Newsflash! Beyonce’s whiter-er I mean, lighter. The Queen’s gone platinum. And as if that wasn’t enough, 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 stars 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 stars, 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 ask Jesus to forgive my sins.”
Follow that with 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 n is a critic and commentator based in Los Angeles who writes about the worlds of pop culture, race, class, sexuality, and politics as it relates to the African-American community. Her work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times and Ebony Magazine. A regular contributor to NPR’s ‘News and Notes’ and UrbanThoughtCollective.com <http://www.urbanthoughtcollective.com/>, she was chosen as one Essence Magazine’s 25 Women Shaping the World. She can be reached at www.jasmynecannick.com or www.myspace.com/jasmynecannick.