Racial Face Mask: Media’s Race Portrayal Through Make-up

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.

Screencap from YouTube Popchip Advertisement

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.

Examples of blackface & whiteface in the 21st century [Pics: Huffington Post]

Examples of blackface & whiteface in the 21st century [Pics from Huffington Post]

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.

-Elena Sayasen


5 thoughts on “Racial Face Mask: Media’s Race Portrayal Through Make-up

  1. group5com201 says:

    I think it is a little strange how much liberty we give to media, especially big pop culture movies and television shows. People are so quick to call someone or something out as being racist, but will support a box-office hit such as White Chicks or Tropic Thunder. It’s almost like if someone you didn’t like very much said something offensive then you would of course get mad and want to put them in their place, but if it was one of your best friends or someone you really admired, you would almost always let it slide so as not to ruin that relationship.


  2. aohsedo says:

    I think you did a great job! It’s interesting to think about how makeup can be thought about when defining stereotypes on TV. I did a topic on makeup meeting social expectations, but in a way, I think portraying a stereotype of a certain race can be considered a social expectation. I agree that this topic is very difficult to cover, but I know there are things that some people find offensive while others laugh it off, even if the media is making fun of their own race! Incorporating the audiences’ perspective might be an interesting idea, too!


  3. kshort55 says:

    I thought this article was very well written. The example were perfect illustrations of the points being made. In the article when you asked “Are we so used to media portrayals of this nature they go unnoticed to us as we consume media?” it really got me thinking because i realized this issue was one in which i hadn’t thought of before. I found an interesting article that really relates to this idea how the arabic culture is portrayed in society. Check it out! http://www.raco.cat/index.php/Ruta/article/download/243531/326280


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