Story at a glance
- Blackface is a controversial practice with roots are tied to minstrel shows in the United States.
- While many people realize that donning blackface is socially unacceptable, the practice has continued in certain parts of Europe.
- After years of protest, the use of blackface has been banned from Rai, Italy’s national public broadcasting company.
Nearly 200 years have passed since white performers in the United States first began painting their faces black to mock and demean enslaved Africans in minstrel shows. Yet only in the past several decades has the racist practice come to be seen as socially unacceptable.
But there are still countries in Europe that have some catching up to do. For years protests have rang out over the character “Black Pete” in the Netherlands, and more recently popular Italian shows like the "Tale e Quale Show" have come under scrutiny for the use of blackface.
The show features celebrity contestants who impersonate other performers, with the winnings being donated to the charity of the victor’s choice. Since 2012, contestants have gone the extra mile for their accurate impersonations — whether that meant working with an acting coach or painting their face to change the appearance of their racial identity.
American celebrities impersonated on the show include Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Beyoncé, but one of the most recent uses of blackface on the show depicted Italian actor Sergio Muniz as an Italian rapper named Ghali in November.
Born in Milan to Tunisian parents, the rapper and producer spoke out on social media about the racist way he was portrayed on the show. He captioned an Instagram post with “Bastava l’autotune e un bel look. Non c’è bisogno di fare il BlackFace per imitare me o altri artisti”, which translates to “Autotune and a good look were enough. There is no need to do the BlackFace to imitate me or other artists.“
Now, the network has decided to ban blackface from its show.
The move comes after years of Afro-Italians pleading for an end to the practice they deemed offensive and at the heels of a public appeal made by multiple groups to Rai’s managers. The #CambieRai initiative was launched, aimed at educating others on the implications of racist statements and choices on public television. RAI, or Radiotelevisione italiana, is Italy’s national public broadcasting company.
In response to a letter sent by various associations asking for an end to blackface, Rai responded: “Regarding the matter you have written to us about, we would like to say immediately that we are committed - as far as we are able - to preventing it from happening again on RAI screens. On the contrary, we will make ourselves the spokesman for your requests to the top management and to the directorates that play a key role in coordinating our efforts to ensure that your observations on the practice of blackface become widespread awareness.”
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