A Japanese TV show is under fire after a skit featuring one of the country’s most famous comedians sporting blackface aired on New Year’s Eve. For many, the sketch was grossly racist and offensive — but there were still those who just didn’t get what all the fuss was about.
Outrage quickly unfolded after actor/comedian Masatoshi Hamada appeared on the show with his face painted black in an attempt to impersonate Eddie Murphy in the 1984 movie “Beverly Hills Cop.” Critics were swift to point to the history of racial bigotry and its ties to blackface, but the discussion sparked a debate on Twitter about whether Japanese people are even aware of the fact that blackface is widely viewed as racist.
Even if Japanese folks were ignorant of this, those offended made it a point to educate them on why using blackness and Black culture as a “punchline” for laughs is offensive.
“Need a Black character? Get a Black actor that speaks Japanese,” Black columnist Baye McNeil, who’s lived in Japan for 13 years, tweeted. “There are several.”
Note to japanese performing in #BlackFace: #Blackness is not a punchline nor a prop. Need jokes? Get better writers. Need a black character, get a black actor that speaks Japanese. There are several! But please #StopBlackfaceJapan #日本でブラックフエイス止めて not a good look! pic.twitter.com/lN0E3bWsgY
— Baye McNeil (@BayeMcneil) December 31, 2017
In an interview with HuffPost Japan, McNeil further explained why the sketch made him so angry and highlighted how many in the Japanese culture were unaware of minstrelsy and other Black tropes often performed by white actors after the 1800’s to degrade and ridicule African-Americans.
“Japanese society seems to have not properly seen what the world is debating about blackface,” the Brooklyn-born writer told the news site. “Whenever I see a blackface in Japanese television comedies and music, half of me feels like it’s being looked down on, looked like a fool, and only being seen on the surface. [My] humanity is being denied.”
“But the other half says, “They are children, they just do not know,’ ” he added. “So I also have to put up with it, I think.”
Many on social media shared McNeil’s frustration.
meanwhile in Japan: a comedian with blackface is on a roughly 7 hour long national TV program😡🤯😠 I just wanted to end the year peacefully but no 2017 won’t let me pic.twitter.com/QrsZ7NTlBM
— ぽ む ぽ む あ ず に ゃ ん (@queenaznyan) December 31, 2017
What’s striking about #Japan,to anyone who has studied or visited, is how clearly & highly sophisticated it is on one hand, with such attention to the most subtle details,yet willfully ignorant & self absolving of its own xenophobia & yes racism. #BlackFace ? 止めてください。
— Melafela (@melafela) December 31, 2017
— MattyO (@labluejp) December 31, 2017
Um, Japan what are you doing? No. No no no no no. #stopblackfaceJapan
— Harlem’s Radio Host 🏁🐍 (@MelvinTaylorII) January 4, 2018
Blackface has a history of ridicule and mockery, dehumanizing a particular race; it is part of racism. The comedian did not intend to condone discrimination, but not having racist intentions is an invalid excuse for an action that is considered offensive and morally repugnant.
— ぽ む ぽ む あ ず に ゃ ん (@queenaznyan) January 1, 2018
Amid the outrage, there were those who pushed back against the accusations of racism by arguing that there’s just a “different culture” in Japan that’s accepting of blackface. Others maintained that the skit that couldn’t have been racist because the actor clearly had a love and high regard for Eddie Murphy.
just learn and respect our, Japanese traditional monomane(mocking) culture. and you’ll see that it’s without any discriminative meaning.
— 苦味 (@2ga3) January 1, 2018
Have you actually paid any attention to how much detail Hama-chan(the comedian) cares about? The clothes, shoes, he really wanted to be Eddy Murphy. We can see his love and respect for Eddy Murphy’s epic comedy. BUT YOU DON’T. You see minstrel show, slaves and hate. pic.twitter.com/FfU89HJEEA
— SweetHomeはそばかす大好き💌 (@photonka) January 2, 2018
This Japanese comedian was dressed up as Eddy Murphy! How this is racist?????!?!
You are spreading a mass hysteria. Please calm down. And stop! pic.twitter.com/Ca8ATh9lAq
— SweetHomeはそばかす大好き💌 (@photonka) December 31, 2017
If you can’t tell the difference between a meticulous impersonation of Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop and crude racial stereotyping, you might be a victim of moral hysteria. #StopBlackFaceJapan
— Glen 🇦🇺 (@Glen1788) January 4, 2018
… then there those who reignited the old blackface v. whiteface debate.
Even Eddie Murphy did the same thing in Coming to America, he played the Jewish guy in the barber shop, no one lost their shit then either!
Black plays white, it's fine…White plays black it's an outrage!#Triggered #StopBlackFaceJapan #日本でブラックフエイス止めて pic.twitter.com/FpdoCYck44
— GOᑎᘔO™🎮 (@GonzoKRS) January 4, 2018
— coldbrewaf (@coldbrewaf) January 4, 2018
Calls to protest the show have grown in recent days, according to the BBC. There’s no word on if the Hamada plans to issue an apology or response to the outrage.