Blackface: Beyond the Pale?

Two weeks back, I noticed something of a stir being whipped up over a French fashion shoot involving teen model Ondria Hardin.


Predictably, it drew backlash from all the expected circles: some complaining about the missed opportunity to cast a natively melanised model for the shoot; others moaning that the noiring of Hardin constituted yet another example of the racially-riling phenomenon known as ‘blackface’.

On the first issue, I felt a smidgen of sympathy, what with the underemphasis of sub-Saharan models in the public domain. Surely if he wanted to give his audience a taste of Africa, photographer Sebastian Kim could have saved himself a ton of aggro and make-up by going for those whom nature noired earlier.


As things transpired, though, I didn’t find much of anything to get worked up about. Though I wonder as to the rationale behind Kim’s casting choice, I also think the end result turned out rather tastefully. With the combo of dark skin and Caucasoid facial structure, the regally Africanized Hardin could just about pass for an Eritrean or Ethiopian bird.


The overblown media reaction brings to mind the noise and fury generated over that Claudia Schiffer shoot from a few years back. Similarly, model and photographer paid a classy homage to sub-Saharan aesthetics, and similarly, they suffered the verbal slings and arrows of the chattering classes.


Curiously, this umbrage doesn’t extend to the more garish examples of the phenomena that I’ve seen in Western media over the past decade. If anything, blackface here in Britain underwent something of a revered revival via the success of such shows as Little Britain


..and its coattail-riding follow-up, Come Fly With Me.


Not that folk were consistent with their open-arms attitude to blackface. Across the pond, Robert Downey Jr. got himself into a bit of bother with his stint of schwartzing in Tropic Thunder.


If only he’d been a black gone blanc, such a fuss could’ve been avoided!


Still, if it’s offensive appropriations they seek, the smelling-salt-sniffing offenditarians might be better off turning their eyes much further Eastward. Over in Korea, they’ll find plenty of examples befitting the “sambo” caricatures of yesteryear.




And let’s not forget Japan, with films like Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl pushing the trope to the apex of absurdity.


Kinda makes the matter of a classy French fashion photoshoot, um, pale in comparison, no?


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