Blackface in Film

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Soul Man vs. Tropic Thunder- When is blackface okay?

Analyze the difference between Soul Man (1986), a movie that shows the length people will go to get an education, and Tropic Thunder (2008), a film that features a white actor portraying a stereotypical black soldier. The former is maligned among audiences and critics and has a 14% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The latter is beloved for its skewering of Hollywood, and netted Robert Downey Jr. and Oscar nomination. Where did Soul Man go wrong, and what did Ben Stiller and company do right?

  • Interesting topic! I would warn you to be wary of contrasting these so starkly, however; RDJ actual did receive some serious flak for Tropic Thunder ( and there are scholars that hold that blackface is never okay, regardless of the popularity or overall acceptance of the practice under certain circumstances. I don't know where your argument will go with this, but tread carefully. You should hesitate to paint the practice in any positive light, and maybe focus more on the blatant racism plaguing Hollywood and the Academy Awards. – Eden 9 years ago
  • I don't think this should be limited to just these two films (which are already good places to start). But another film that should probably be spoken about is Spike Lee's Bamboozled. This film features two African-American actors putting on blackface for a television show, which is set up by an African-American writer and the company headed by a white man. This was a satirical approach intended to show the ridiculousness of blackface as well as trying to fight traditional stereotypes of African-American characters (Ie the buck, the coon etc.). I think Tropic Thunder's use of blackface is similarly a piece of satire, but it is used more as a tool to comment on the extremity of method actors. It doesn't really crrate a discourse on blackface itself, however If you really wanted you could try and talk about African-American actors whitefacing, although unfortuneately the oly example of this I can think of is White Chicks, where we also see men dressed (or rather disguised) as women. – Jamie White 9 years ago
  • Wow, amazing idea. I do agree that the you could expand to more than two films. It is sort of a tightrope kind of article, go too much in one direction and you could potentially offend of a lot of people, but this could end up being one of the most entertaining and informative articles if done right. – Austin Bender 9 years ago