Author Topic: Billy Crystal and blackface  (Read 24374 times)

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SamiHami

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #15 on: February 28, 2012, 12:58:23 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.

POD with the minor adjustment I made. It was not meant as an offensive gag and as stated earlier there are plenty of comedians of color that go into "whiteface" as part of their shtick. It's not meant to be offensive, not intended as a racist insult. Sometimes people just need to get over themselves.

I think it's the people who see racism in every word or gesture, even where it very obviously is not intended, dilute the real instances of racism when they occur. That is a real disservice to the people that genuinely are victimized by racism. Billy Crystal doing a parody of a popular entertainer that happened to have been black is not racist. What was racist were the clubs, early in his career, that allowed SDJ in to entertain but wouldn't let him in as a customer because of his color. HUGE difference.

I am a huge fan of SDJ and have been for years. In fact, when I got my cat (see profile pic) there was no question what his name would be...he is Sammy Davis Jr, 'cause he is a cool black cat!

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blahblahblah

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #16 on: February 28, 2012, 01:17:52 PM »
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there are plenty of comedians of color that go into "whiteface"
Blackface and whiteface are not the same thing. There is no painful history with whiteface. White people have not been institutionally oppressed or victimized throughout US history. Double standards? Yes, but double standards are not necessarily a bad thing. We also have a Black History Month but no White History Month, and a Black Entertainment Television but no White Entertainment Television for similar reasons.
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I think it's the people who see racism in every word or gesture, even where it very obviously is not intended, dilute the real instances of racism when they occur.
I would argue that most instances of racism are unintentional. The vast majority of racists do not believe that they're being racist.

SamiHami

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #17 on: February 28, 2012, 01:33:52 PM »
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there are plenty of comedians of color that go into "whiteface"
Blackface and whiteface are not the same thing. There is no painful history with whiteface. White people have not been institutionally oppressed or victimized throughout US history. Double standards? Yes, but double standards are not necessarily a bad thing. We also have a Black History Month but no White History Month, and a Black Entertainment Television but no White Entertainment Television for similar reasons.
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I think it's the people who see racism in every word or gesture, even where it very obviously is not intended, dilute the real instances of racism when they occur.
I would argue that most instances of racism are unintentional. The vast majority of racists do not believe that they're being racist.

I think what I'm trying to say is that Billy Crystal was parodying an entertainer, not because he was black, but because he was a well known entertainer in his day, with a very distinctive style and personality that lent itself to good natured parody. The fact of his skin color wasn't a factor-it was just another aspect of trying to resemble this performer for the sake of parody.

It's far removed from the racist fools who used to go around in actual blackface and mocking the black population as a whole. Crystal was parodying a man, not a race.

I'm not sure if I said that very well. I hope I was able to make my point well enough. I think it would be sad if we were afraid of simple, harmless humor...it seems like that would do more to separate the races than to bring them together.

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mlkind1789

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #18 on: February 28, 2012, 02:19:47 PM »
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there are plenty of comedians of color that go into "whiteface"
Blackface and whiteface are not the same thing. There is no painful history with whiteface. White people have not been institutionally oppressed or victimized throughout US history. Double standards? Yes, but double standards are not necessarily a bad thing. We also have a Black History Month but no White History Month, and a Black Entertainment Television but no White Entertainment Television for similar reasons.
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I think it's the people who see racism in every word or gesture, even where it very obviously is not intended, dilute the real instances of racism when they occur.
I would argue that most instances of racism are unintentional. The vast majority of racists do not believe that they're being racist.

I think what I'm trying to say is that Billy Crystal was parodying an entertainer, not because he was black, but because he was a well known entertainer in his day, with a very distinctive style and personality that lent itself to good natured parody. The fact of his skin color wasn't a factor-it was just another aspect of trying to resemble this performer for the sake of parody.

It's far removed from the racist fools who used to go around in actual blackface and mocking the black population as a whole. Crystal was parodying a man, not a race.

I'm not sure if I said that very well. I hope I was able to make my point well enough. I think it would be sad if we were afraid of simple, harmless humor...it seems like that would do more to separate the races than to bring them together.


I think you made the point very well, and I have a question of my own to add.

My question is, where do you draw the line?  Four years ago, Robert Downey, Jr. was in "Tropic Thunder" where he was
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the dude playin' the dude, disguised as another dude
.  He spent an entire movie in makeup to make him look like another race to much less controversy.  Fred Armisen dons makeup to play Barack Obama and David Paterson.  I don't know that I have ever heard anyone complain about that.

There is a line somewhere, obviously, but where is it and who draws it?

blahblahblah

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #19 on: February 28, 2012, 02:59:09 PM »
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Four years ago, Robert Downey, Jr. was in "Tropic Thunder" where he was

the dude playin' the dude, disguised as another dude

.  He spent an entire movie in makeup to make him look like another race to much less controversy. 
Because that was very clearly satire, meant to actually make fun of and deride actors who put on blackface. And even then, there was still controversy (and understandably so - the excuse of "it's satire" can be a very thin line). I suppose that one could argue that sketches like SNL and Crystal's SDJ impression are satirical as well, but the difference is what they're satirizing. Tropic Thunder's use of blackface was to deride blackface itself; Crystal's wasn't.

Calypso

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #20 on: February 28, 2012, 03:18:16 PM »
SamiHami, that there is one cool cat! (purrrrrrrr)
I think your point is well made.
I've told this story on eHell before, I think, but it kind of belongs here: a Unitarian church I belonged to did a production of "Amahl and the Night Visitors" and there simply was not one person of color in the congregation who could sing the part of the African Wise Man. A white guy did it in dark make-up (I didn't realize until the after party that he was white and heard that awesome voice come out of a completely different-looking man!)

As any Unitarian here will attest, this is a church that really bends over backwards to be sensitive to diversity and as inoffensive as possible.

So, were they wrong to cast Mr. White Singer guy as an African Wise Man?

mlkind1789

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #21 on: February 28, 2012, 03:48:57 PM »
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Four years ago, Robert Downey, Jr. was in "Tropic Thunder" where he was

the dude playin' the dude, disguised as another dude

.  He spent an entire movie in makeup to make him look like another race to much less controversy. 
Because that was very clearly satire, meant to actually make fun of and deride actors who put on blackface. And even then, there was still controversy (and understandably so - the excuse of "it's satire" can be a very thin line). I suppose that one could argue that sketches like SNL and Crystal's SDJ impression are satirical as well, but the difference is what they're satirizing. Tropic Thunder's use of blackface was to deride blackface itself; Crystal's wasn't.

That's sort of my point though.  Who decides?  Where is that line drawn?  If it is arguable that SNL are satirical, then where is the line that separates "offensive" from "inoffensive" and who gets to draw it?  What one person finds offensive or inoffensive is going to differ from what another person does.

afbluebelle

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #22 on: February 28, 2012, 04:03:42 PM »
For what it is worth, I was totally offended by the movie "White Chicks"  :P

But seriously, there are a boatload of producers for the Oscars. If he made it by all those guys, maybe they figured that it wouldn't be too horrible bad. I mean, we had Sacha "The Dictator" Baron Cohen parading around the  fake ashes of Kim Jong Il. No one was offended by that, and that man is recently dead. Evil dictatory goodness aside, if the etertainment biz can joke about the recently departed, surely they can give Billy a break.



Note: I was offended by none of the above. I've got rhino hide though, it isn't always a good thing.
My inner (r-word) is having a field day with this one.
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blahblahblah

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #23 on: February 28, 2012, 04:20:07 PM »
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If he made it by all those guys, maybe they figured that it wouldn't be too horrible bad.
That wouldn't surprise me. The Academy's gotten a lot of flak for its issues re: diversity - or, rather, the lack thereof. So it's not a shock that they would think something like that is okay. And I've seen plenty of criticism directed towards the Academy committee for allowing that to go through, which is well-deserved IMO.
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That's sort of my point though.  Who decides?  Where is that line drawn? 
Well, that's why we're debating the point, isn't it? Personally, I think it is pretty much never okay, the one possible exception being something like Tropic Thunder (and even then it's complicated; I have ~a lot of feelings~ about that movie in general).
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No one was offended by that, and that man is recently dead.
Yeah, but it's Kim Jong Il. "Respect the dead" isn't an absolute. As a Korean - my dad's side is actually from the North - I'm going to say that that man absolutely doesn't deserve any respect whatsoever. I can't really comment on Cohen's character itself, since I'm not familiar with it (I make it a point to avoid Cohen's work, and I didn't watch the Oscars red carpet and only heard about the Ryan Seacrest incident later).
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For what it is worth, I was totally offended by the movie "White Chicks"
So was I, but that's because it was a horrible, horrible movie! :P

Calypso

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #24 on: February 28, 2012, 04:22:41 PM »
  Evil dictatory goodness aside

Best Whedon-speak ever!  8)

SamiHami

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #25 on: February 28, 2012, 04:41:32 PM »
Well, I think it comes down to parodying an individual versus parodying a race in the case of BC or SNL. SNL has parodied every single president since the beginning of the show. It doesn't matter what color the prez is...he is going to be parodied, period. Once could even argue that it would racist in a way if they didn't parody Obama.
In these cases, race is simply a happenstance that has nothing to do with the reason for the parodies. I think that's okay.

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melicious

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #26 on: February 28, 2012, 05:18:59 PM »
It's not meant to be offensive, not intended as a racist insult. Sometimes people just need to get over themselves.

I don't think it's fair to say "some people need to get over themselves". As PP have said, blackface has painful historical connotations that are offensive to SOME people. Just because you don't think it's offensive doesn't mean it's not offensive to others, so saying that people need to get over themselves reduces their concerns as though they are petty and foolish. You're definitely entitled to your opinion, but it doesn't mean that the opinions of others don't matter.

SamiHami

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #27 on: February 28, 2012, 07:25:39 PM »
It's not meant to be offensive, not intended as a racist insult. Sometimes people just need to get over themselves.

I don't think it's fair to say "some people need to get over themselves". As PP have said, blackface has painful historical connotations that are offensive to SOME people. Just because you don't think it's offensive doesn't mean it's not offensive to others, so saying that people need to get over themselves reduces their concerns as though they are petty and foolish. You're definitely entitled to your opinion, but it doesn't mean that the opinions of others don't matter.

I think I have been abundantly clear that while I disapprove wholeheartedly of blackface. Doing a parody of someone who happens to be black is not anything at all like the same thing.

People that look for offense where it is obviously not intended will never be satisfied. Those are the people that I think should get over themselves. All they do is distract everyone from real instances of racism when they occur.

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hyzenthlay

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #28 on: February 28, 2012, 10:19:03 PM »
I think I have been abundantly clear that while I disapprove wholeheartedly of blackface. Doing a parody of someone who happens to be black is not anything at all like the same thing.

I agree. Cyrstal in full reasonably realistic makeup is not 'blackface.'

Blackface is a specific look, meant to create a specific character. I don't see anything in Crystal's performance that appeared to be trying to re-create or reference that character

I think calling his makeup blackface is either ignorant or a deliberate attempt at muck-racking.

Shoo

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Re: Billy Crystal and blackface
« Reply #29 on: February 28, 2012, 10:21:58 PM »
I think I have been abundantly clear that while I disapprove wholeheartedly of blackface. Doing a parody of someone who happens to be black is not anything at all like the same thing.

I agree. Cyrstal in full reasonably realistic makeup is not 'blackface.'

Blackface is a specific look, meant to create a specific character. I don't see anything in Crystal's performance that appeared to be trying to re-create or reference that character

I think calling his makeup blackface is either ignorant or a deliberate attempt at muck-racking.


I agree that what Crystal did is definitely not blackface.