of the Broadway production of Alexander Hamilton, for which non-white actors were specifically chosen for white roles, and the play became a huge success. The situation is similar with the series presenting the black Anne Boleyn and the black Cleopatra. In each case, the question arises as to whether racism and cultural appropriation only work in one direction. In connection with Hamilton, Harvard students have also dealt with the issue, and Cleopatra is making waves worldwide due to the protests of the Egyptians. Some tiktokers claim that the direction currently dominating Hollywood is at least as harmful as the white predominance of the past. However, there is no answer as to when the large-amplitude swings settle on a middle line acceptable to all.

Cover image: Commemoration of South African artists in the XIX. about 19th century American minstrel shows (Photo: VW PICS/UIG via Getty Image/Edwin Remsberg)

Source: Magyar Nemzet by

*The article has been translated based on the content of Magyar Nemzet by If there is any problem regarding the content, copyright, please leave a report below the article. We will try to process as quickly as possible to protect the rights of the author. Thank you very much!

*We just want readers to access information more quickly and easily with other multilingual content, instead of information only available in a certain language.

*We always respect the copyright of the content of the author and always include the original link of the source article.If the author disagrees, just leave the report below the article, the article will be edited or deleted at the request of the author. Thanks very much! Best regards!