Back in March, Czech television network TV Nova launched a celebrity imitation game called Your Face has a Familiar Voice (Tvoje tvář má známý hlas) featuring Czech actors and singers dressing up as other performers and competing in a talent-show- style competition.
In and of itself not a big deal, unless of course blackface portrayals of singers like Lenny Kravitz, Stevie Wonder, M.C. Hammer, Toni Braxton, Aretha Franklin, and Louis Armstrong bother you.
The Czech Republic isn’t alone in its lenient attitude toward the practice of blacking up one’s face for cheap laughs.
Blackface is common in Germany where Chancellor Angela Merkel was once photographed posing next to children in blackface; in the Netherlands there has been a recent backlash against St. Nicholas’s minstrel-like helper, Black Pete.
Apologists for incidents of blackface in Europe say that this kind of behavior doesn’t carry the same historic weight as it does in the United States and Britain where it’s universally considered taboo.
But in writing for Vocativ on the topic, author Joel Stonington argues that this line of thinking is not only ignorant but perpetuates racism on a global scale.
“The history of blackface dates back hundreds of years to American minstrel shows, which popularized some of the most harmful stereotypes about black people: That they’re lazy, stupid, brutish and subhuman. These bogus ideas…soon became the images of blacks that spread across the Atlantic. (Sadly, some of them are still hanging around, both in the U.S. and abroad, albeit in different forms.)”
Not surprisingly, the show’s “colorful” posturings haven’t met with much criticism from viewers, advertisers, or the media. Until now.
The latest episode saw Czech actress Ivana Chýlková portraying Roma performer Vera Bila as a grotesquely obese Jabba-the-Hut-like figure in blackface.
Following the segment, judge Jakub Kohák joked that his hubcaps and mobile phone were stolen during the performance and the Internet went wild, calling the show out for racism while the real Ms. Bila slammed the program’s fat-shaming ways.
TV Nova apologized to the singer for the comedian’s schtick but Kohák himself refused to say he was sorry, telling the press, “It was fun, nothing racist,” and as for an apology “I don’t have time for it.”
Whether you find the show dehumanizing or think the PC police are on the defensive maybe we can all agree on two things? In terms of entertainment value the show truly caters to the lowest common denominator.
And the real Vera Bila is a goddess.