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Posts Tagged ‘blackface’

Privileged Comedy: Blackface in F/X’s “Louie”

In race on September 18, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Sarah Todd

Louis C.K.’s dark-humored sitcom Louie, which depicts the life of a single-dad comedian raising two daughters in New York City, has earned accolades from critics and devoted fans alike. In general, I think the show deserves its positive recognition–it’s funny and edgy and honest with considerable heart. (Watch “Duckling” and try not to tear up.) It’s also not afraid to take on controversial and uncomfortable issues, usually in a way that’s meant to engage in real–but not humorless–discussion. Which is why I was surprised by the way a recent episode,  “Halloween/Ellie”, handled a character dressed in blackface.

In the first segment of the episode, Louie takes his daughters Lily and Jane trick-or-treating around the city. Lily, the youngest, is costumed as a fairy in wings, a wand, and a puffy vest (fall in New York is cold!). Jane, by contrast, is dressed in a tiny suit, a curly grey wig and beard–and blackface. “Who are you?” asks one storekeeper in a sweet but faltering voice. “Frederick Douglass,” Louie explains. She read about him in school.

As I watched the episode, I kept waiting for Jane’s costume to become an issue. Would another storekeeper, passerby, or fellow trick-or-treater challenge Louie to explain his daughter’s costume? Would the show find some other way of addressing the painful, racist history of blackface? The stand-up routine that precedes the segment helped set my expectations that the show would start a conversation about the costume. Louie explains, “I’ve got two little white girls in my house. When they complain, it kind of drives me crazy, because I know what the world is like around them. They have no idea.” As an illustration, he describes how his daughter complained about the bubble gum-flavored medicine she took to bring down her fever, and compares her situation with that of most kids in the world, who don’t have medicine at all. His point is that his daughters–by virtue of their race, age, gender, nationality, and class–have an enormous amount of privilege of which they’re unaware. Read the rest of this entry »