The Blackface in Ramadan Drama

When Racism Takes Center Stage in Comedy!
Ibrahim Abdullah
April 30, 2024

The Blackface in Ramadan Drama

When Racism Takes Center Stage in Comedy!
Ibrahim Abdullah
April 30, 2024

Despite the modest production of Yemeni dramas and their seasonal nature, this scarcity is met with remarkable attention and popular following. This makes any small or big idea subject to analysis and interpretation. The portrayal of the "Blackface" phenomenon in Yemeni series, whether intentional or unintentional, exacerbates the existing social problems and completely distorts the noble message of art and media alike.

In the twenty-fourth episode of the drama series "Final Exit," which is aired on Al-Mahria channel, actor Khaled Al-Jabri appeared with his face covered in black, a practice known as "Blackface," portraying the role of a Sudanese teacher leaving Yemen after living there for 25 years.

The episode begins with a scene showing the Sudanese teacher signaling for Sinan's car to stop. Sinan, in turn, stops his car and sticks his head out of the window, greeting the Sudanese teacher, Abdul Noor, with a look of surprise. He then remarks, "Where am I? Am I in Africa?" After that, Abdul Noor goes to "Uncle Nasser's" hotel, played by actor Tawfiq Al-Adhruai. Upon their arrival at the hotel's reception, Sinan informs Uncle Nasser that he has brought him a customer who wants to rent a room. Uncle Nasser looks around, saying, "Where is the customer?" pretending not to see the Sudanese teacher due to the darkness of his skin, and sarcastically commenting that the place is dark - a play on words with his laughter.

It is evident that this scene, along with other racist scenes in the series, raises several important questions. Are the creators of the show solely promoting racial comedy? Did they only darken the actor's face to make racist jokes about his black skin, without considering the negative effects that could result from it?

It is worth mentioning that this scene is not the only one in the series that carries a racist undertone. Previous scenes in episode fourteen depicted a Somali character with dark skin playing the role of a Somali immigrant. However, the series did not portray this role from a human perspective that reflects the challenges and struggles of African immigrants. Instead, it was portrayed in a foolish and disrespectful manner. The Somali character was depicted as someone ignorant, unable to distinguish between the desert and Mecca, and the driver "Sinan" included jokes and comments that mocked the migrant's skin color. This stereotypical portrayal reflects discrimination and marginalization of negative traits associated with those with dark skin. They even went as far as casting a white actor and darkening his face to portray this foolish and primitive character, which represents the promotion and generalization of negative attributes linked to dark skin.

"The black face" is an old practice dating back to the 19th century in the United States. It was used to portray African slaves in a mocking and derogatory way. This racist use of theatrical makeup has had negative effects and reflects a history of racial discrimination. It is evident that the use of "the black face" in the series reflects the continuation of this racist tradition and contributes to the promotion of racial comedy. The industry must take responsibility in addressing this issue seriously and take measures to avoid the use of "the black face" and the perpetuation of stereotypes and racial discrimination.

It seems that the series "final exist" is a comedy series directed by media figure and presenter Mohamed Al-Rubae. While Al-Rubae presents light comedic episodes based on situational comedy, different from the vulgar mockery that is often seen, the series has not been free from the phenomenon of "black face" that appears in Yemeni dramas season after season, despite its racist history. It is evident that the use of "black face" in the series is not derived from comedic sources with artistic value, and it may contribute to promoting racial comedy and perpetuating stereotypes. The responsible industry professionals should be made aware of its negative effects and the need to avoid using it.

Art and entertainment should embody artistic sensibility and social responsibility, working towards promoting understanding and cultural unity without causing harm to any culture or fueling racial divisions.

“Blackface” and its racist history

"Blackface" is a term that describes a form of theatrical makeup where non-black performers paint their faces black to portray often mocking and comedic roles. The history of "blackface" dates back to the mid-19th century in the United States when white actors began darkening their faces to perform monologues and comedic plays, depicting African slaves. These performances portrayed Americans of African descent as ignorant, foolish, lazy, and hypersexualized. What started as theatrical shows performed by some white actors evolved into a form of entertainment known as "minstrelsy".

These portrayals perpetuated harmful stereotypes and reinforced racial biases, contributing to the marginalization and dehumanization of Black people. It is important to acknowledge the deep-rooted racism and historical context associated with "blackface".

Indeed, the practice of "blackface" persisted in various forms, including theatrical performances, films, songs, and caricatures, until the mid-20th century. However, with the rise of the civil rights movement, which advocated for the rights of African Americans from 1954 to 1968, this phenomenon began to decline in the United States.

Despite its decline in the United States, "blackface" has resurfaced in Arab drama and cinema, including Egyptian, Gulf, and Yemeni productions, perpetuating the same racist stereotypes. It is disheartening to see the continuation of such a harmful and offensive practice in these contexts.

The theme of "blackface" in Yemeni drama

The phenomenon of "blackface" has indeed appeared in several seasons of Yemeni dramas, starting from the series "Hami Hamak" and ending with the series "Khuruj Nihayi". In each work, these characters appear in "blackface" to reinforce racial stereotypes towards black individuals. It is not just about the act of darkening the face, but also about the roles these characters portray. They are often framed as either foolish characters or involved in criminal activities such as theft or piracy.

For instance, in the series of "Cappuccino," which aired on Yemen Shabab TV during the 2021 season, two characters in "blackface" appeared as servants or cleaners. I do not undermine these professions, but I am addressing the framing and confinement of black-skinned characters. This raises the question: Why don't we see black protagonists in these dramas?

Additionally, it is important to note the racist comments and jokes that are made towards black characters in these series, which are far from being humorous. For instance, in the series "Khuruj Nihayi," the character "Uncle Nasser" pretended not to see the Sudanese teacher due to his skin color, using derogatory terms. Similarly, in a scene from the series "Hami Hamek," the character "Mr. Mabrouk" made a remark saying, "Don't burn your nerves, you are already dark by nature from the mercy of the Most Merciful," mockingly referring to the black skin of the Sudanese doctor "Mohannad," portrayed by actor Khaled Al Jabri, who had his face painted black. These comments and jokes perpetuate racism and disrespect towards black individuals. It is essential to address and challenge such behavior, as it promotes harmful stereotypes and contributes to the marginalization of black people.

Finally, what this article attempts to point out is not a moral judgment or a display of artistic idealism. It is rather an observation of a phenomenon that has created a stereotypical image of a certain group of people, an image that transcends time and place. Despite its decline in American society, it has made its way into our Arab societies, including our Yemeni society.

Although drama is a product of society, it also shapes it. Just as "minstrel shows" in America dehumanized and denied the rights of African-Americans, these works frame individuals with black skin in racial stereotypes that shape their roles in society, whether they are Yemenis or from other backgrounds.

In conclusion, it is essential to recognize the damaging effects of such portrayals and work towards dismantling these harmful stereotypes. By promoting diverse and inclusive narratives, we can challenge these preconceived notions and foster a society that respects the humanity and rights of all individuals, regardless of their skin color.

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