No, this is not Judy Garland auditioning for the part of “Crazy Eyes” in the original 1938 Orange is the New Black.
It’s amazing that this was not considered unusual in 1938. Two years before she became an immortal megastar with The Wizard Of Oz, Judy Garland performed in blackface in Everybody Sing. This is one of the many ways that Hollywood helped institutionalize racism and there she is, America’s sweetheart, dancing around like a nappy-headed Golliwog and singing goofy lyrics about Uncle Tom’s Cabin! (The year before this, Garland did a number in Babes in Arms as a light-skinned black girl complete with an entire blackface men’s chorus.)
As jaw-dropping as this is, Garland and other performers (like Al Jolson and Mickey Rooney) obviously weren’t conscious of how history would perceive this sort of thing. D.W. Griffiths’ controversial 1916 Birth of a Nation (original title The Clansman) is regarded today as much as an example of a historically significant silent film epic as it is a record of what beastly and commonly held attitudes towards blacks, slavery and the Civil War that Americans held and that Hollywood was portraying well into the 20th Century! (The Ku Klux Klan were the good guys in what is, adjusted for historical and present day monetary value, a film that’s only truly been bested at the box office by Titanic and Avatar.)
In 1938 blackface was still a completely acceptable theatrical convention. But today’s Hollywood knows exactly what it’s doing. Case in point: This year’s No Escape, a xenophobic gore fest starring Owen Wilson in which the bad guys are hordes of bloodthirsty generic Asians from an unnamed country (it’s Thailand). Anybody who isn’t white in No Escape is deadly, faceless and you know, simply brown-skinned. Racism still lives and thrives in Hollywood.
Owen Wilson and the Yellow Peril.
Coming soon: Adam Sandler’s Ridiculous Six, in which the terrifically unfunny “funnyman” pokes fun at Redskins. I really thought we had outgrown this kind of tone deaf bullshit. You can thank Netflix for bankrolling this turd. We’ll never know if this will be the box office bomb that most of Sandler’s films have been in recent years because Netflix doesn’t publicize any numbers, particularly when something fails.
Rob fucking Schneider finally gets a gig… as a Native American?!
In light of the recent events in Paris and San Bernadino County, I fully expect a glut of Hollywood movies in which Muslims will be brutally dispensed with as casually as those savage Injuns in the old cowboy movies. But why be surprised? We’re living in a nation where we award prizes to movies like Zero Dark Thirty, which was nothing more than CIA propaganda with a pro-torture agenda. We were meant to feel more for angsty CIA sadist Jessica Chastain than the innocent victims of waterboarding. None of whom, despite what the film would like you to believe, gave up Osama Bin Laden.
Yes, Hollywood is and always has been a useful propaganda tool. Hell, when the hippies started to make waves they killed off two of them in Easy Rider and a whole fucking commune in Joe. Damn peaceniks!
So yeah this Judy Garland clip is wildly racist—dig the post song scene—but have things really changed that much? I fully expect that the critically praised Beasts of No Nation will be celebrated and receive several awards this season. It’s a well-crafted film with some terrific performances. It’s also a shallow depiction of the brutal violence taking place in West Africa and virtually every African character in the film is a murdering sociopath. What drives the violence is never dealt with in any significant manner. Who cares about that? The movie’s main function seems to be violence for violence’s sake. “Things are hell in parts of Africa.” Period. End of fucking story. The last time I saw a film that depicted Africans as one homogeneous killing machine was Ridley Scott’s lamentable Black Hawk Down. At least the racism in Everybody Sing is out in the open. The new blackface is harder to see, but it’s there.