What’s the borderline between entertainment and racism? This has been a question that has been asked for years, and as with most questions regarding issues around race and representation, there is no easy answer. America has had a long and tough history surrounding race. With the rise of media and technology came a form of entertainment called blackface, along with other variations including whiteface, yellow-face, and brown-face. Blackface involves using makeup to darken the complexion so white or non-black actors can take on black roles; the other variations involve a similar process.
This isn’t just a thing of the past, although a lot less common, this practice is still visible in today’s entertainment. And we can’t stop at just movies; it’s also present in television broadcasts, video advertisements and also print advertisements as well. Stereotypes are commonly used as a way to present easy humor, but it can be difficult to portray that humor without being offensive. Ashton Kutcher received much backfire for his advertisement campaign for popchips in which he was given a darker complexion and played a Indian character named Raj. Kutcher used a racist accent and referenced stereotypes to portray a Bollywood movie producer looking for love, there was no reference to the actual product, at first glance the viewer would not realize it was a advertisement for popchips. Aside from the Raj character Kutcher also played other stereotypes including a Hippie, a biker, and a diva. Many people used social media to express their concerns, but others failed to see any racist elements.After Julianne Hough wore a blackface Halloween costume, A Huffington Post Article was published to address the history of blackface portrayal and how offensive they can be in the film industry starting from the 1915 to today in the 21st century. In regards to the 21st century two movies stand out in the list presented, 2004’s White Chicks and 2008’s Tropic Thunder. In Tropic Thunder Robert Downey Jr. plays a method actor who gets his skin surgical darkened. The movie White Chicks is about two black FBI officers who go undercover as white females, the movie also contains stereotypical elements of white females. Despite criticism both movies made profits at the box office, people found it funny and worthy of their money. Are we so used to media portrayals of this nature they go unnoticed to us as we consume media?
Something that concerns me is that there are many people out there that don’t find these makeup portrayals as offensive or racist. I think skin complexion changing in media is rarely okay. The start of these portrayals all were a result of racism and poking fun at certain groups. It may be a thing of the past but if we continue to say it is okay for these portrayals to be made the past is at risk to be repeated. Whether it’s in TV, movies, advertisements or even as Halloween costumes, It is never okay to change your complexion and play on racist stereotypes to get a few laughs.