No More Blackface. More Black Voices.
BLM has seen a rapid change in attitude. And old films and shows made when times were very different – well that’s what we expect and personally, I’m ambivalent about some of the immediate culling decisions and wonder if they were made with a BAME person in the room. The famous Fawlty Towers “Don’t Mention the War” episode was removed for a while – is there a more classic comedy episode than that? It’s important not to confuse satire with racism. I was glad to see that HBO Max brought the contentious Gone With the Wind back, with accompanying disclaimers giving context about its horror of slavery denial in the form of explanatory documentaries – it is a piece of cinematic history, not in the least because it features the first African American to win an Oscar, Hattie Daniels.
Blackface is another issue though… Little Britain, 30 Rock, The Office, Community, Scrubs, even (controversially) The Golden Girls have been deleting, editing out and apologising for episodes that might now be considered racist. Unlike Gone With the Wind, these shows were not made in the 1930s or even the 70s, and it’s worrying that there are so many fairly recent programmes like this – even Jimmy Fallon and Kimmel were up to it and young YouTubers like Jenna Marbles (3 million views). Blackface was always racist and also, like custard pies – rarely funny. Most of these programmes belong in a museum. Or rather, in the kind of history documentary where the whole show is an apology. Again with more BAME commissioners, writers, directors and senior executives – they are less likely to make such mistakes in the future and the humour might evolve into something a little more.
This is of course not just a UK and US issue, and somebody has gone to the trouble of putting together this blog: I stumbled on about blackface around the world. Hopefully local broadcasters are also stamping this out.
I loved the quirky strangest of the movie Sorry to Bother You in which Lakeith Stanfield’s character, Cassius Green, is taught by Danny Glover’s Langford to use his ‘white voice’ in order to be successful. Little did I suspect that ‘impoverished’ white actors were voicing popular black animated characters in shows like Family Guy and The Simpsons. White actors such as Jenny Slate, Kristen Bell, and Mike Henry have now quit their roles and handed back their mics – and black voiceover artists will now have, well, a voice or two.