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This is a touchy subject, but I want to talk about the blackface scene in Holiday Inn. Today, we know there are all kinds of problems with it, but as the lectures pointed out, we need to remember the historical context.

But that's not the point I want to make. If you've ever seen a broadcast of Holiday Inn with that scene cut, you realize that it's essential to the plot. Depending on where they make the cut, and how much they cut, you miss the information that Ted wants Linda for his new partner and Jim wants to keep her hidden. That's a key driver of the plot and tje source of a lot of the humor. Also, even the movie seems aware that performing in blackface is getting awkward by this time. It's a last minute decision by Jim to disguise Linda, and she reacts with shock that seems to go beyond simply being surprised by the suddenness or not being glamorous. Or maybe I'm just imposing my own values on that scene?

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41 minutes ago, KayeA said:

It's a last minute decision by Jim to disguise Linda, and she reacts with shock that seems to go beyond simply being surprised by the suddenness or not being glamorous. Or maybe I'm just imposing my own values on that scene?

Honestly, this is what interested me about the blackface in this movie. Because really, the usage of blackface  differed from movie to movie which was always  curious to analyze. It was used in context the individual story. And while  the inclusion the blackface scene is problematic and cringe worthy, Linda's comments before hand offend and  bothered me more than that-

 “For a month and a half I’ve been dreaming how pretty I was going to look tonight.  Well, here is my punishment for thinking so well of myself.”

I have heard similar offhand comments made by white characters about (white) beauty vs (black) ugliness and there wasn't a blackface musical number involved (Footlight Parade). Anyway, I have not seen HI in years but the whole number is something you can't forget...and the 4th of July number that follows. I do remember there being "sexy" chorus girls in short skirts and shaking around. This part stuck out to me the most. The chorus girls were in blackface but their makeup was not the typical, traditional blackface makeup Bing Crosby wore. The makeup was lighter, giving them a more bronze (and in the world of blackface) a more "natural" look. I remember thinking, whoa there is something going on here that needs to be talked about.

The message/image that black women can only be deemed desirable and sexy (the short skirts on the dancers) if they are lighter complexioned, certainly not straight up black which is innately ugly,weird and comical and what the point of blackface was meant to portray. This isn't the first movie/blackface scene that I've seen this. In  Babes in Arms, Judy Garland performs both in traditional minstrelsy with the exaggerated makeup,costuming hair and later on in lighter complexioned makeup, silky Mary Pickford-esque ringlets and a nice, feminine dress at the close the number (I think she even carries  a parasol). The year before (Everybody Sing) she had a similar blackface as the one in HI where her character was in fully blackface to disguise herself in order to audition for a show. She sings the gospel hymn "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" and her song makes a lot of references to Uncle Tom's Cabin.

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1 hour ago, KayeA said:

This is a touchy subject, but I want to talk about the blackface scene in Holiday Inn. Today, we know there are all kinds of problems with it, but as the lectures pointed out, we need to remember the historical context.

But that's not the point I want to make. If you've ever seen a broadcast of Holiday Inn with that scene cut, you realize that it's essential to the plot. Depending on where they make the cut, and how much they cut, you miss the information that Ted wants Linda for his new partner and Jim wants to keep her hidden. That's a key driver of the plot and tje source of a lot of the humor. Also, even the movie seems aware that performing in blackface is getting awkward by this time. It's a last minute decision by Jim to disguise Linda, and she reacts with shock that seems to go beyond simply being surprised by the suddenness or not being glamorous. Or maybe I'm just imposing my own values on that scene?

Blackface was simply a part of Show Business and part of the whole Minstrel scene. It didn't offend white people at all in the 1940s.

They were accustomed to those stereotypical characters in the movies that black actors were forced to play. They enjoyed that comedy and they also enjoyed the inferior position of the black characters.

It's funny to me how you and others have discussed in detail about this black face --

which is just a historical Convention of American show business, coming from the fundamental racism of American slavery--

when you have a stereotypical role within the movie that I found more offensive.

 Louise Beavers is a good actress and and she's not given as much criticism as Hattie McDaniel always gets. But at the same time, her performance was a condescending stereotype and I'm surprised that you're focusing on the black cork and not the black woman.

As far as the white woman is concerned,  she has every right to want to look the way she really looks and not to have to be made up to look like something she's not.

If you were going into an evening party and you were dressed up as you really look and someone said you had to be made up as a Native American or as a Japanese geisha that would probably make you mad.  And that's not saying that Native American women and Japanese women are ugly - - that's simply saying that's not who you are.

Take yourself back to when this film was made and not just to how you see things today, i.e. what personally offends you with the kind of upbringing you had today.

The Person in that movie who was the most insulted and disregarded was Louise Beavers at that time and now.

Also do me a favor and look and see where you see her name in the credits.

Black actresses and actors were often put at the very bottom of the credit list, usually just in front of the dog.

It would be bit  irregular if her name was there with other white character actors.

Have any of you ever noticed that?

Frank Capra was one of the few to put the black performers, the few that he used, up with the comprable white performers in the credits.

When you go through these films, think of what the black performer must have been going through-- in the role, on the set and in the segregated dressing rooms.

 

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4 hours ago, Princess of Tap said:

Also do me a favor and look and see where you see her name in the credits.

Black actresses and actors were often put at the very bottom of the credit list, usually just in front of the dog.

It would be bit  irregular if her name was there with other white character actors.

Have any of you ever noticed that?

How did this never dawn on me before? 

I had always believed that credits went in descending order in regards to the most important character in the movie to the least most important character in the movie. 

 

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I am watching South Pacific right now, and I love the musical.  It has everything we have been exploring in the course so far. If I am not mistaken, it is not on our syllabus or on the TCM schedule.  Discussing race and depictions in post WWII musicals doesn't seem complete without examining South Pacific's use of Asian American tropes as well as white Americans' post-war attempts to deal with systemic racism impinging on who they love and why. It's set in WWII, and I think the progression makes sense in the course. 

Again, this is why I feel that things which modern viewers find offensive (Bloody Mary, Happy Talk) as well as the struggles of Joe and Nelly to deal with racial boundaries and miscegenation amidst the Americana prior musicals and South Pacific celebrates matters. "Carefully Taught" is as relevant now as it was to that generation.  

The number in Holiday Inn is exceptionally perfect in showing the use of black face to juxtapose against ideals of white beauty -- especially with the dialogue mentioned above.  It's appallingly informative. Once again, this is why the movies should be shown.

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12 minutes ago, MotherofZeus said:

I am watching South Pacific right now, and I love the musical.  It has everything we have been exploring in the course so far. If I am not mistaken, it is not on our syllabus or on the TCM schedule.  Discussing race and depictions in post WWII musicals doesn't seem complete without examining South Pacific's use of Asian American tropes as well as white Americans' post-war attempts to deal with systemic racism impinging on who they love and why. It's set in WWII, and I think the progression makes sense in the course. 

Again, this is why I feel that things which modern viewers find offensive (Bloody Mary, Happy Talk) as well as the struggles of Joe and Nelly to deal with racial boundaries and miscegenation amidst the Americana prior musicals and South Pacific celebrates. 

The number in Holiday Inn is exceptionally perfect in showing the use of black face to juxtapose against ideals of white beauty.  It's appallingly informative. Once again, this is why the movies should be shown.

I totally agree about South Pacific. I remember seeing it and realizing for the first time what the song "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught" means. Other musicals from that era dealing with race are Show Boat, Flower Drum Song, Finian's Rainbow. I don't think any of these are part of this course.

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7 hours ago, Princess of Tap said:

Louise Beavers is a good actress and and she's not given as much criticism as Hattie McDaniel always gets. But at the same time, her performance was a condescending stereotype and I'm surprised that you're focusing on the black cork and not the black woman.

Well, I was interested in the whole blackface issue—the way it is essential to the plot in this movie, but you’re right—and her children are treated even worse. I’ve always cringed at this. And the weird assumption that a black cook in a Connecticut inn would sound like she came from the deep south.

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12 hours ago, Princess of Tap said:

 Louise Beavers is a good actress and and she's not given as much criticism as Hattie McDaniel always gets. But at the same time, her performance was a condescending stereotype and I'm surprised that you're focusing on the black cork and not the black woman.

 

I haven't seen Holiday Inn  nearly a decade and I forgot she was in the movie. I don't remember much about the movie and plot in general besides the blackface (because those sorts of things tend stick out in my memory because of what it is)and Bing Crosby singing Easter Parade only because of the Easter Parade movie connection. I don't know if you're implying that my not remembering Louise Beavers and how she was depicted in the movie means I don't care about the treatment of black women in these movies or I don't think about that or that I don't think about how they must have felt because that is something I always think about and notice. I can't really decipher your tone so I don't know if you're calling me out or not. Like I said, I only saw the movie once or twice many years ago so I wouldn't remember every detail or character in this movie. That doesn't mean I want/wanted to ignore Louise Beavers deliberately if that's what you were trying to say. I'm black myself and I so I definitely wouldn't ignore or not focus on condescending and insulting depictions of black women on purpose. I honestly did not remember her being in the film. Just like I cannot and don't remember every single white person or  detail that was ever in a movie.

And as far as credits go, yes the placement of the names of black performers (if they're credited at all) is something I absolutely do take note of and am aware of.

For the record I always liked Louise Beavers and always felt she got the stereotypical roles and had to them more than Hattie McDaniel did. So she has always been the main black actress that I would wonder about her feelings and what she had gone through. Granted, perhaps I have just happen to  see/know of more movies with LB in them than HMD. I've only seen McDaniel criticized for Gone With the Wind. I've never seen/heard her criticized her for her part in In This Our Life for example. 

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1 hour ago, Brittany Ashley said:

I haven't seen Holiday Inn  nearly a decade and I forgot she was in the movie. I don't remember much about the movie and plot in general besides the blackface (because those sorts of things tend stick out in my memory because of what it is)and Bing Crosby singing Easter Parade only because of the Easter Parade movie connection. I don't know if you're implying that my not remembering Louise Beavers and how she was depicted in the movie means I don't care about the treatment of black women in these movies or I don't think about that or that I don't think about how they must have felt because that is something I always think about and notice. I can't really decipher your tone so I don't know if you're calling me out or not. Like I said, I only saw the movie once or twice many years ago so I wouldn't remember every detail or character in this movie. That doesn't mean I want/wanted to ignore Louise Beavers deliberately if that's what you were trying to say. I'm black myself and I so I definitely wouldn't ignore or not focus on condescending and insulting depictions of black women on purpose. I honestly did not remember her being in the film. Just like I cannot and don't remember every single white person or  detail that was ever in a movie.

And as far as credits go, yes the placement of the names of black performers (if they're credited at all) is something I absolutely do take note of and am aware of.

For the record I always liked Louise Beavers and always felt she got the stereotypical roles and had to them more than Hattie McDaniel did. So she has always been the main black actress that I would wonder about her feelings and what she had gone through. Granted, perhaps I have just happen to  see/know of more movies with LB in them than HMD. I've only seen McDaniel criticized for Gone With the Wind. I've never seen/heard her criticized her for her part in In This Our Life for example. 

Brittany-- I've had many decades to watch and observe these films on a number of different levels.

What you sometimes just have to try to do is to Go back to is exactly how racist the society was and how segregated the society was when they made these movies.

For example, I've seen a lot of notice about Al Jolson and they won't show this or that of his films. Al Jolson was the greatest show business singer of the first half of the 20th century-- on Broadway, in the movies and on radio. Many, many singers blacked up and did Black cork in those days.

But we only remember Al Jolson doing it because Jolson was the greatest singer of his era. That's why the Warner Brothers picked him to star in the first talking musical The Jazz Singer.

 Al Jolson is not the person or the artist who should be condemned in this situation-- the American Society - - the white mainstream audience decided what it was they wanted to pay for and Hollywood and the entertainers had to get in line if they wanted to make money.

You don't want to get distracted by one thing like black face-- it was horrible then and it still horrible now. But it's only a Showbiz conventional backdrop to a fundamentally racist American society.

 Light -skinned mixed- race identifying black entertainers also had to Black up. Have you ever heard of Bert Williams? He was the first great black entertainer who was allowed to be in a mainstream Broadway review like the Ziegfeld Follies.  if you Google him, you can see what he really looked like and what he had to look like for the stage. That would be something interesting for you to discuss as well.

Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, they wrote the big song "I'm Just Wild about Harry"-- they had black comedians in their all-black Broadway shows who also had the black up-- what do you think about that?

What I'm trying to say here is that unless you're doing a PhD on black cork in American Show Business you don't want to get lost in the forest and lose track of what we're really talking about here.

Why did the mainstream /majority American public  demand that there be so much racism and black stereotypes in those movies-- even in something as fun and lighthearted as a musical?

If you haven't been told before, you should be reading an African American Film historian named Donald Bogle. He was the first film historian or film critic to seriously and objectively write about black American performers in Hollywood movies.

 

*Bogle said as a young person when he watched all these movies he wanted to answer the question of how did Hattie McDaniel feel about slavery in Gone With the Wind, where did she live in the big house or in the slave quarters and what did she really think about the Civil War?*

 

Bogle wrote the Bible on blacks in Hollywood--

*" Toms, Coons, Mulattos, Mammys and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in Films", 1973

He's also written a number of other books about the subject, but his two most famous biographies were about Dorothy Dandridge and Ethel Waters. Halle Berry made a TV movie based on his Dorothy Dandridge biography.

 

Brittany-- I think you brought up a lot of good ideas on the subject of racism in the movies and black stereotypes,  but it's much more complicated in that you have to understand the  environment which created these Concepts.

It's an environment that's very different from American society today, yet American society today is grounded in that same racist Foundation.

So many of the questions that you brought up can easily be answered by reading more about the subject and black society in the United States in the 20th century.

You just want to be careful about not getting lost in the forest so that you can't see the trees.

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13 minutes ago, Princess of Tap said:

Brittany-- I've had many decades to watch and observe these films on a number of different levels.

What you sometimes just have to try to do is to Go back to is exactly how racist the society was and how segregated the society was when they made these movies.

For example, I've seen a lot of notice about Al Jolson and they won't show this or that of his films. Al Jolson was the greatest show business singer of the first half of the 20th century-- on Broadway, in the movies and on radio. Many, many singers blacked up and did Black cork in those days.

But we only remember Al Jolson doing it because Jolson was the greatest singer of his era. That's why the Warner Brothers picked him to star in the first talking musical The Jazz Singer.

 Al Jolson is not the person or the artist who should be condemned in this situation-- the American Society - - the white mainstream audience decided what it was they wanted to pay for and Hollywood and the entertainers had to get in line if they wanted to make money.

You don't want to get distracted by one thing like black face-- it was horrible then and it still horrible now. But it's only a Showbiz conventional backdrop to a fundamentally racist American society.

  Light -skinned mixed- race identifying black entertainers also had to Black up. Have you ever heard of Bert Williams? He was the first great black entertainer who was allowed to be in a mainstream Broadway review like the Ziegfeld Follies.  if you Google him, you can see what he really looked like and what he had to look like for the stage. That would be something interesting for you to discuss as well.

Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, they wrote the big song "I'm Just Wild about Harry"-- they had black comedians in their all-black Broadway shows who also had the black up-- what do you think about that?

What I'm trying to say here is that unless you're doing a PhD on black cork in American Show Business you don't want to get lost in the forest and lose track of what we're really talking about here.

Why did the mainstream /majority American public  demand that there be so much racism and black stereotypes in those movies-- even in something as fun and lighthearted as a musical?

If you haven't been told before, you should be reading an African American Film historian named Donald Bogle. He was the first film historian or film critic to seriously and objectively write about black American performers in Hollywood movies.

 

*Bogle said as a young person when he watched all these movies he wanted to answer the question of how did Hattie McDaniel feel about slavery in Gone With the Wind, where did she live in the big house or in the slave quarters and what did she really think about the Civil War?*

 

Bogle wrote the Bible on blacks in Hollywood--

*" Toms, Coons, Mulattos, Mammys and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in Films", 1973

He's also written a number of other books about the subject, but his two most famous biographies were about Dorothy Dandridge and Ethel Waters. Halle Berry made a TV movie based on his Dorothy Dandridge biography.

 

Brittany-- I think you brought up a lot of good ideas on the subject of racism in the movies and black stereotypes,  but it's much more complicated in that you have to understand the  environment which created these Concepts.

It's an environment that's very different from American society today, yet American society today is grounded in that same racist Foundation.

So many of the questions that you brought up can easily be answered by reading more about the subject and black society in the United States in the 20th century.

You just want to be careful about not getting lost in the forest so that you can't see the trees.

I hope I didn't give off the impression I am naive or ignorant about American history and the racism that existed in Hollywood, the wider society and the fact it exists in our systems (and Hollywood) today. I don't know if thats how I came across in my earlier posts but I apologize if I did.  You are right that I shouldn't get caught up with blackface scenes or think thats the most stand out thing in the total film, if such a musical number exists in the movie. I do try to look at the whole thing objectively but yeah, I do see what you're saying.

I have read the Bogle bio on Dorothy Dandridge and I remember reading a history of black Hollywood by Bogle but don't know if that is the same book you referred too. I think it is though. And I have the DD tv movie DVD. Are there any contemporary or other scholars/film historians besides Bogle who write or have written about black people in films? 

I thought about the question you asked about why white audiences demand racism and racist stereotypes in movies, even light hearted musicals. My thought was they wanted images that reinforced a sense of white supremacy,images/depictions that would have made them comfortable about their place in the social hierarchy, and wanted that reinforcement to be on display in the media they consumed for themselves as well as any black person who may have been watching the same thing. And if it was something like a fun musical, then maybe they wanted that reinforcement to come thru the medium of songs and lyrics. It was a genre of film so I wouldn't suppose they wanted any genre left off the hook so to speak in where stereotypical imagery can/should come from.

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Contributing my opinion to the thread—

I watched Holiday Inn over the Christmas break last year for the first time in probably a couple of decades and was astonished at how much I had forgotten about it, including the blackface scene. Granted, I was a child when I saw it, and my family prefers White Christmas, so there is a good reason why I’m not familiar with Holiday Inn and its subplots and story twists. 

However, as appalling as the blackface scene was, I was dismayed at the way Louise Beavers and the little girl and little boy who portrayed her children were depicted in the film. It was disheartening. 

 

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I don't think the blackface in Swing Time was nearly as bad as Holiday Inn.  If Bing had the same makeup style that Fred used in Holiday Inn, it may not have been as cringe-worthy.  I also think it's the fact that it's Bing Crosby (Mr. All American Guy, Mr. Always on the Right side of things) is using blackface that causes a lot of the problem.  What are we to think of Bing for this?  What did he really feel about it?  I think the Louise Beavers character is horrible in the film and completely unnecessary to be honest.  But, again black performers were put in these situations for easy comic relief.

 

I have to comment on the person that said some of the black performers were put in the credits right along with the white performers.  As far as their movie careers would go that wouldn't help them a bit because they were only allowed a few roles and no one was going to say "Let me see the next Dorothy Dandrige movie when it comes out."  There may have been some lasting impact outside of the movies, but as far as their movie careers I'm sure it was minimal.

I'd also like to bring up the horrible ways Asians/Hispanics/Native Americans are also being portrayed in this time and for many years to come.  It seems that even as black performers began to gain more positive roles, these races were still portrayed in a bad light or portrayed by white actors instead.  The one that sticks out most in my mind is the Shanghai Gesture but of course Mickey Rooney's character in Breakfast at Tiffany's takes that movie from being a perfect 10 to about an 8 or 9 for me.  I've seen Jennifer Jones (Duel in the Sun) and Gene Tierney (Song of Fury/Shanghai Gesture) used because of their exotic facial features to portray a different  ethnicity.  What do you guys think about the portrayal of Asians, Hispanics, and Native Americans well into the 60's?

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Hollywood in its heyday was a strange place where ethnicity was concerned.  Myrna Loy played exotic oriental types before she paired off with William Powell in the Thin Man series, while Merle Oberon, genuinely Eurasnian, had to hide her origins.  In some ways, it hasn't changed much.  I know I'm not going to be popular for saying this and I truly have no intention of offending anyone -- or arguing -- but I've always felt that acting is ... well, just that.  Acting is pretending to be something you're not.   Authenticity notwithstanding, you don't have to be one to play one.  

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I find it difficult to have to hear a quarter of the 2nd week's review telling me that we can forgive the use of "blackface" in the 1940s musicals because "golly us black folks is jus' sos happy to be a part of y'alls lifes"!  I think that person should join Mike Pence and his wifey at dinner as their special guest.  Appalled that it could be said and then followed up at the end by saying that one day someone will watch what is being done today and find THAT shocking.  Well no sh*t Sherlock!  We ARE doing things today that are shocking but in the REAL WORLD - not just on film.  So NO - I will not give you that.  I will say it was deplorable to go back and watch what I remembered as a cute musical comedy and see Bing Crosby (a child beater by the way) and his co-star in "blackface" and find it just soooooooooo adorable - NOT.  It was one of the low points for me of any movie with Fred Astaire - luckily he was not the one to don that dribble.

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