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Birth of An Industry: Blackface Minstrelsy and the Rise of American Animation

Nicholas Sammond, Author

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Introduction, Page 15

Historically, blackface minstrelsy has been associated with comedy rather than with drama. Traces of the minstrel hover around characters such as Jimmie Walker's J.J. Evans on the 1970s sitcom Good Times, or Tracy Morgan's Tracy Jordan of 30 Rock, both of which have been criticized for perpetuating negative stereotypes.

Does the juxtaposition of actual blackface with these controversial performances/characters obscure or reveal that lineage? In the 2010 30 Rock episode "Christmas Attack Zone," for instance, Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) sings a Christmas carol in blackface, playing the wide receiver and failed Republican candidate Lynn Swann alongside her boyfriend Paul (Will Forte), who is dressed as Natalie Portman in the film Black Swan. This visual pun is intercut with scenes of Tracy Jordan, sporting a gold and diamond medallion that reads "Poverty," showing his film The Chunks 2 (a parody of Eddie Murphy's Klumps films) to women and children at a battered women's shelter. The episode leaves it to the viewer to decide whether it is commenting on the constructed nature of race or simply using stereotypes to get a laugh. Tina Fey's 30 Rock seems to depict a "post-racial" moment in which stereotypes, as long as they are accompanied by a wink, are justified as social commentary.
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