March 30, 2009

Tomahawk actors in brownface

Tim Giago:  Chocolate Spray Paint and the Hollywood IndiansOne year, I believe it was 1951; my brother and my cousins, “Red Tapio” and Sonny Torres were cast in a movie that was shooting up in the Black Hills. The movie was called “Tomahawk,” and it starred Van Heflin, Rock Hudson, and Susan Ball. Of course Tony, Red and Sonny were the Indians.

Sonny said that the director told all of the Indian actors that they had to be sprayed with chocolate colored paint because it would make them more photogenic. “One morning they rushed me into a tent and told me to take my shirt off and they started to spray me with the chocolate paint and we heard a shriek and some terrible cussing and discovered that we were in Susan Ball’s tent and she was hysterical that they would have the nerve to paint me in her tent,” Sonny said.
Comment:  I presume the spray was only chocolate-colored, not chocolate-flavored. Otherwise, the sun would've melted it and the actors would've licked it off.

So Hollywood used Native actors to play Indians but made them darker. It also used white actors to play Indians but didn't make them darker. Sounds mixed up to me.

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

1 comment:

Melvin Martin said...

Hmmm, another painting of the skin account. I feel that my previous comment bears repeating in this case since no one commented on it - Thank you.


Re: blackface - Throughout my life I have often heard racist whites refer to blacks as apes, baboons and monkeys. "Blackface" and blackface stereotypes were (and still are) essentially drawn from the widely held belief that blacks are more biologically akin to the lower primates than to human beings - and as with all racist stereotypes the more outlandish the imagery is, the more the racists' needs are fulfilled in portraying people of color as animalistic and beastly.

When I was in high school in 1971 in Los Angeles, the school's drama club put on a play that was ostensibly a shorter rendition of "Othello" - with the lead role played by a popular student and local champion surfer name "Joe Dude." Joe Dude was a very blonde, intensely blue-eyed Hitler Youth-looking California beach bum type, so he was decked out in blackface for the presentation.

There were several large, custom-made posters for the play that were hung up around campus a week before the play began. Someone took a wide, felt-tipped black pen and wrote "NIGGER INCORPORATED" on all of the posters that showed Joe Dude in blackface dressed like Othello.

What happended next I could never quite figure out - the school's Samoan students rioted, setting fire to trash cans, beating up whites, Mexicans and Asians, and then marching off campus in a '60s-style "walk out."

Lesson here: Pictorial stereotypes offend not only the targeted ethnicities, but sometimes even other people of color will also take serious offense.