Monday, October 19, 2009


Tropic Thunder (2008) introduced Robert Downey Jr. with a blackface, “a style of theatrical makeup that originated in the US, used to take on the appearance of certain archetypes of American racism” (sorry, it's from Wikipedia). While Stuart Hall’s article does not explicitly mention blackface, I thought it was worth discussing because it is a method in which the blacks are represented in mainstream American culture (252).

By casting a white man to play a black man (much like Mickey Rooney playing an Asian man), movies emphasize stereotypes. Sure, they’re just acting, but some characteristics are purposely simplified and reductive. Is it a double standard to let one race make fun of himself, but be insulted if someone else did that? Some saw Tropic Thunder as controversial because of this, but I don’t know if I care enough.It might look extremely racist, but he wasn't casted as one of the 5 main stereotypes of Bogle's study that Hall mentions. I think Robert Downey Jr just proved he was a good actor. What do you think?

Also, French Vogue last month featured white model Lara Stone as black. Shall we excuse this as fashion?

EDIT (11:22 PM)

My friend in Germany just took this photo, of an ad in the Potsdamer Platz U-Bahn. A woman in blackface advertising... Othello? As far as I can find out, the woman is Barbara Schöneberger (she's not even in the production), who's like their version of Paula Abdul...


  1. I think the history of blackface makes it impossible to look at this fashion spread as just fashion.

  2. I haven't actually read Othello, but isn't he supposed to be a Moor? If so, this is a great example of Edward Said's discussion on Orientalism and how the West has embraced a "collective notion identifying 'us' Europeans as against all 'those' non-Europeans" (Hall, 261).

    So, it doesn't matter whether you're African or an Arab, you're still represented as the mysterious "Other."