About "-Face".
Posted by: portenopete 12:45 pm EDT 08/23/19
In reply to: 'Jewface' row: West End musical accused of cultural appropriation - young-walsingham 09:02 am EDT 08/23/19

I am sick of the "-face" suffix being used to describe any casting that is deemed lacking in authenticity and verisimilitude.

"Blackface" was a real and prevalent and popular style of performance. I am not a scholar in the history of blackface performance nor of minstrelsy, but from what I have learned over the years, it was a very conscious and deliberately pejorative form of entertainment meant to degrade and insult the black population by exaggerating and even inventing characteristics of speech, gesture and expression.

By extension, similar methods have been used to either mock or satirise a myriad of other cultures. I would certainly count Mickey Rooney's performance in Breakfast at Tiffany's as "yellow face", in that the whole conception of the performance seems geared to mock and dehumanise the character.

And 1930's Hollywood offered any number of effeminate character actors who leaned hard and uncomfortably into campery in order for the leading players to have a smirk and a laugh at them. (Of course many of these actors were gay themselves and like black actors of the period felt their only opportunity to make a living was to be in on the joke.)

But this isn't the same thing as casting actors in roles that are outside of their own racial, cultural or sexual identities.

Laurence Olivier was not lampooning moors when he played Othello. He was genuinely seeking to discover the humanity and soul of a character and, by all accounts, his performance stands as one of history's great Othello (equalled only by Paul Robeson's). Admittedly he benefitted in being "bankable" (i.e. white) enough to headline a film version of the play, which cemented his success. By 1965 it would have been nice to see Sidney Poitier offer his Othello, but perhaps he had no desire or confidence in playing a great Shakespearian role.

Similarly, casting goyim to play the characters in Falsettos may be counterintuitive and a hindrance to crafting a successful production of a show that so relentlessly reminds the audience that the characters are Jewish and plagued by both pride and neuroses about being Jewish, but it is not borne out of the same thinking that created blackface.

Using the term "Jewface" is a grab for attention and the ugly sound of it immediately makes one cringe. I'm not surprised that Misses Margolyes and Lipman would use it, as they both come across as superannuated women who will say or do anything to get a rise out of people. Many find it charming but I have increasingly found them both tiresome to listen to.

I would love to see an all-Jewish production of Falsettos. I have seen a few in my time and the most successful ones were the ones that embraced the Jewish identity of the show. Without question the best performance I have seen in any Finn production was Brandon Uranowitz as Mendel in the recent Broadway revival. He and Stephanie Block were the stars of that one in my opinion. Much as I admire Christian Borle and Andrew Rannells, neither struck me as Jewish enough (or half-Jewish enough) to be justify the constant kvetching about being Jewish that is in the script.

And on a sidebar, both Uranowitz and Borle were both more than capable of convincing us of sexual proclivities that they apparently do not possess in real life. I haven't heard the term "gayface" yet, but I expect it's around the corner if it hasn't already arrived.

Previous: re: 'Jewface' row: West End musical accused of cultural appropriation - SpeechTeacher 04:41 pm EDT 08/27/19
Next: You're going to love "leftwing face" - MockingbirdGirl 11:27 am EDT 08/24/19

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