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I can understand TCM's impulse to show "Holiday Inn" on Christmas Eve. I just want to go on record as saying that the blackface number ("Abraham") is appalling. And please, no one tell me that "I have to see this number in the context of its own time." It was nauseatingly condescending in 1942, and it still is.

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Please get your head out of your indignation and try to get it that at the time this movie was made, and for many years before this, there was absolutely no intention to be "condescending" toward Blacks by using "black face" for musical numbers in vaudville or musical theatre. I was pure "theatre"! What's appalling is that you would go to the trouble of registering just so you could demonstrate your ignorance in your first post with us. I love "Holiday Inn"...I love it just the way it is, and I Thank TCM for showing it on Christmas Eve.

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No intention to be condescending? But for a few exceptions in the early days of sound (such as "Arrowsmith") that featured black professionals or the occasional later film like "Since You Went Away" that displayed a black soldier in the background, you'd be hard-pressed to find a black character in a '30's or early '40's film whose role wasn't to fix the white folks' dinner or turn down their beds. As Myrna Loy once asked, why did we never, ever see a black person carrying a briefcase up the courthouse steps, when such a thing happened every day in real life? Because the whole Hollywood system -- however charming and brilliant it could be -- was condescending to its bones, that's why.

 

And while minstrel shows or Al Jolson singing "Mammy" with shoe polish on his face couldn't easily be called evil -- if only because their intention was solely to please -- their popularity was nothing to brag about, either. There are shades of gray in life, and that sort of entertainment was and is definitely in the shadows.

 

As for "pure 'theatre'," Lord knows what that means.

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Oh! I see what you want to do here. You want us to go backward from today and gripe about how rotten things were for Blacks in the movie industry in the early days. You're absolutely right! They were! But, that was then, and this is now, and wouldn't you agree that things have favorably changed regarding Blacks in film today, just as things have also changed favorably in our society for Blacks today?

 

You see, this is why it is important to be able to understand and relate (with an open mind) to what our society was like in the much different earlier eras of film, because American film will honestly reflect a lot about our society during that era. You have to be willing to step out of today, visit yesterday by watching many of our Classic films, and then appreciate how far we have come...and this is just one reason why a movie like "Holiday Inn" is important for people to see. We can't change the past, but we can all work toward making a better future. And, in Hollywood, great strides have been taken in equalizing the races, don't you think? It's by seeing whites in "blackface" today, that we can better understand and relate to how things were not too long ago.

 

In so many ways, the movies of each generation, each era, are a recorded history of American humanity. To withhold any of them today, because they seem more insensitive to us now, would help no one gain a deeper knowledge of societal change, and appreciate the significent improvements between the films of yesterday, and of today regarding not only Blacks, but other races as well.

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I recall a similar discussion that we had on the boards about a year ago regarding the movie "Babes in Arms" (1939) with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.

Busby Berkeley staged a minstrel number with Rooney and Garland in black face that was an absolute jaw dropper.

There were those that thought the number should be deleted after TCM aired it while others praised it.

Some said if we didn't have numbers like that on film, we would never know how it was back then.

The number was wonderful and Rooney magnificent strutting his stuff to "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee".

Could be one of the reasons he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar in the film.

 

Mongo

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Okay, I'm a little confused as to what you are trying to accomplish here jwkbklyn. Obviously no one can go back and change the way movies were made in the 30's or 40's, so harping on it now seems kind of like a moot point to me. Are you trying to insinuate that anyone that enjoys movies such as "Holiday Inn" are racist? Do you want all of the movies of that time period not to be shown or if shown have the movie start with "Warning: Possible Racism In This Film."? Or maybe edit the original film footage to assure it's all "P.C."?

 

There have been mistakes made in the past, they were in the past, and in my opinion there is no place for revisionist history either in the classroom or in this venue.

 

One more thought, seems like we should try to all keep the holiday spirit here and quit worrying about finger-pointing.

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Times have changed...and blackface is one thing that has. But editing films to remove blackface accomplishes nothing except ignorance for our past. What next - should Now, Voyager be edited for smoking, The Thin Man for drinking, or The Bowery for outdated language. That only blinds us to our past. Leonard Maltin wrote a great artice calles "Is Our Over-Sensitivity Earasing Our Past" during this summer's Charlie Chan debate. You can read it at http://www.leonardmaltin.com/03-08-08/home.htm. I urge you to read it. I don't like blackface when it is to stereotype Blacks, like in song and dance numbers. I wasn't insulted when Eddie Murphy played a white man on Saturday Night Live, because it was for theatrical reasons, and no steroetyping/insult was going on. However, that goes both ways, and blackface in the way it was used is and should be a thing of the past - not erased but used to learn from.

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I just want to say that I love "Holiday Inn" and along with a fabulous fish dinner, it was the highlight of my Christmas Eve. All of the numbers in that movie are great, but "Abraham" does stretch it a little. I have nothing against blackface, in fact I've always enjoyed Al Jolson doing it, but that number certainly wasn't a highlight of the movie. Regarding blackface in general, I agree that it is out of place in today's society, but for 1942 it was no big deal. And look at it this way - to have white people impersonating black people can be thought of as a homage to them and their talent. Look at how popular Amos N'Andy were, and they were two white guys - but everyone loved them and thought they were black. So it's not really an insult when you really think about it.

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It IS an unsult when blackface is used for the purpose of mockery and insult to African Americans. If used properly, it could not be condiered racist, thought it is out of place in today's soceity. There really is no good answer, other than you had to see Holiday Inn in 1942 to understand the society of the day.

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  • 2 weeks later...

After reading your post jwbklyn........the first thing that comes to my mind is what the politically correct tell me everytime I see something that bothers me on TV....."NO CENSORSHIP....NO CENSORSHIP.....if you don't like it......TURN the channel......wow.....it felt kinda good to say that. !!..............

 

That was then and this is now.......

 

My 6 year old daughter asked me a bunch of questions about blackface the other night.....my response was that some of it was paying homage to the incredible talent of african americans.......some of it was flat out racism..........she had the most incredible response........she said......"it doesn't make me not like the black people.......it makes the white people look dumb" Bingo.......but to censor it would be wrong.

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  • 14 years later...

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