Blackface – Yay or Nay?

The big story last week was about Megyn Kelly and blackface – two things I never thought would go together.  Megyn Kelly and a lobotomy, yes.  Megyn Kelly and peroxide poisoning, yes.  Megyn Kelly and a Botox mishap, yes.  But blackface?  If you don’t know, Meg tackled the issue of using blackface for Halloween by saying it was OK to dress up as a specific person of a different ethnicity.  And that leads us, inevitably, to Designing Women.  Now, I know my audience – you all saw this coming a mile away.  In the famous episode, the ladies were in a talent show lip-synching to The Supremes.  There were many problems with this scenario.  First off, there were only three Supremes, while there were four DW.  Second, they performed “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, which was a hit for Diane after she left The Supremes (although here’s a fun fact – The Supremes and Temptations recorded a cover of the Tammi Terrell/Marvin Gaye version of this song in 1968).  Third, and the issue germane to this situation, The Supremes were black women, while the ladies on DW were white.  Suzanne had her beautician whip up skin bronzing makeup.  Julia balked, saying it was insulting to black women.  Come showtime, the three girls are onstage au naturel when Suzanne walks out with tinted skin – looking stunning, I might add.

And that brings us to the question – if you are dressing up as someone famous of a different color, how far do you go?  And before you answer, I’m not talking about minstrel makeup with exaggerated lips; I’m talking natural coloring.  In theatre, this is commonplace.  When an opera singer plays Aida, she must look Ethiopian.  When someone sings or acts Othello, he must look like a Moor (although the Met recently stopped doing this).  When Whoopi Goldberg hosted the 1999 Academy Awards, she came out as Queen Elizabeth I – complete with the Virgin Queen’s heavily powdered white face.  For all those reasons – and believe me, I am no fan – I think Megyn got a raw deal when NBC fired her.  Methinks they were just looking for an excuse to dump her.

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