Masatoshi Hamada, half of the comedy duo Downtown, wore blackface to play Eddie Murphy in “Beverly Hills Cop” for the New Year special of their variety show “Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!!”
While many laughed at Hamada’s impression in a heartbeat, others called it racist and unacceptable.
Baye McNeil, a black writer living in Japan, wrote on Twitter:
“I love Japan My home of 13 years. I want the best for her. The nightmare scenario is: Opening Ceremony #2020TokyoOlympics, Japan naively sends a #Blackface doowop group out to pay homage to black athletes. What a fiasco that’ll be! So I implore you please #stopblackfaceJapan now.”
“Note to Japanese performing in #BlackFace: #Blackness is not a punchline nor a prop. Need jokes? Get better writers. Need a black character, get a black actor that speaks Japanese. There are several!”
Japan’s history of blackface dates back to 1854, when Commodore Matthew Perry treated Japanese delegates to “Ethiopian entertainment” performed by White crew members of his flagship, the USS Powhatan. The performance was held to celebrate the end of a treaty with Japan that reopened it to the outside world, The Japan Times noted.
Since then, Japanese people have been donning blackface onstage and onscreen. Black stereotypes also made their way to cartoons, adventure books, toys and product trademarks, among other outlets.
Meanwhile, some had no problem with Hamada’s blackface, shrugging it off as mere “impersonation” and pointing that Japan doesn’t have the same history with race as the United States.
What do you think of Japan’s attitude toward blackface? Share your thoughts in the comments.