NATIONAL NEWS - Actor and comedian Rob Van Vuuren has issued a lengthy apology after having done blackface in a 2013 Leon Schuster movie.
Van Vuuren’s apology comes in the wake of Showmax announcing their decision to review content on its platform that could be considered to be racially insensitive.
Most films by South African filmmaker Leon Schuster have been affected by this decision.
“There is no easy way to say this. In 2013, I did blackface in a Leon Schuster movie. I am deeply ashamed about this fact and very sorry for the hurt it has caused,” wrote Van Vuuren in a statement shared to social media.
“I wish I could say that I didn’t know any better at the time but the truth is that I did. I made all sorts of excuses for myself at the time to justify doing it. I pointed to the diversity of the demographics of Leon’s audience, I argued that his work was most powerful when it exposed white hypocrisy in the ‘rainbow nation’ and revealed the fears and anxieties of a white minority unwilling to relinquish its privilege,” added the comedian.
Like many other comedic devices, blackface has long been a topic of discussion in the entertainment industry.
Though it is assumed to refer to make-up used by a non-black performer playing a black role, blackface refers more to the intent of non-black performers to represent a caricature of a black person – an often demanding caricature rooted in racist and negative stereotypes.
According to CNN, the initial intent of blackface was to mock enslaved Africans in minstrel shows. Additionally, these displays depicted black people as lazy, ignorant, cowardly or hypersexual.
While the actual makeup has become less cartoonish over the years, the characteristics actors choose to portray remain just as exaggerated.
Among the actors called to order for this are the likes of Robert Downey Junior for his role in Tropic Thunder, Julianne Hough who darkened her face to resemble Orange is the New Black character ‘Crazy Eyes’ played by Ozu Aduba and Drake in a photo that rap rival Pusha T used as cover art for his Story of Adidon diss track.
Drake addressed the criticism, explaining that his shoot was aimed at criticising the history of blackface and its legacy.
Although he admits that he “effed up”, Downey Jr. says he has no regrets because the film he sported blackface for was about how wrong blackface was.
This is in reference to his role as Kirk Lazarus, a five-time Oscar-winning Australian actor who undergoes “pigmentation alteration” surgery to portray a black soldier in a satirical film-within-a-film.
Speaking to American media personality Joe Rogan on “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast, Downey Jr. shared that he did have reservations about the role prior to signing on.
“I thought: ‘Hold on, dude. Get real here. Where is your heart?’ My heart is a) I get to be black for a summer in my mind, so there’s something in it for me. The other thing is I get to hold up to nature the insane, self-involved hypocrisy of artists and what they think they’re allowed to do on occasion.”
This is similar to the thought process Van Vuuren says he went through.
“I convinced myself that any of the characters I portrayed would be from a place of love and respect. However, as a white father of a child of colour, I failed to examine my own privilege and prejudice despite knowing which direction my moral compass was pointing, I chose to take the money and run in the opposite direction,” said Van Vuuren.
The actor then shared his feelings about having betrayed himself and his daughter with this decision.
“Living with the shame of that is a small price to pay for unlearning my prejudices and the growth that comes with accepting the consequence of my behaviour.
“I apologise unreservedly for the hurt my actions have caused and for contributing to negative stereotypes from a position of power and privilege.”