Blackface Film Online

I’m reading John Strasbaugh’s history of blackface performance in America, Black Like You, and finding it fascinating, though I suspect that some of his arguments have angered a lot of people. (Even I feel vaguely uncomfortable with some of them, though others seem less objectionable that they are probably thought to be.) In any case, he mentioned a couple of blackface-styled cartoons that had been banned during the course of discussing blackface in films more generally.  I thought I’d linkdump it, partly so I can find these links again.
All This and Rabbit Stew (1941)

Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (1943)

A discussion of the latter cartoon.

While searching for some Shirley Temple in blackface (which isn’t so easy! I’ve found nothing so far!) I found a very stereotypical performance with Bill “Mr. Bojangles,” Robinson and another one here, and another in color. (Which is weird for me because my Mom’s a big Shirley Temple fan, but I’ve never watched anything except that “Good Ship Lollipop” tune. )

A clip of (I think it is) Janet Jackson and her older brother sending up Bill Bojangles and Shirley Temple. I’m quite curious about this Jackson Variety Show — I’ve never heard about that before.
Weird, weird stuff, which I grew up late enough to only have the vaguest clue of as a kid, but grew up long enough ago to have at least that.

2 thoughts on “Blackface Film Online

  1. Have you watched Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled”?

    One thing I find interesting is “yellow face”. There were several people that pretended to be Chinese magicians, when they weren’t ethnically Chinese. People thought of the Chinese as mystical, which several magicians capitalized on for marketing. Weird.

  2. Alexis,

    Yup, I have seen Bamboozled! In fact, last semester I used the film in my course on “Popular Culture in English-speaking countries.” I started reading up on the subject because I realized how little I knew about the subject, and because I had so much difficulty finding materials besides Bamboozled.

    “Yellow-face” is something I will probably someday be accused of doing in a literary context, since so many of my stories are set in Asia, and feature Asian (especially Korean) characters. I’m aware of the risks of projecting interpretations, misrepresenting, and so on. But I also try hard to craft characters that make sense to the Koreans I show them to, and get feedback when I can.

    Amusingly, my girlfriend has called me much more often on misrepresenting medical problems, or the way a doctor would handle something, than on misrepresenting Korea and Korean culture in my fiction.

    That reminds me, the most recent reference I saw to “yellow-face” in American pop culture was actually in the TV series Carnivale, where a hawker at the carny strip tent offers to let the passing men discover whether an Oriental woman’s genitalia is “oriented” like a Western woman’s, or side-to-side. One of the strippers is made up to look vaguely Oriental, and something people would probably think of as Chinese music is playing in the background. It was a very interesting, and telling, and probably historically-accurate, use of yellow-face. (The only really Asian characters I remember from the series were a prostitute and the owner of the brothel she worked in, near the start of season 1.)

    Anyway, for a more elevated and interesting form of Yellow-face literary work — a white dude speaking with the voice of a Cambodian girl — I HIGHLY recommend the story mentioned a post or two back, titled “Pol Piot’s Beautiful Daughter.”

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