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The one where a star performs in blackface


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I was watching HONOLULU this morning, and there she was-- Eleanor Powell doing a stair-step routine meant to pay homage to Bill Robinson.

 

This reminded me of another blackface scene I watched a month ago on TCM in MY WILD IRISH ROSE, performed by Dennis Morgan.

 

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How do folks feel about this?  Is it just acting, just having fun...?  One user review I read about the Morgan picture on the TCM database suggests that these types of films should not be broadcast on TCM.  Does it ruin an otherwise perfectly acceptable movie?

 

 

Thoughts...?

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I saw the beginning of this movie, cringed at the facile representation of Eddie Rochester Anderson's reaction to the two Robert Youngs, and turned it off. I then decided to turn it back on to see if George and Gracie were on, saw the blackface, and turned it off again.

 

No, blackface doesn't bother me, but moronic movies do. The previous Robert Young movie, Married Bachelor, with the very excellent Ruth Hussey and Sam Levene and Lee Bowman was idiotic. I lasted almost until the end, when I knew Ruth Hussey was going to capitulate, quit her job, and go back in the kitchen, and turned it off.

 

Oh well.

 

At least the new format here is cool. :D

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I saw the beginning of this movie, cringed at the facile representation of Eddie Rochester Anderson's reaction to the two Robert Youngs, and turned it off. I then decided to turn it back on to see if George and Gracie were on, saw the blackface, and turned it off again.

 

No, blackface doesn't bother me, but moronic movies do. 

I agree that Rochester's stereotyped portrayal of a black servant was probably as cringe-worthy as Powell's blackface number.

 

Do you think that musicals and comedies resort to these tactics more than other kinds of movies?

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We've had similar threads concerning race and movies.  Often with disasterous results.  But I'll say this...

 

Blackface, with all it's horrofying and unabashed offensiveness, was a "time honored" show business practice.  I feel that if blackface were done in any movie today, it would be acceptable in an historical context.  I feel now, even in "classic" movies, I could stomach it if the movie were a period piece.  It's the one segment in Holiday Inn that I can't abide watching, the one where Bing decides to do a Lincoln's Birthday show in blackface.  But if white actors were performing in blackface in a movie in which the story takes place in the 19th century, it's easier for me to take.  I often chuckle at it though, in a "WHAT were they thinking" frame of mind.

 

Sepiatone

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Guest patfuls

Blackface can't be that bad...it's not being censored by the filter...so far. :) I cringe a little when I see it, Mickey and Judy in Babes on Broadway in particular. No censorship, please.

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TopBilled, I find blackface to be disturbing whenever it appears in classic movies, but I do not think it should be cut from older films. I do wish that a title card could be included in airing of films featuring this once-common entertainment form that would place it in a historical context for viewers (especially the young and uninformed and for parents). I wonder if the blackface sequences in My Wild Irish Rose (1947) may have been one of the last times that the ugly tradition was used in an American film of the studio era as though it was acceptable entertainment? Largely overlooked today, the work of the NAACP and a new generation of filmmakers pressured studios to eliminate the dubious entertainment value of this tradition in the '50s, thank God.  

 

I have been unable to find a conclusive answer regarding the last studio era movie to use blackface. If anyone knows the answer, I hope that they will share it. 

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I have no problem with blackface used in historical context - replication of a period minstrel show; Jolson, Cantor, et al who used the technique on Broadway.  That's the way it was.  I think the dividing line was when Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll played their radio characters Amos 'N Andy on the screen in blackface.

 

I haven't seen it yet, but William Holden plays an actor with a medicine show - I believe it's set in the early 20th century - and he does a blackface routine (dubbed by Buddy Clark).  I know Columbia had plenty of burnt cork leftover in 1950, but I'm looking forward to some discomfort when I finally see this one.

 

Here's a frame blow-up from the sequence:

 

father_is_a_bachelor.jpg

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I have been unable to find a conclusive answer regarding the last studio era movie to use blackface. If anyone knows the answer, I hope that they will share it. 

Moira,

 

I don't know if there's an easy answer.  Joan Crawford does a number in blackface in MGM's TORCH SONG, made in 1953.  But even after this stopped in films (if it ever did), it was still prevalent on television.  The 80s sitcoms 'Diff'rent Strokes' and 'Gimme a Break!'-- which incidentally had African Americans in lead roles-- presented episodes where white characters (kids) appeared in blackface.  This was usually done to make a statement about racis-m, but it was also used to generate laughs, like we see in these motion pictures from an earlier era.

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With regards to blackface's "dubious entertainment value":    Yea,  I have always wondered what producers\directors\actors felt the additional entertainment value was with blackface.   Did they feel it made the performance more authentic in some way?  (I fail to see how since to me it make a performer look phony).

 

I just don't see where there is any additional entertainment value there.    So even if there wasn't a political reason to end the use of blackface,  it should of gone away because it didn't add anything of value to a performance.

 

Some of the examples Topbilled provided appear to honor black performers.   If that is the case one could say their heart was in the right place,  but I'm still left with 'what where they thinking!'.

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Moira,

 

I don't know if there's an easy answer.  Joan Crawford does a number in blackface in MGM's TORCH SONG, made in 1953.  But even after this stopped in films (if it ever did), it was still prevalent on television.  The 80s sitcoms 'Diff'rent Strokes' and 'Gimme a Break!'-- which incidentally had African Americans in lead roles-- presented episodes where white characters (kids) appeared in blackface.  This was usually done to make a statement about racis-m, but it was also used to generate laughs, like we see in these motion pictures from an earlier era.

Oh, man! How could I forget one of Joan's worst most strangely compelling movies ever?

 

ahbwMth.jpg

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jamesjazzguitar,

 

I have never liked blackface routines, even when I was a kid growing up in the South. About 35% of the population I grew up with was black, and although schools and other places were segregated, we didn't bother each other and everyone got along just fine. In stores we shopped side by side, and on the sidewalks we walked side by side, and occasionally we spoke to one another and smiled.

 

One time, when I was about 17 years old, I was looking toward my right when I started to cross a downtown street, and a young black man grabbed me and pulled me backwards. I thought he was going to hit me, but he was actually pulling me back so I wouldn't get hit by a fast moving city bus that was coming up on my left and that missed me by just inches.

 

I looked at him in a startled way, and I thanked him very very much. That incident suddenly and instantly altered the way I thought of black people. It was a turning point in my life.

 

Anyway, I always thought that blackface routines were insulting, even before that incident, and moreso after it.

 

I told my father about it and he suggested we walk a block or so down into the black shopping street in our downtown, where all the clerks were black and where white people never shopped. But we began shopping in some of those stores and the clerks treated us like normal human beings. Some were a little surprised to see us at first, but they finally got used to us. :)

 

FredC.

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How do I shorten a quote then post my message after it? I can't seem to get out of the quote box when I shorten a quote.                                        

 

Try scrolling down.  You should be able to toggle back and forth between the text in the quote box with the new text you would type underneath it.  If you are not allowed to do that, then just stay in the quote box, press the 'return' key a few times and maybe switch fonts, so people know it is your reply.

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Try scrolling down.  You should be able to toggle back and forth between the text in the quote box with the new text you would type underneath it.  If you are not allowed to do that, then just stay in the quote box, press the 'return' key a few times and maybe switch fonts, so people know it is your reply.

 

 


 

Thanks! I have to stay in the quote box, but that works out ok.

 

Fred :)

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No, blackface doesn't bother me, but moronic movies do.

 

To me any movies that resort to blackface are almost moronic by definition.  It's probably not a coincidence that  The Birth of a Nation and many midcentury musicals were among the prime employers of this moronic gimmick.

 

"It doesn't offend me as a ****.  It offends me as a comedian." (EDIT: Those four stars replaced the term used for a practicioner of Jerry Seinfeld's religion.)

 

---Jerry Seinfeld, responding to his newly converted Jewish dentist's habit of telling "Jewish" jokes.  Substitute "movie lover" for "comedian", and that's my take on any and all non-parody uses of blackface in movies.

 

And no, I don't think they should be cut out or censored in any way, but merely taken for the moronic and often **** attitude that they entail. (EDIT: Those four stars replaced a common six letter adjective for a prejudiced individual that should be easy to infer in context.)

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I find it disturbing and sickening to see an actor or actress in blackface.  It is especially disturbing when a favorite movie or actor of mine goes the blackface route.  I understand in musicals which I enjoy immensely such as Fred Astaire performing in blackface for the "Bojangles of Harlem" number in "Swing Time" was used as a tribute to the dancer Bill Robinson.  I only wish there was an alternative method to show respect and admiration for the work and influence Bill Robinson had on actors and actresses in the "Golden Age of Cinema"  than performing in blackface.  

 

Should TCM stop scheduling films which feature a segment with actor(s)/actress(es) in blackface?  I say no.  The segment in blackface will most likely be mercifully very short and only to move the story-line forward.  I do not believe I have ever seen a movie on TCM where the entire movie was in blackface.  If the entire movie features performers in blackface I say yes do not schedule that type of film on TCM.  

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I only wish there was an alternative method to show respect and admiration for the work:

 

As I mentioned before, it does appear that in many cases in studio-era movies they (the producers, the performers) were trying to show respect and admiration for black performers (mimicking is the best form of flattery).      This got me thinking of Elvis; some say he wasn't very original and just stole the routines of black performers.    There is a lot of truth there IMO, but since Elvis never performed in blackface (as far as I know), what alternative method did Elvis use to give credit to the black performers he was mimicking?    What alternative method is there?  But doing nothing is clearly better then blackface.

 

It must be noted that blackface was used, especially in the 19th century, not as a form of flattery or respect for black performers but instead to mock them.    This use can only be condemned.

 

I think that Seinfeld joke is right on for the type of blackface associated with studio era movies where the white performer did respect the black performers they were mimicking.  

 

 

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To me any movies that resort to blackface are almost moronic by definition.

 

Good point, but there are too many moronic movies glutting the airwaves on all the channels, and they don't feature blackface. In fact, did you ever see the movie that features two black actors in whiteface? You guessed it, moronic.

 

I can't remember The Jazz Singer anymore, or even The Jolson Story for that matter. Were they moronic?

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I was showing BABES IN ARMS to my oldest friend and forgot about that whole blackface number. Those are so embarrassing to me I always fast forward them.

 

I assume you didn't produce or direct any movies that contain actors in blackface;  so why would you be embarrassed?  

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Moira, thanks for posting that hilarious photo of Joan in Torch Song.

 

Shakespearean actors customarily played Othello in blackface up through the 1960s, and Laurence Olivier's 1965 Othello is familiar to some of us through the film made of that stage performance.

 

Perhaps we should also include the very embarrassing scene in Antonioni's L'Eclisse where Monica Vitti visits friends who have been to Africa, puts on blackface, and prances around getting in touch with her primitive side.

 

Blackface usually seems connected with nostalgia in Hollywood musicals. In addition to Astaire as Bojangles, Irene Dunne sings in blackface in the 1930s Show Boat.

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  • 6 months later...

 

I was watching HONOLULU this morning, and there she was-- Eleanor Powell doing a stair-step routine meant to pay homage to Bill Robinson.

 

This reminded me of another blackface scene I watched a month ago on TCM in MY WILD IRISH ROSE, performed by Dennis Morgan.

 

How do folks feel about this?  Is it just acting, just having fun...?  One user review I read about the Morgan picture on the TCM database suggests that these types of films should not be broadcast on TCM.  Does it ruin an otherwise perfectly acceptable movie?

 

Thoughts...?

 

Frank Morgan in "Dimples" (1936)

 

 

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