Author Topic: Billy Crystal and blackface  (Read 24642 times)

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Calypso

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Billy Crystal and blackface
« on: February 27, 2012, 02:25:06 PM »
This thread could get very dicey very fast, so I hope we can all stay within the etiquette of the situation.
As part of Billy Crystal's Oscar movie montage last night, he appeared in blackface as Sammy Davis Jr., a character he did frequently some 25 (!) years or so ago on "Saturday Night Live." I didn't think twice about it.

Today, though, I'm seeing this choice "boo'd" on the interwebs, and I'm realizing that a lot of people viewing it probably don't remember him doing this as a character and were thinking "whaa??"

I am 100% positive that Crystal had no intent to do something rude or insensitive. I'm a little more surprised (in retrospect) that no one connected with the Oscar broadcast caught the possible poor taste of the situation and nixed it, but, again, I suspect most of the writers/producers/etc of the show are my age or older, have this thoroughly in their memory as a "bit" and didn't have the "updated software  8) " in their brains as to why this might be a bad idea.

So---was it rude?
If yes, should Crystal or the Oscar show people apologize to anyone? Who? and How?
Should Billy Crystal retire this character (I doubt he'd want to do it again, anyway---how often does the opportunity come up to play Sammy Davis, but if it did, should he say "no, can't do it"?

Or was it ok and not at all rude?

Sabbyfrog2

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #1 on: February 27, 2012, 03:31:48 PM »
Not rude.  It was an entertainment gag intended to impersonate a character and nothing more. He wore makeup and a wig, what he did was NOT blackface. The boo-hooers need to get over themselves. Plenty of African- American  comedians have impersonated Caucasians in sketch comedies of past and no one is calling them out... Let it go and enjoy the show.

It's not like he actually did "blackface" anyway, as was done many years ago, and even then, I might still think it's not rude if it had been done as part of an homage to the past or something.
Blackface is something that use to be done in minstrel shows of the 19th century. It was very popular and part of our cultures history of entertainment. To exclude it at all just because it's considered offensive is naive. It's part of our history. You can't erase our history.

violinp

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #2 on: February 27, 2012, 03:45:26 PM »
Honestly, I didn't realize that it was Crystal in blackface until I got on the internet. However, I don't think that it was a very good idea to do that with the potential fallout of today's world, and the people in charge of entertainment should've told Crystal "no."
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Coley

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #3 on: February 27, 2012, 03:53:43 PM »
He was impersonating Sammy Davis Jr. It wasn't blackface -- at least not in the traditional sense. I don't happen to see it as rude because I'm familiar with Crystal's impersonations and Sammy Davis Jr.

Regardless of whether it was rude, if people have taken offense, then the right thing to do is acknowledge it, apologize, explain the impersonation, and let the offended parties know that there was no ill intent. Any attempt to downplay or minimize the situation is likely to go over poorly. Everyone involved needs to take responsibility for the decision to air it.

blahblahblah

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #4 on: February 27, 2012, 04:35:09 PM »
Yes, I think it was rude. Just because he was impersonating a specific character does not make it NOT blackface, IMO. Blackface is more than just the super-obvious minstrel-y stuff you hear about. It should have been left out of the show, IMO. That, coupled with his joke about The Help/Beverly Hills.... well, I'm over him.

Do I think he meant to be rude/insensitive? Well, no. But that doesn't change my opinion that it was.

penelope2017

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #5 on: February 27, 2012, 04:41:59 PM »
It is one of Billy Crystal's standard characters. He did it on SNL for years. Sammy Davis Jr. was black. Comedians do impersonations. I'm confused as to the racist implications.

Namárië

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #6 on: February 27, 2012, 04:47:23 PM »
Yes, I think it was rude. Just because he was impersonating a specific character does not make it NOT blackface, IMO. Blackface is more than just the super-obvious minstrel-y stuff you hear about. It should have been left out of the show, IMO. That, coupled with his joke about The Help/Beverly Hills.... well, I'm over him.

Do I think he meant to be rude/insensitive? Well, no. But that doesn't change my opinion that it was.

I completely agree. There is simply too much painful history... and combined with that line about the Help, it was all in incredibly poor taste.
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BabylonSister

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #7 on: February 27, 2012, 04:56:07 PM »
It is one of Billy Crystal's standard characters. He did it on SNL for years. Sammy Davis Jr. was black. Comedians do impersonations. I'm confused as to the racist implications.


Black face is just one of those things... In and of itself, it shouldn't be worse than, say, Robin Williams in drag for Mrs. Doubtfire but there are historical implications when it comes to white people donning black face. Maybe one day it will all be so far in the past that it won't matter anymore but for now, in the US, it's offensive and unacceptable. Billy Crystal was wrong in my opinion.

blahblahblah

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #8 on: February 27, 2012, 04:59:29 PM »
It is one of Billy Crystal's standard characters. He did it on SNL for years. Sammy Davis Jr. was black. Comedians do impersonations. I'm confused as to the racist implications.
You can do an impression of a black person without donning blackface. Do it using specific mannerisms, inflections, etc. 

And even if he did it back in the day on SNL, that doesn't make it okay. A lot of stuff was done back in the day that isn't considered appropriate now. I wouldn't exactly be thrilled if Mickey Rooney decided to suddenly impersonate Mr. Yunioshi from Breakfast at Tiffany's, either.

ETA: BabylonSister and Namarie, exactly. This sort of thing is rooted in a very painful history and cannot be divorced from that IMO. Pop culture doesn't happen in a vacuum.

WillyNilly

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #9 on: February 27, 2012, 05:03:26 PM »
Well Billy Crystal was pulled in last minute to fill in for Eddie Murphy, who was originally scheduled to be the host.  And Eddie Murphy has dozens of skits in his SNL and comedy history of going in white face (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGm5U11JTr8) so I kinda think it was fitting.

While we're talking about Mr Crystal being rude, how about him calling out the two actors who were 82 years old (each).  Both looked very uncomfortable having their ages revealed and joked about.

I did like Chris Rock's jab at the entertainment industry though about how voice over work isn't "hard work", but rather working for UPS or stripping wood is hard work, animation voice over is easy.

Calypso

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #10 on: February 27, 2012, 05:23:30 PM »

While we're talking about Mr Crystal being rude, how about him calling out the two actors who were 82 years old (each).  Both looked very uncomfortable having their ages revealed and joked about.
Amen, sister. I kept thinking "ok, these guys are ACTORS, not "OLD ACTORS"--cut it out already! I wonder if he'd have harped on the age thing if it'd been 82-year old actresses?
(Loved Christopher Plummer's velvet jacket, BTW).

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I did like Chris Rock's jab at the entertainment industry though about how voice over work isn't "hard work", but rather working for UPS or stripping wood is hard work, animation voice over is easy.

 8) ;D For me, the funniest bit of the whole evening. "I say 'I'm going to the store' and they pay me a miiiiilion dollars!"  ;D

Coley

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #11 on: February 27, 2012, 05:24:44 PM »
It is one of Billy Crystal's standard characters. He did it on SNL for years. Sammy Davis Jr. was black. Comedians do impersonations. I'm confused as to the racist implications.
You can do an impression of a black person without donning blackface. Do it using specific mannerisms, inflections, etc. 

And even if he did it back in the day on SNL, that doesn't make it okay. A lot of stuff was done back in the day that isn't considered appropriate now. I wouldn't exactly be thrilled if Mickey Rooney decided to suddenly impersonate Mr. Yunioshi from Breakfast at Tiffany's, either.

ETA: BabylonSister and Namarie, exactly. This sort of thing is rooted in a very painful history and cannot be divorced from that IMO. Pop culture doesn't happen in a vacuum.

The difference for me is that Mr. Yunioshi was a character in a novel that was transformed into a movie. Mickey Rooney's portrayal was a caricature of Japanese people, and I see the offensiveness in that. Billy Crystal was impersonating a real individual who happened to be African American. The make up was part of the costume, and he impersonated Sammy Davis Jr.'s voice and mannerisms as well. It might not have been a wise move, but I don't think there was an intent to be offensive. Despite that, as I said before, if people are offended, then by all means an apology should be issued and quickly.

blahblahblah

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #12 on: February 27, 2012, 05:32:19 PM »
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Mickey Rooney's portrayal was a caricature of Japanese people, and I see the offensiveness in that.
Well, my point in bringing up Yunioshi was simply to point out that saying "he's done it before" is not a good excuse; I'm aware that the two are not 100% parallel situations. That said, Mickey Rooney himself was apparently taken aback at how offended people were over the portrayal (and said that if he'd have been aware that people would be so angry, he'd never have done it), so that's a case of not intending to be offensive either.

(It sort of boggles my mind that he DIDN'T know that Yunioshi was an offensive caricature, but then again, the movie's from the 1960s. And the producer and director apparently sincerely apologized on the DVD commentary, so it's all good. :D)
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While we're talking about Mr Crystal being rude, how about him calling out the two actors who were 82 years old (each).  Both looked very uncomfortable having their ages revealed and joked about.
Yeah, he also made a joke about Jonah Hill's weight. Not very nice. Not that I'm against the host poking fun at the audience a bit, but making comments about weight and age like that aren't cool IMO.
« Last Edit: February 27, 2012, 05:35:24 PM by blahblahblah »

Sharnita

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #13 on: February 27, 2012, 05:39:04 PM »
Since he did these impersonations when Mr. Davis was alive I think we should take our cue from him. If Sammy indicated that he was offended then Mr. Crystal should have stopped for good. If Mr. Davis found the impersonations acceptable who is anybody else to override hos judgement?

Shea

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #14 on: February 28, 2012, 12:09:05 PM »
It is one of Billy Crystal's standard characters. He did it on SNL for years. Sammy Davis Jr. was black. Comedians do impersonations. I'm confused as to the racist implications.
Black face is just one of those things... In and of itself, it shouldn't be worse than, say, Robin Williams in drag for Mrs. Doubtfire but there are historical implications when it comes to white people donning black face. Maybe one day it will all be so far in the past that it won't matter anymore but for now, in the US, it's offensive and unacceptable. Billy Crystal was wrong in my opinion.

I agree. There's just too much historical baggage connected with blackface to make it okay. I'm sure Billy Crystal didn't mean to be insensitive/racist, but that doesn't change my opinion. Someone in charge of the ceremony should have put the kibosh on that one.


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