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#1
Old 12-22-2014, 09:33 AM
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Resolved: "Our number would go better in blackface" is the surprise buttsecks of old movies.

Seriously, Bing fucking Crosby? SERIOUSLY?!

So somehow I missed ever seeing Holiday Inn, so I picked it up from the library for some seasonal viewing yesterday. Come on. Bing Crosby. Fred Astaire. Stupid plot full of horrible people the movie thinks are charming that's just an excuse to string together musical numbers. Great Sunday afternoon movie, right?

Oh no, there's a black actress in this playing a maid... don't be racist, movie.... don't be racist, movie, please don't be.... oh. Okay. That was fine. I mean, she was a maid and her name was Mammy but there wasn't actually anything too bad about her character, whew, dodged THAT bullet, huh? Wow, I sure am glad this movie didn't turn out to be super rac<RECORD SCRATCH>

IS THAT BING CROSBY IN BLACKFACE?

Holy shit, is that the female lead in BLACKFACE AND PICKANINNY BRAIDS?!

ZOMG ARE ALL THE WAITERS AND EVERY EMPLOYEE IN THE HOTEL ALSO ALL IN BLACKFACE?!

Oh, wait. Except the actual black lady and actual black children, who get to sing along about "Who freed the darkies?"

Man, that'll ruin a movie for you. I think somewhere in the rest of it was a really charming dance number with firecrackers, but I couldn't really tell you because "holy shit did they honestly just do a blackface number?!" In a very popular movie that didn't even really come out that long ago as things go? We were dreading the possibility of a Thanksgiving number but that one got "cancelled" in the film world, thank goodness. I can only imagine.

Don't get me wrong. I've seen enough classic films to not really be surprised by casual racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, whatever. I mean, there's a continuum - on the one end you've got Alec Guinness in a fake nose playing Feisal in Lawrence of Arabia, which is, you know, non-preferred but not super offensive. And on the other hand you've got Mickey Rooney's yellowface in Breakfast at Tiffany's. The thing is, that's famous. You mention that movie and anybody with any familiarity with it is all "oh, yeah, too bad about that Mickey Rooney thing." And of course the older a movie is the more likely it is to have something in it - Safety Last had a pretty gross Jewish jeweler in it, but that's a silent. It's antique. I'd never even heard there was anything objectionable in Holiday Inn! As far as I know there's no general stain attached to it - it's just sort of a second tier Christmas movie, right? The one with White Christmas in it that they had to kind of remake into White Christmas?

It's a damned good thing my son is five months old - two years from now we'd have had some 'splainin' to do, and that's a really complicated thing to explain! (Not racism as such, obviously we're going to have to address that in life and in movies, but particularly the insane heritage of blackface numbers and why it's specifically so so bad.) Do they usually just cut that part out or something? Because it's actually important to the "plot". You see, he wants to do a blackface act because he's a horrible person and wants to continue exploiting this ingenue he's found - uh, sorry, has fallen in love with her, and doesn't have the guts to tell his old partner who showed up so drunk he doesn't remember the face of the girl he was dancing with. And his manager saw her but only from the back. So he wants to disguise her so his old partner won't make off with her. Instead of either paying her or passing her a note "do you like me check yes or no". Ugh. Whatever. The only characters with any development in this movie are awful people - why is that so frequently the case in these things? Anyway.

Anybody else have an unhappy surprise with a classic film this year? (Anybody care to condescendingly explain to me that that's how movies used to be and that's okay because____?) Any movies you want to talk about that do rise above a pretty awful piece of bigotry, or that don't?

Last edited by Zsofia; 12-22-2014 at 09:34 AM.
#2
Old 12-22-2014, 09:45 AM
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I've known about this for a long time.

And -- surprise! -- it's not unique. There was a lot of minstrel shows and blackface recorded in the movies out there. The bulk of it is pretty negligible stuff by actors you never heard of, but it was prevalent enough that occasionally you get someone pretty famous doing it. Al Jolson, of course, was famous for "Mammy" and "The Jazz Singer", but there is more of him in blackface on film.

It's complicated, too -- Jolson wasn't an oppressor of African Americans -- he had a reputation for sticking up for them and treating them as any other performers. But he didn't see anything wrong with blackface and minstrelsy.


For your reading pleasure:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of...d_in_blackface

It's a pretty amazing list. Doris freakin' Day.

https://search.yahoo.com/search;_ylt...yfp-t-901&fp=1


and I'm amazed at Neil Diamond (in the remake of The Jazz Singer) and Gene Wilder (in Silver Streak). That's pretty late in the game, and they shoulda known better.

Last edited by CalMeacham; 12-22-2014 at 09:46 AM.
#3
Old 12-22-2014, 09:48 AM
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Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) had a montage scene where The Four Cohans performed one of their songs for about 10 seconds in blackface. But then, we are talking the 1890's here (when the scene was placed.)

For a defense for the Holiday Inn scene, there probably isn't one. For a defense of the YDD scene, well, The Four Cohans did perform that song in blackface back in the 1890s, so it's historically accurate. If I made a movie biography of Al Jolson, would it be better or worse if I rewrote the "Mammy" scene w/o him in blackface (which is how he performed it?)
#4
Old 12-22-2014, 09:54 AM
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It would be worse if you rewrote, obviously. I think it's awful that you can't see Song of the South anywhere because I think that promotes the idea that racists all wear sheets on their heads; better by far to show your kids that racism is way more insidious in our culture and Disney could put out a very beloved movie that was also super racist.
#5
Old 12-22-2014, 10:18 AM
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Originally Posted by CalMeacham View Post
and I'm amazed at Neil Diamond (in the remake of The Jazz Singer) and Gene Wilder (in Silver Streak). That's pretty late in the game, and they shoulda known better.
Is Gene Wilder (or Dan Ackroyd in Trading Places) really considered "performing in blackface"?
#6
Old 12-22-2014, 10:26 AM
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Originally Posted by manson1972 View Post
Is Gene Wilder (or Dan Ackroyd in Trading Places) really considered "performing in blackface"?
I'd like to think not. That's just a disguise.

We bad, mon. (inhales deeply from the ganja)
#7
Old 12-22-2014, 10:29 AM
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Originally Posted by manson1972 View Post
Is Gene Wilder (or Dan Ackroyd in Trading Places) really considered "performing in blackface"?
No. Not anymore than Dan Ackroyd was blackface when he dressed up like a Jamaican on "Trading Places".
#8
Old 12-22-2014, 10:31 AM
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I note, by the way, that Holiday Inn has 100% on the Tomatometer - I thought, huh, maybe some of those reviews are vintage? Nope.

(Seriously, I know the plot is not supposed to be very rich in this kind of movie, but this one particularly kinda stinks. I wouldn't have given it a glowing review if it hadn't had the Lincoln's Birthday number anyway.)
#9
Old 12-22-2014, 10:33 AM
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Well, CalMeacham above and the Wiki site seem to think so. I never thought it was, I took it as a disguise in the movie.
#10
Old 12-22-2014, 10:33 AM
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Aside from anything else, cheers to you for perhaps the first time I've ever thought the use of the old debate format of "Resolved: X" made any sense. Unlike the topic of a debate, which by its very definition is not yet resolved, this one pretty clearly is resolved beyond any doubt.
#11
Old 12-22-2014, 10:42 AM
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I think the Wiki list is a little overinclusive for some of those - it goes to the definition of "blackface". To me it means something very specific, and not just darkening one's skin to portray somebody with a darker skin tone than yours (like Fred Armisen playing Obama). Does "blackface" require the whole vaudevillian red lip grin thing? For example, here's Marjorie Reynolds in Holiday Inn. And here's Armisen playing Obama. Clearly the dark makeup is part of an overall attempt to look like a specific person.

Of course, on the other hand I read a very troubling article recently about the practice of "painting down" white stuntpeople rather than hiring stuntpeople of color. That's not what I'd call "blackface", but it's a related issue.
#12
Old 12-22-2014, 10:46 AM
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What seems to be "resolved" here is that the culture, including movies, of 60 years and more ago included very different assumptions than 2014+29/30ths. I'll concede that the 1940s is surprisingly late to be finding remnants of vaudeville, but I think it's several kinds of mistake to judge a movie older than most of our grandparents by present-day (== post civil-rights) standards.
#13
Old 12-22-2014, 10:49 AM
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Most of our grandparents? Dude, I'm 34 and that movie is only as old as my mom. My dad saw it in the theater when it came out.

ETA - also, my thread title is about unexpected surprises in old movies for modern viewers.

Last edited by Zsofia; 12-22-2014 at 10:50 AM.
#14
Old 12-22-2014, 10:52 AM
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Originally Posted by Zsofia View Post
Most of our grandparents? Dude, I'm 34 and that movie is only as old as my mom. My dad saw it in the theater when it came out.
It's 72 years old. It basically predates WWII (at least, US involvement in it). I think it's somewhere between mistaken and disingenuous to judge it as if it was made in some stretch of the present day.
#15
Old 12-22-2014, 10:55 AM
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I didn't judge it as if it were made in the present day, I judged it as if it were made in 1942 and I said "holy shit blackface?!" I asked my parents this morning if they remembered that in it - they didn't, and were kind of shocked when I showed them that picture there of Marjorie Reynolds. Even my dad. Who saw it in 1942. In South Georgia. When he was eleven. So yes, movies are time capsules and people aren't, but it was unexpected.
#16
Old 12-22-2014, 10:57 AM
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Enter racist Bugs Bunny or racist cartoons on YouTube. I was shocked by how many I actually remember airing that had Elmer Fudd in blackface and all kinds of big-lipped African tribe stereotypes.
Look at 1930s comics like Gasoline Alley or Snuffy Smith for occasional minstrel show burlesque characters as well.

Or Rufus Jones for President- available on YouTube and several other places- in which a 7 year old Sammy Davis, Jr., becomes the first black president. (He was already amazing, btw.) All the actors are black, but the stereotypes they had to play (e.g. Rufus's inauguration oath mentions pork chops and dice) are
#17
Old 12-22-2014, 10:58 AM
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I missed your edit, but I still find your viewpoint a bit anachronistic. If you're going to watch movies from 75 years ago, there are going to be endless "surprises," both good and bad. I think that to be shocked or disturbed that a movie of that era contains examples of the sort of "genial racism" that was common then is... to have limited perspective?
#18
Old 12-22-2014, 10:59 AM
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It's not that it was surprising that it was there, again. It's surprising that it isn't famous for being there.

ETA - in other words, that two people who watch a lot of old movies didn't know this is "the one with the blackface song and dance number".

ETAA - especially since it's a reasonably popular movie at Christmas and is shown a lot more frequently than the vast majority of the movies on that Wiki list. A lot more people have seen it in this century than Fresh Faces of 1937.

Last edited by Zsofia; 12-22-2014 at 11:01 AM.
#19
Old 12-22-2014, 11:03 AM
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Originally Posted by Zsofia View Post
I think the Wiki list is a little overinclusive for some of those - it goes to the definition of "blackface". To me it means something very specific, and not just darkening one's skin to portray somebody with a darker skin tone than yours (like Fred Armisen playing Obama). Does "blackface" require the whole vaudevillian red lip grin thing? For example, here's Marjorie Reynolds in Holiday Inn. And here's Armisen playing Obama. Clearly the dark makeup is part of an overall attempt to look like a specific person.

Of course, on the other hand I read a very troubling article recently about the practice of "painting down" white stuntpeople rather than hiring stuntpeople of color. That's not what I'd call "blackface", but it's a related issue.

For me "blackface" is a term specifically used and referring to minstrel/vaudeville style performances. I feel this way because words have meanings and that's what that word means--it annoys me greatly when people decide to misuse terms to serve their arguments.

Regarding the stuntman thing--the stuntman pool is pretty small and there just aren't a lot of black stuntmen. I remember watching "making-of" footage from the original "Shaft" and they used white stuntmen and used make up and wigs to make them passable.
#20
Old 12-22-2014, 11:10 AM
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Originally Posted by Zsofia View Post
It's not that it was surprising that it was there, again. It's surprising that it isn't famous for being there.
I get your point. I've never seen the movie, but I would have never expected a blackface minstrel show in it! I think I'd expect a shootout between Astaire and Crosby before I expected that.
#21
Old 12-22-2014, 11:13 AM
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Is it "The Searchers" where the young lead kicks an Indian woman down a hill while John Wayne guffaws?

You just shake your head and move on.

Edit: Then there's Eddie Murphy's standup film all of some 32 years old where his opening bit is about "faggots looking at my ass" and "but I love faggots, I really do. Women want faggots to be their best friends...."

Shake head, move on.

Last edited by Dale Sams; 12-22-2014 at 11:17 AM.
#22
Old 12-22-2014, 11:14 AM
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Originally Posted by Push You Down View Post

Regarding the stuntman thing--the stuntman pool is pretty small and there just aren't a lot of black stuntmen. I remember watching "making-of" footage from the original "Shaft" and they used white stuntmen and used make up and wigs to make them passable.
Not to hijack this interesting thread, but I just read this article about black stuntmen and the discrimination they still face due to the practice of "painting down".

Quote:
*Members of the Black Stuntmen’s Association (BSA) are angry and appalled that Hollywood’s Warner Bros. is still practicing “painting down.” Despite the decades-long, rocky history between Warner Bros. and the Black Stuntmen’s Association, this did not deter the studio recently from casting a white stuntwoman to play the double for a black guest actress on its Fox’s hit show, “Gotham.”

However, after a reporter from Deadline Hollywood confronted Warner Bros., they quickly scrapped the plan to “paint down” a white stuntwoman.

“The Black Stuntmen’s Association has always had capable and talented “Stunt Doubles” ready and able to do any and all stunts that are required for the job at hand. And yet, our accomplishments are overlooked at every turn,” says Willie Harris, stunt pioneer and president of The Black Stuntmen’s Association. “I am angry and appalled to hear that in the 21st Century, Warner Bros. is still practicing the act of ‘painting down’ and has raised its ugly head again.”

“It’s really insulting that they would do that in the 21st century. Painting down is a very derogatory term and they know it and we know it, and it’s kind of embarrassing and insulting to start over again with the same issues 40 years later. The policies shouldn’t change from what is right to wrong,” says Alex Brown, a stunt pioneer and co-founder and secretary of the BSA. “The paint down thing is the worst thing there is to do — period. We have to be vigilant about the facts, the situation and be aware that they are still doing it. When you think it’s all gone and moving on, it’s not.”

According to David Robb, “They took the white stuntwoman and put her through hair and makeup and they applied the black makeup on her, so that she could pass as the black guest star.”

Robb has covered issues in the film and television industry for more than 20 years. Although, the white stuntwoman never made it on camera, the hair and makeup was done.

“It was insulting and demeaning for the black cast members on the show to see someone painted up like that, and it also made the white crew very uncomfortable. They were not happy about it either.”

The act of “painting down” white stunt actors so they can pass for black is still prevalent today, even though Blackface was supposedly discontinued back in the 1930s and SAG-AFTRA calls the practice “unacceptable” and “improper.”
#23
Old 12-22-2014, 11:18 AM
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I had a very similar experience to the OP when recently I saw the Astaire/Rogers movie Swing Time for the first time. Lots of blackface.

I didn't react quite the same, thinking what a recent movie it was, and I guess it doesn't have the G-rated sunshine and lollipops reputation as Holiday Inn. I just kind of shook my head and thought, Good God, things were different to a surreal degree back then.

Last edited by bup; 12-22-2014 at 11:19 AM.
#24
Old 12-22-2014, 11:29 AM
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I suppose it depends on what counts as "famous." From my point of view, the blackface scene in Holiday Inn is what I would call "somewhat well-known." That is, folks who make a habit of being familiar with movies of that era probably know about it. I imagine that more casual movie-goers wouldn't.

One reason for that is that the blackface scene is frequently cut out when the film is shown on TV. That's easy to do, because it's just one scene. Mickey Rooney's Mr. Yunioshi is scattered throughout Breakfast at Tiffany's, making him much harder to cut out.

So I suspect that may be why the case of Holiday Inn is not more notorious. Because even people who have seen it may not have seen that number. Even if you watch the film on TV every Christmas, you might not see that song.

That said, I have to admit I was somewhat surprised at the OP's surprise. In my circles, the fact that Holiday Inn contained a blackface number is pretty well-known, and somewhat infamous. I guess I was a little shocked that this was not more well-known than it is. I'll admit that my circles include that fact that my wife is both black, and huge fan of Irving Berlin. That does tend to skew the data somewhat, I suppose.

Speaking of Mickey Rooney, he and Judy Garland also did a blackface number in Babes on Broadway (1941). It doesn't take much Googling to find pictures and even YouTube clips.
#25
Old 12-22-2014, 11:36 AM
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Originally Posted by Zsofia View Post
Anybody else have an unhappy surprise with a classic film this year? (Anybody care to condescendingly explain to me that that's how movies used to be and that's okay because____?) Any movies you want to talk about that do rise above a pretty awful piece of bigotry, or that don't?
A) It's not okay, B) nobody knows anything about history, and C) everybody was xxxist in some ways in the past. Everybody. Nobody's exempt. Don't read a biography of anybody because some aspect of their life will be unacceptable today.

We've talked about this in other threads. How are you supposed to think when you find that X used to grope women in public or Y beat her kids or Z was a notorious anti-Semite? What do you make of books that casually throw around nigger or fag or wop or kike? Can you enjoy movies with Willie Best or Stepin Fetchit as minor characters?

The answer, of course, is "I don't know" or "I draw lines" or "I have to say it's okay because that's the way the past was" or whatever gets you through the day without your head exploding or refusing to look at anything historical prior to the beginning of this sentence. Once you start righteously or rightfully condemning, where do you stop? I don't know. I read and watch lots and lots of works from the previous century and to get through it I put little tick marks against the various boxes that are offensive and then concentrate on the rest because I can't think of any other way to study history at all. Yet history is supremely important and there are times when you have to assemble all those little boxes and remind people that they were omnipresent. People who really would rather not be reminded and will proceed to forget as soon as possible.

The past is a different country.
#26
Old 12-22-2014, 11:49 AM
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I don't watch movies from the golden age. I love musicals, but I don't dig those kind of musicals.
#27
Old 12-22-2014, 11:51 AM
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One Christmas I went up to NJ to spend the holiday at my aunt and uncle's with them and my cousins. My (white) cousin Sue was in a serious relationship with a (black) man named Kevin, who had a young daughter from a previous relationship. I'll say she was 4 at the time. At one point, Kevin, his daughter, and I were in the TV room watching Holiday Inn (on network TV), when suddenly...blackface scene! He and I had both completely forgotten about it, and almost immediately his little girl asked, "What's wrong with that lady's face?" We just stared at each other for a moment, completely speechless and kind of panicking, because how do you explain blackface to a 4-year-old?? But before either of us could think of anything to say, she explained it to herself: "Oh, she's just wearing too much lipstick." We both gave big sighs, and let it go at that. I don't think it ever came up again.
#28
Old 12-22-2014, 12:53 PM
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Originally Posted by Zsofia View Post
It's not that it was surprising that it was there, again. It's surprising that it isn't famous for being there.

ETA - in other words, that two people who watch a lot of old movies didn't know this is "the one with the blackface song and dance number".

ETAA - especially since it's a reasonably popular movie at Christmas and is shown a lot more frequently than the vast majority of the movies on that Wiki list. A lot more people have seen it in this century than Fresh Faces of 1937.
I don't watch the movie, because I think it's a stupid movie. The blackface bit is uncomfortable, but a product of the time, so it doesn't surprise me any more than someone slapping a woman around in a film noir surprises me. It certainly doesn't rise to the level of "famous". The only 'famous' scene I can think of for either genre is Cagney smashing a grapefruit into Mae Clarke's face in Public Enemy. Condescension towards - and abuse of - women was common enough in multitudes of old films that I'm surprised when it doesn't happen.

I understand your uncomfortable surprise, though. I remember buying the John Wayne movie "The Fighting Seabees" to show my kids. It's not historically accurate, but since I was a Seabee, I thought they might get a kick out of it. I had forgotten about the scene where Wayne refers to Japanese soldiers as "Tojo's bug-eyed monkeys", and the several scenes of Japanese soldiers depicted as evil-looking buck-toothed heathens with thick glasses. I had to do some 'splaining.
#29
Old 12-22-2014, 02:58 PM
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I had a very similar experience to the OP when recently I saw the Astaire/Rogers movie Swing Time for the first time. Lots of blackface.
I wouldn't say a "lot"; it's just one number. And it's very obviously a tribute to Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, a dancer who Astaire greatly admired. And while he does have the black make-up, there isn't the accenting of the lips and such that was more "minstrel" in nature. Similarly, he doesn't do any of the shuffle-type moves that you equate with that kind of impersonation. In fact, it may be Astaire's single greatest moment as a solo dancer on film. The routine is a marvel of choreography and technical virtuosity. Simply stunning.

Unfortunately, it's still very uncomfortable to watch, which is a shame because it's easily one of the great film musicals overall as well. For while it's very clear that Astaire meant it as an homage, it just comes across as a misguided one in hindsight. But I guess if you had to single out one movie that's genuinely great despite the use of blackface (in the sound era), this would be the one.
#30
Old 12-22-2014, 09:17 PM
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For those who think blackface minstrels were a thing of the distant past, The Black and White Minstrel show ran on British television as recently as the late 70s, and toured for another decade. And yes, it was deeply, deeply offensive: somewhat ironically, black comedian Lenny Henry got his start on the show, and unironically hated it.
#31
Old 12-22-2014, 10:05 PM
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Those movies reflected society at the time. The reality was much worse.
#32
Old 12-23-2014, 08:27 AM
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Originally Posted by Penfeather View Post
For those who think blackface minstrels were a thing of the distant past, The Black and White Minstrel show ran on British television as recently as the late 70s, and toured for another decade. And yes, it was deeply, deeply offensive: somewhat ironically, black comedian Lenny Henry got his start on the show, and unironically hated it.
A textbook example of why you should never read the comments on YouTube. As I knew there would be, there are several people assuring us that nobody was ever offended by this sort of good old-fashioned wholesome entertainment, and why can't the PC brigade just mind their own business?
#33
Old 12-23-2014, 09:33 AM
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Weird, I've never discussed Holiday Inn without also discussing the blackface in it.

Really didn't think it was some hidden secret everybody had agreed to ignore for a holiday classic movie (I'm not a huge fan of the movie even ignoring that scene).
#34
Old 12-23-2014, 12:18 PM
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Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
The past is a different country.
They do things foreignly there.
#35
Old 12-23-2014, 12:38 PM
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I wouldn't say a "lot"; it's just one number. And it's very obviously a tribute to Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, a dancer who Astaire greatly admired.
I guess it seemed like a lot; in my memory it was a lot. Thanks for the clarification.
#36
Old 12-23-2014, 12:41 PM
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I guess it seemed like a lot; in my memory it was a lot. Thanks for the clarification.
It comes at the very end of the film, so it's understandable the lasting impression it might make.
#37
Old 12-23-2014, 02:19 PM
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Minstrel shows were quite popular up to at least WWII. Ignoring the racial element, they were quite entertaining: songs, and Mr. Bones was very funny.

Note that blackface was considered by most to be merely makeup. It indicated a minstrel show in my the same way that whiteface indicates a mime. Even all-Black minstrel shows (yes, they did exist, usually performing for all-Black audiences) used blackface. People attending didn't think of the racism involved; for most, it would have been complaining the portrayal of Klingons on Star Trek: Klingons aren't real, so why the fuss? Similarly, the characters in Minstrel shows were not real -- it was actors in makeup.

Of course the image is offensive today, but it was less so back when Holiday Inn came out. The New York Times made no mention of the number (it called Crosby "the most casually amusing minstrel in films," though that referred to the definition of minstrel=singer, not a minstrel show). An earlier article included photos of the film, including Crosby and Astaire in blackface.

Ultimately, it all boils down to what I always say: the hardest things for people to understand is that people in the past thought differently. Yes, right now, it's racist and embarrassing to watch. But that doesn't mean that its original audience -- of any race -- thought it was anything other then entertaining.
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#38
Old 12-23-2014, 02:28 PM
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A Montreal theater company used an actor in blackface to portray Canadiens star P.K. Subban.
#39
Old 12-23-2014, 05:12 PM
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Originally Posted by MrAtoz View Post
A textbook example of why you should never read the comments on YouTube. As I knew there would be, there are several people assuring us that nobody was ever offended by this sort of good old-fashioned wholesome entertainment, and why can't the PC brigade just mind their own business?
But it was a more innocent time!
#40
Old 12-23-2014, 05:24 PM
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Originally Posted by Penfeather View Post
For those who think blackface minstrels were a thing of the distant past, The Black and White Minstrel show ran on British television as recently as the late 70s, and toured for another decade.
The 'Controversy' section causes my head to hurt. The Beeb actually wised up and tried to cancel it a decade before they did (because of a lot of people pointing out that it was rather racist)...only to have the replacement (the same show without the blackface) tank, so they brought the Minstrel Show back. That is 100% insane.
#41
Old 12-23-2014, 06:04 PM
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Originally Posted by Dale Sams View Post
Is it "The Searchers" where the young lead kicks an Indian woman down a hill while John Wayne guffaws?

You just shake your head and move on.
You were supposed to hate the kicker and Ethan in The Searchers. It's a film about how the hateful old Ethan is a monster from the past, but still a human who can be reached. The ending of this movie is one of the most powerful in all film, without laying on thick at all.

As for Holiday Inn, the first time I saw it, they were playing it at Bing Crosby's Restaurant and Lounge in Walnut Creek, CA. I was stunned. Not that they had such things in movies in the 30s and 40s, but that they would show it in the 21st Century. They didn't have a clue in the 30s and 40s when it was made that it was a bad thing. Crosby regularly worked with black entertainers and was not racist by any means. It just didn't occur to them that it was horribly offensive.
#42
Old 12-23-2014, 11:16 PM
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Originally Posted by Penfeather View Post
And yes, it was deeply, deeply offensive
It's almost hypnotic while making me feel all firebomby.

OTOH, Holiday Inn is the worst movie the old ladies at church ever made me show. There's a reason I stopped hosting those. Well, that and comments like, "Do you think that movie (Billy Elliot)was based on a true story?" and not being able to scream, "No, you senile, old twats, it was based on The Jazz Singer and every fourth movie Hollywood made since 1927! And probably lots before then."
#43
Old 12-24-2014, 04:58 AM
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Originally Posted by MrAtoz View Post
One reason for that is that the blackface scene is frequently cut out when the film is shown on TV.
Or (around here) because they show White Christmas (the color movie with the same song) instead of Holiday Inn.

Holiday Inn was B&W. The colorized version was unattractive.
#44
Old 12-24-2014, 08:38 AM
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Originally Posted by Melbourne View Post
Or (around here) because they show White Christmas (the color movie with the same song) instead of Holiday Inn.

Holiday Inn was B&W. The colorized version was unattractive.
My wife and I certainly enjoy White Christmas better. Not only because of the lack of a blackface number (although there is a song about how great minstrel shows were ), but because the characters overall are nicer.

Crosby and Astaire in Holiday Inn, despite supposedly being friends, are generally pretty awful to each other throughout the movie. The story begins with Astaire's character having an affair with Crosby's fiancee, proceeds with Crosby trying to foil Astaire's attempts to get a new dancing partner, Astaire resolving to steal Marjorie Reynolds' character from Crosby, and so forth. Not to mention Crosby actively preventing Marjorie Reynolds from being seen by New York talent scouts so that she won't leave him, and to hell with what she might want. It's all pretty unpleasant.

By contrast, Crosby and Danny Kaye in White Christmas actually seem to like each other. There's no romantic rivalry between them, and they're clearly good friends who each want what's best for the other. Add in Vera-Ellen's terrific dancing, and you've got a far superior Christmas entertainment.
#45
Old 12-24-2014, 08:52 AM
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It's worthwhile mentioning that Irving Berlin was mostly not racist. I say mostly because, true to his era, he did write "coon songs" which were originally intended to be performed in blackface. "Mandy" is one of these and "Puttin' in the Ritz" is a burlesque of black social pretensions.

But, by and large, Berlin was sympathetic to the black experience. One of his revues from 1933 featured "Suppertime," a ballad sung by the black entertainer Ethel Waters. In the song, Waters reveals that her husband has just been lynched. The song is a scathing attack on racism and is as heartbreaking as - and similar in theme to - Billie Holliday's "Strange Fruit."

During World War II, Berlin wrote and mounted the musical This is the Army. At his behest black performers, notably Joe Louis, the boxing champ, were included in the cast. Berlin took the show on the road to raise money for an armed services charity. Wherever the show went, Berlin insisted that the "colored" cast members were treated to the same accommodations and respectful treatment as the white actors. That was a pretty ballsy thing to insist on in the Forties.

Berlin himself know something about racism: his family's Russian shtetl was burned by Cossacks and the family was forced to flee to New York City.

But, despite all that, yeah, I have to say that the blackface number in Holiday Inn is pretty dismal.
#46
Old 12-26-2014, 01:21 AM
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Originally Posted by Chefguy View Post
I understand your uncomfortable surprise, though. I remember buying the John Wayne movie "The Fighting Seabees" to show my kids. It's not historically accurate, but since I was a Seabee, I thought they might get a kick out of it. I had forgotten about the scene where Wayne refers to Japanese soldiers as "Tojo's bug-eyed monkeys", and the several scenes of Japanese soldiers depicted as evil-looking buck-toothed heathens with thick glasses. I had to do some 'splaining.
I understand what you're saying, but it also seems odd to me that we would find it offensive or feel a need to explain why it is wrong to us bad words to describe the people you are killing.
#47
Old 12-26-2014, 02:40 AM
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Originally Posted by Tread View Post
I understand what you're saying, but it also seems odd to me that we would find it offensive or feel a need to explain why it is wrong to us bad words to describe the people you are killing.
For the same reason it would be wrong to call a black person a nigger or a gay person a faggot while you are killing them. They don't suddenly become acceptable when you are mad.

I also doubt that people of color did not find minstrel shows offensive at the time. Just because black people did them too doesn't mean they were ignoring that it was basically them playing stupid black people. A lot of people bow down to the system.

How can a show making fun of how stupid black people are not be racist? The only thing I can think is that it paled in comparison to other racism, so it just wasn't a priority.
#48
Old 12-26-2014, 10:54 AM
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As an example of how different the world was in the early days, take Arthur Wilson.

You know him as Sam, the black piano player in Sam's Club in Casablanca. Wilson, who didn't play piano, was known as Dooley Wilson by that time. He got the name because his signature song in vaudeville was the Irish ditty "Mr. Dooley." Which he performed as an Irishman, in whiteface.

He didn't originate it, though. Apparently that was Lew Dockstader in 1895, who also performed in blackface.

Does that excuse the use of blackface a half century later? Of course not. It's just a reminder of how hard it is to get our minds back into the heads of people in the past.
#49
Old 12-26-2014, 11:38 AM
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Originally Posted by MrAtoz View Post
(snip)By contrast, Crosby and Danny Kaye in White Christmas actually seem to like each other. There's no romantic rivalry between them, and they're clearly good friends who each want what's best for the other. Add in Vera-Ellen's terrific dancing, and you've got a far superior Christmas entertainment.
I agree. The minstrel show number in White Christmas is performed without blackface, making it much less offensive, Vera-Ellen dances up a storm, and while Fred Astaire is a decent actor, I never see him dance without thinking that I like Gene Kelly's style of dancing more.
#50
Old 12-26-2014, 02:45 PM
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Originally Posted by BigT View Post
For the same reason it would be wrong to call a black person a nigger or a gay person a faggot while you are killing them. They don't suddenly become acceptable when you are mad.
Tread's comment was in reference to a World War 2 movie. It is always wrong to just kill a black or gay person off the street because they are black or gay. But during World War 2, it was legal and ethical for a member of the American military to kill a member of the Japanese military or in certain circumstances a Japanese civilian. So in that case, why was it OK to kill them, but not OK to call them "bug-eyed monkeys"?
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