Well, I think I’ve heard everything now. All of a sudden, Billy Crystal is a racist because he reprised his Sammy Davis, Jr. bit in a skit with Justin Bieber which began last night’s Academy Awards.
Specifically, people are objecting to Crystal wearing blackface. Comedian Paul Scheer said on Twitter noted that Octavia Spencer’s win for Best Supporting Actress “shows just how far we’ve come since Billy Crystal performed in Blackface.” In a reference to Eddie Murphy (who was originally scheduled to host this year’s Oscars), another Tweeter commented, “Hey, Billy Crystal in blackface! Good thing the Oscars went with the safe choice.” Well, there have been plenty of occasions in Eddie Murphy’s career when he’s donned white makeup as in this classic SNL documentary.
Surely there is a difference between a white actor wearing black makeup and wearing blackface. Indeed, Billy Crystal and Christopher Guest both wore black make up to portray fictional Negro League players in yet another legendary SNL documentary. If this was demeaning to African Americans in anyway I seriously doubt future Hall of Famer Dave Winfield would have participated.
So let’s get things straight. Billy Crystal wearing black makeup to play Sammy Davis, Jr. wasn’t racist in 1984 and it isn’t racist today. Crystal isn’t demeaning Davis, he’s paying homage to him and as I recall Davis loved Crystal’s impersonation. If Davis thought Crystal was demeaning him he sure as hell wouldn’t have worked with him. Anyone who thinks Crystal is racist for impersonating Sammy Davis, Jr. is just plain stupid and just doesn’t know anything about comedy.
A woman named Carolyn Edgar tweeted, “The biggest problem with Billy Crystal’s Sammy Davis Jr. impersonation is that no one knows who Sammy Davis Jr. is anymore.” Well, let me see if I can rectify that. Here’s Rob Reiner interviewing Crystal as Davis in character back in 1986 for an HBO special and here’s Sammy singing “Mr. Bojangles” a year before he left us. Perhaps that will help and we can move onto something else.
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