A provocative, compelling exploration of one of the most controversial elements of the black entertainment world.
Chicago Review Press senior editor Taylor and Roctober magazine editor Austen explore the long history not only of African-American involvement in minstrel performances, but also of black-derived comedy that utilizes elements from the minstrel act—exaggerated stereotypes of the black experience that hearken back to the minstrel shows of the 19th century. More precisely, the authors examine the debates over these myriad forms of entertainment and the accusations of minstrelsy that have often embroiled black entertainers and intellectuals in fevered debates over the nature and depiction of the black experience. Taylor and Austen deftly argue that African-Americans have taken on perceived minstrelsy in one of three ways. The first has been simply to embrace such forms of entertainment and comedy. The second has been to signify on them—i.e., to engage in self-aware parody and wry utilization of elements of minstrelsy to make a larger point. The third approach involves waging war on such stereotypes, which often leads to heated accusations and counterattacks. The authors take a kaleidoscopic look at their topic, emphasizing a diverse range of individuals and works, including blackface entertainer Bert Williams, writers Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright, Stanley Crouch’s attacks on Tupac Shakur as a “thug minstrel,” Spike Lee’s film Bamboozled and comedian Dave Chappelle’s self-exile when he reached the conclusion that his own work had moved uncomfortably from comedy about stereotyping to enabling the very stereotypes he was combating.
An innovative, marvelous book about comedy, stereotypes and the struggle to steer through the sometimes-fierce internal debates over African-American identity in a society still struggling with its racial past.