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Buffoonery: Get Some at a Theater Near You

New America Media, Commentary, Jasmyne A. Cannick Posted: Aug 13, 2008

LOS ANGELES, Calif.Hollywood has finally found a way to get around hiring black actors to portray black people, while at the same time further destroying the global image of the black maleand making a couple million dollars in the process.

Buffoonery, yes, and its headed to a theater near you.

The latest assault on the black image from Hollywood is the film Tropic Thunder which stars Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Hollywoods favorite white drug addicted actor Robert Downey Jr.in blackface.

In Tropic Thunder, a movie about a movie (how original), Downeywho, did I mention, is white?takes on the character of an Oscar-winning actor named Kirk Lazarus, whose character in the war movie they are filming, Sgt. Osiris, is black.

Still with me?

Now, for the record, I dont for one minute expect for Hollywood to take into consideration the history of blackface in America and how it makes me feel as a black woman. I mean this is the same industry that forced Norbit on uswhich single-handedly managed to reinforce the negative stereotypes of obese black women in 102 minutes to the tune of $95 million.

But at the same time, I know, like you know, that there wont be any movies opening anytime soon that poke fun at or mimic their experience or their people.

Im just saying that when it comes to Hollywood, the history of black people in this country, and our image as a people, its like, how much money do you need and how fast can you get the film done? Films like Tropic Thunder, to me, just open the floodgates and validate the use of blackface for entertainment purposes.

Consider this. In just about two weeks, New Orleans will once again celebrate gay pride. Headlining the event will be Shirley Q. Liquor. Liquor is described by Charles Knipp as being "the Queen of Ignunce," and is based on his experiences with and interpretations of black southern women.

Knipp, who is white and gay, performs the characteran illiterate, welfare collecting mother of 19 children, who drives a Caddy and attends Mount Holy Olive Second Baptist Zion Church of God in Christ of Resurrected Latter-Days AME CMEin blackface for mostly white gay men and women, rednecks, and their moms (his words not mine).

At the end of the day, this film is going to open regardless of how black people feel about its use of blackface. From the controversy alone, its sure to rake in millionsand dont think for one moment that was not the intention of DreamWorks execs from the beginning. But before you buy that ticket to go and see Tropic Thunder and further contribute to the destruction of the global black image and careers of black actors, I want you to do three thingsno make that four.

First, check the line-up of movies at the theater youre at and count how many star black actors, feature black actors, or are directed by black filmmakers.

Then ask yourself how you feel about a white man who puts on blackface and an afro wig, calls himself the Queen of Dixie, and says things like Im gonna burn me up some chitlins and put some ketchup on there and aks Jesus to forgive my sins. Follow that up by asking yourself how you feel about white middle American college students like University of Alabama student Elizabeth Dennis, who dresses in blackface and mocks blacks with her other white friends. Dennis recently changed her Facebook profile image from Piglet, the Winnie the Pooh character, who was in blackface, with one hand holding a watermelon and the other holding a bucket of KFC Fried Chicken, with the word Niglet underneath.

If you still want to see Tropic Thunder, might I suggest a trip to your local neighborhood swapmeet, where more often than not therell be a brother out front ready to sell you a copy of Tropic Thunder for the ultra low price of $5. I mean, I figure if Robert Downey Jr. is going to get paid for a role that could have easily been given to a black actor, somebody black ought to get paid, so why not your local bootlegger. Im just saying its a good way to stick it to the industry and help a brotha out.

To most self-respecting black Americans, blackface is an unacceptable form of entertainment, period.

Ill close with this. In published media reports, Robert Downey Jr. is quoted as saying in reference to his role in blackface in Tropic Thunder, If its done right, it could be the type of role you called Peter Sellers to do 35 years ago. If you dont do it right, were going to hell. Note to Downey: Do not pass go. Do not collect $200 million. Go straight to hell, where Satan is anxiously awaiting your arrival.

At 30, Jasmyne Cannick is a critic and commentator based in Los Angeles who writes about the worlds of pop culture, race, class, sexuality, and politics as they relates to the African-American community. Her work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times and Ebony Magazine. She can be reached at www.jasmynecannick.com or www.myspace.com/jasmynecannick.

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