Race & Identity
'SNL' Is Being Called Out For Skit Slamming Blackface After Using It For Decades
Many "SNL" comics and late night hosts are facing criticism over their use of blackface in sketches.
NBC’s Saturday Night Live was praised for its takedown of Virginia’s ballooning blackface scandal Saturday, but as the New York Daily News reports, the show has a history of using blackface to transform its white stars into Black people.
Saturday’s sketch featured Kenan Thompson helping Virginia’s elected officials understand why Blackface is wrong.
The issue with blackface is something SNL leadership has only recently internalized as the Daily News notes sketches involving the racist makeup have aired as recently as 2009.
SNL stars like Fred Armisen and Jimmy Fallon reportedly wore blackface into the late 2000s; one particularly egregious example involves Fallon darkening his skin and giving himself a gap between his two front teeth to play Chris Rock.
Jimmy Fallon doing Blackface. SMH. So, him dancing to black music in Puerto Rico is merely a continuation of these fools finding black culture laughable. Y’all who supported this fool for dancing to black music in Puerto Rico are made for each other. pic.twitter.com/6dKlM8Imt4— William Garcia (@webdubois2014) February 12, 2019
New York Magazine notes Armisen wore blackface for his impersonation of President Barack Obama; in defending the practice, the comedian also admitted to doing the same when he played Prince.
“There’s shading on my eyebrows and plastic behind my ears. And there’s a little bit of something called Honey, a honey color, that is something I would wear when I play Prince,” Armisen said back in 2009, adding, “I just want to have fun.”
In the 1980s, the practice was a fairly common one on the SNL set; SNL alum Joe Piscopo wore blackface while portraying Jesse Jackson, and Billy Crystal donned black makeup to play Sammy Davis Jr.
As the Daily Mail notes, Crystal continued to wear blackface in comedy sketches into the current decade. In 2012, the comedian appeared in a sketch for the Academy Awards in which he acted in blackface opposite Justin Bieber.
The comedians have begun to take fire on social media; Jezebel reports Nick Cannon posted a video containing Fallon’s Chris Rock sketch Sunday. The video also includes some of Jimmy Kimmel’s blackface work and features a caption asking, “Are these your kings of late night?”
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Are these your Kings of Late Night??? @JimmyFallon @JimmyKimmel you know I’m always on the side of the comedian and never pander to the sensitive, but I feel there needs to be some “truth & reconciliation” discussions and teachable moments amongst our communities. I’m ready and willing for the discourse, so who wants to step up to the table first? In the meantime, I’ll just leave this right here. Tell the Jimmys to holla at me!🏾
Cannon’s criticism of blackface is nothing new; in fact, Black celebrities have been calling out the practice for nearly two centuries.
The Daily Mail reports Frederick Douglass slammed the makeup in 1848, calling actors and musicians who wore blackface “the filthy scum of white society, who have stolen from us a complexion denied to them by nature, in which to make money, and pander to the corrupt taste of their white fellow citizens.”
None of the comics above have commented about their choices to wear blackface in sketches; GQ reports one white comic, Sarah Silverman, has gone on record apologizing for her decision to don the racist makeup, however.
In a May 2018 profile with the fashion magazine, Silverman said she’s “horrified” now by the sketch, in which she wore a traditional minstrel show look.
You are a hypocrite, Miss Sarah "blackface" Silverman pic.twitter.com/dYGIr8cOIc— Montgomery Netflix the Third (@JJLanda3) February 10, 2019
“I don't stand by the blackface sketch. I'm horrified by it, and I can't erase it. I can only be changed by it and move on,” the comedian said.
Silverman also noted she was feted for the 2007 piece when it debuted. “I was praised for it! It made me famous!”
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