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Entertainer Ben Vereen Calls Reality TV "The New Blackface"

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by Sergio
March 22, 2012 5:39 PM
28 Comments
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Ben Vereen

In the never ending discussion about black images in the media, legendary entertainer Ben Veeren isn't exactly a happy man. In a recent lecture about race, politics and the status of African-Americans in Hollywood given at Aaron Davis Hall at Harlem City College of New York, Vereen said that reality TV is "the new blackface making us look like buffoons".

He continued on the subject saying that "ever since Presdient Obama was elected, we've been getting less and less roles. They will continue to do that if we don't say anything. We do not stand behind our artists who are there for us to express our truths".

He also said that Tyler Perry and Spike Lee should get rid of any animosity that they have for each other and join forces to create new opportunites. "I want to say, 'Spike take the brother aside. Don't go to the press. Support the brother and encourage him to do more artistic work in our vein that we need done'"

O.K. but how come people always want to have Perry and Spike form a partrnership?  How many times have we heard that before? They're not the only black filmmakers on the planet. How about Spike joining forces with Antoine Fuqua? Dee Rees and Ernest Dickerson? Tyler Perry and Steve McQueen? (Wouldn't that be something? But I wouldn't hold my breath for that one)

Any comments about any of this?

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28 Comments

  • sm23 | March 27, 2012 2:22 PMReply

    Tenspeed and Brownshoe!!!!! Loved that show! Ha!

    I never leave comments (not because I think I'm better that those who do - I just don't) but I will here and now because I love this site. I think if we're here reading all this then at least we're looking for something different, right? We can talk about the lack of roles and positions for anybody of color or race that's not white (and not male for that matter) but it's old. It's why we're here on this site. We're dying to see something we recognize in the media as being normal. We live our lives and our families and friends are all different but we still see the same on all the ipods, plasmas and movie screens. What do we do? We do. Let's do. Let's create. And create. And create. And do. And bring the few people we know who are willing to help in on it. And create some more. Online series. Plays at local theaters. Performances in public places. Inventory. Build. Don't matter if you get just 47 views on youtube, keep creating. And do it with less. Just don't stop. Can't stop, won't stop. Let's just begin. Please.

    THANK YOU to all the all hard working folks here at Shadow and Act for keeping the fire.

  • katie | March 25, 2012 12:57 PMReply

    Ben Vereen is telling the truth. It is what it is, at least he's not afraid to say the truth.

  • Donella | March 24, 2012 3:22 PMReply

    Ben Vereen is RIGHT.

  • Nadine | March 24, 2012 10:15 AMReply

    ...the "crooked room".

  • sandra | March 23, 2012 10:46 PMReply

    @EXODUSANIMATOR - Bravo! It all comes down to the psychology of it as you indicated. These infectious shows have the ratings because we are infected and don't know it. That's the dangerous part. Our brain matter is being nibbled away while we laugh out loud at the latest "ghetto" behavior. It's not these these types of shows don't have the right to exist; it's the VOLUME OF CRAP that is being consumed that is detrimental. We need variety to balance things out. It's going to take a while for things to turn around and for us to reclaim the dignity that was once ours.

  • Mark & Darla | March 23, 2012 10:27 PMReply

    I don't look at reality shows but to who does, have no negative comments toward you. People like what they like.

  • ExodusAnimator | March 23, 2012 5:48 PMReply

    I'll say this and then leave it be... Take some time to look at the many films and television shows that star, are written by, and directed by Whites.... I want you to truly evaluate the diversity of ideas, subject matter, genres, political ideas, and etc, within their primary works. Then look at the diversity of African American films and television shows. DO YOU GET IT NOW? When most of our entertainment presents OUR image as being ghetto, criminal, hyper sexual, poor, and buffoonish(ie: the Blackface reference)! When was the last time you saw an African American science fiction film or TV show? We get Oscar nominations for playing poor prostitutes (Monster's Ball), pimps (Hustle and Flow), or maids (The Help). Remember the Oscar win for Best Song that went to "It's Hard Out Here For a Pimp". The only TV shows we have in production today are Meet the Browns, House of Payne, Love That Girl, The Game, Love and Hip Hop, Basketball Wives, and another Black produced reality show for VH-1 in which the name escapes me. Just from the shows I've mentioned, presents Black people as very one dimensional. If we do remember the late 80's and early 90's, you had a diversity of shows and even music, which represented the rich/poor, educated/uneducated, and so forth. When WE'RE only portrayed as arrogant, violent, and ignorant, how does that reflect to employers, police, and everyday citizens. The Cosby Show and A Different World had a positive impact on how society began to view African Americans. Let me ask this, do WE as Black people look at Whites as being uneducated and ignorant? I don't believe that we do! WHY! Because we see White lawyers, criminals, police officers, heroes, politicians, business owners, doctors, poor people, prostitutes, teachers, intellectuals, engineers, and etc. If you are a White kid growing up, you actually see on TV and in film, everything and anything that you want to be! As a Black kid, you see rappers, thugs, and athletes. As a basic rule of psychology, if you see or hear something over and over again, you will tend to believe it. This premise is also the basis for advertising and promotion. So, as a Black person, if all you see are degrading and downtrodden images, you are more likely to see that of yourself! So the increase of vulgar, ignorant, and violent reality shows will have more of a negative effect upon the African American community, because WE DO NOT HAVE A VARIETY OF SUBJECT MATTER on the big or small screen. So if you don't understand where I'm coming from, that is a major part of OUR problem!

  • CareyCarey | March 23, 2012 8:42 PM

    Are you serious, Ben Vereen said all of that! Listen buddy, I believe you just wanted to get something off your chest because even old school Ben wouldn't say something as porous and paper thin as this-----> "Let me ask this, do WE as Black people look at Whites as being uneducated and ignorant? I don't believe that we do! WHY! Because we see White lawyers, criminals, police officers, heroes, politicians, business owners, doctors, poor people, prostitutes, teachers, intellectuals, engineers, and etc." DUH... I don't know how you see white folks, but I sure do not define them by what I see on television. I mean, I could take your silly analogy/parallel and say I've seen white folks in the roles of prostitutes (won an Oscar) Serial Killers (won an Oscar), Nazi (won an Oscar) hustlers & killer gansters (won Oscars), illegal abortionist (Won an Oscar), drug addicted fighter (won Oscar), ho's, white trash,Tramps, Zombies, theives, Coc*suckers & Mfer's, you name it and they've been in it. so ExodusAnimator, your battle cry is very weak. But I should of dismissed you as a snotty nose kid after you said this -------> "When WE'RE only portrayed as arrogant, violent, and ignorant, how does that reflect to employers, police, and everyday citizens". See, there you go again. We are only portrayed as WHAT? That's another silly statement. Nevertheless, I would suggest that you and those aforementioned "employers, police, and everyday citizens, etc" move around because they're stuck on poppycock and you're not speaking facts.

  • Miles Ellison | March 23, 2012 8:19 PM

    A good point. Basketball Wives, Love & Hip Hop, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, and the Tyler Perry Empire on TBS are full of one-dimensional, shopworn black stereotypes. Whatever you may think of shows like Treme and The Wire, they are multidimensional portrayals of black people. The first group of shows are the most popular shows on their respective networks by a wide margin. As great as everyone thinks The Wire was (and it is stone-cold genius), and as great as people think Treme is, these are two of the least watched shows on HBO since they started producing original programming.

    The bottom line is what people will watch. You can have all the diverse and multidimensional content you want, but people have to want to watch it in order for it to be worthwhile for people to produce it. The "blackface" that Vereen refers to is more figurative than literal. The disconnect here is that there are a lot of black people participating in the creation of this content and a lot of black people supporting it. Vereen's statement was more than a little ironic (Tenspeed & Brownshoe? Really?) but not entirely wrong. The problem isn't that "they" are making us look like buffoons, the problem is that "we" don't really support anything else.

  • CareyCarey | March 23, 2012 4:21 PMReply

    EXCUSE ME? For all who are championing Ben Vereen's words, please tell me if you believe this to be true---->"reality TV is the new blackface making us look like buffoons". What... I can't hear you. Yeah, that's what I thought, selective amnesia. When BV sticks his foot in his mouth by making such outlandish statements, he deserves bucket loads of "backlash" and loss of respect. And again, could one of the Ben Vereen disciples please tell me what President Obama has do with "this"? Riiiight. And WTH was Ben talking about when he said "We do not stand behind our artists who are there for us to express our truths"??? Riiiiight, but Ben Verren is totally right???!!! Spare me. How does anything he said relate to "blackface". ** I hear crickets :-)**

  • Cos Seven | March 23, 2012 3:28 PMReply

    Mr V makes a good point and so does the author about other film makers. Something got to give. Soon itll be like them Goebbels films with our people portrayed as rats running along the gutters

  • casey | March 23, 2012 3:24 PMReply

    Ben Vereen is totally right, if Spielberg, David Geffen, Jeffery Katzenberg did not decide work together there would be no Dreamwork...or George Lucas did'nt join forces with Spielberg and Philip Kaufman there would have been no "Raiders of the Lost Ark"...either put up or shut up..

  • ExodusAnimator | March 23, 2012 12:09 PMReply

    To CARLTON JORDAN and everyone else speaking negatively about the Comments of Ben Vereen: When you have struggled through racism, paid dues, became an award winning Broadway actor, acted on the greatest mini-series in television history, and worked in films for some 50 years, then you may have some weight to speak against Mr. Vereen! WE as African Americans are choosing to be on these degrading reality shows. WE are choosing to create and support the stereotypical and negative stories that are being seen. WE need to start having a sense of pride in what WE create and support. And WE need to be open to creativity and diversity within our films and television shows.

    There are more than enough African Americans with wealth and experience, who need to come together to fund, create, and distribute a variety of films. Without cooperation, WE will not be able to create dramas, science fiction, horror, romantic comedies, thrillers, and etc., that will be seen nationwide. And WE as African Americans, must evolve and open up to ideas that go far beyond degradation, poverty, crime, and self hate.

  • urbanauteur | March 23, 2012 1:15 PM

    i'm still piss at this handkerchief heads performing in BLACKFACE at Ronald Reagan's Presidential Inaugural then had the nerve to infuse some vaque-ass rationalism to it, fuck him & Betty Crocker.

  • Ali | March 23, 2012 12:14 PM

    So, basically, you have to be Ben Vereen to have a different opinion than Ben Vereen?

  • CarltonJordan | March 23, 2012 11:41 AMReply

    Hell be on DWTS soon.

  • Carlton Jordan | March 23, 2012 11:41 AMReply

    i remember when Black folks were complaining there werent enough Black folks in reality, and if The Real World didnt have ONE black cast member, everyone would claim it was racist and NOT the real world...now that Blacks are on reality TV everyone is complaining...STFU. ALso to add to that, these are the same folks that were complaining about the UPN and WB for having BAD Black shows...but when there are NO black shows on the CW everyone is mad, asking what happened to the great 90's when we had a bunch of Black shows on TV. Black people are NEVER EVER happy. I cant remember a time period in ent. where we were.

  • CareyCarey | March 23, 2012 12:24 PM

    AMEN!

  • B | March 23, 2012 12:36 AMReply

    Ben Vereen is right! *sidebar: I didn't know Spike executive produced Pariah. That makes me appreciate him even more. Good on him for supporting up and coming black directors. Glad to see it. Will be seeing the film tomorrow at my university, since it finally came here after I begged them to get it.*

  • LeonRaymond | March 23, 2012 12:07 AMReply

    Don't be so harsh On Ben Vereen, he has not lit up the screen like he did the Broadway stage, and he comes from a time when Black folk stuck together and would up and down the line reject and object to the quality of some of the reality TV, there is enormous amounts of deeply skilled and talented Broadway Stage actors that would give the shirt off their backs to take the stage with Ben, take my word for it, he is frustrated and at wits end for him to speak out. And the above mentioned filmmakers collaborating, we'd have to come together on many other issues that we just will not do, doing a film project together would be so difficult, it would be nice but alas what a dream!

  • Tombs | March 22, 2012 11:40 PMReply

    Spike did join forces with Dee Rees. He was an executive producer
    on Pariah. Ernest Dickerson was his Cinematographer on Malcolm X,Jungle Fever,Mo' Better Blues,Do the Right Thing

  • Ash | March 22, 2012 9:40 PMReply

    Um, reality TV doesn't just make black people look stupid. It makes Italians, guidos, Persians, housewives, midgets, Kardashians, everyone from New Jersey and ANYONE on a reality show look stupid. It's not like there's some reality show conspiracy to make black folks look dumb.

    And the above-mentioned names will collaborate on a cold day in Hell.

  • CareyCarey | March 23, 2012 12:43 AM

    @ Ghost, I am from Iowa :-). And believe it or not, we have color tv and cable. So again, I have to reinforce my original opinion. Regardless of where one resides or the place of their birth, it goes without question that he or she can, and will, base their concerns/vision/understanding of a person, place or thing, from a bevy or resources (HUNDREDS!). And that process starts at birth. Yet, in the end, what credence would you give to one's opinions, if that opinion was based solely upon what that individual saw on a tv program? I am sure you get my point. That individual is well below the curve and an idiot from the jump, so why worry about that fool?

  • Ghost | March 22, 2012 11:08 PM

    The issue is you would never know if you lost out on any of that because of reality crap. Some of that would be illegal to tell you in some job fields. Also it's not all of us but who else is watching that mess and using that as it's bible to define us. Those folks who live in areas where we are not around to prove those negative images wrong-the Iowas, Rhode Islands and so on. And for many of them-TV is the only image of us they get unlike the bozos on Jersey Shore, Mob Wives and so on. What is worst we have blacks that accept that reality mess as how we should all behave and we all know how that ends up.

  • CareyCarey | March 22, 2012 10:11 PM

    EXACTLY Ash! And if I can further define and/or qualify my statements on "making us (anyone) look stupid/like buffoons" , the truth is, the only person, or persons, who look stupid on those shows are the ones who are actually on the reality shows in question. Stupid is what stupid does, so why should I or anyone worry about what some lame-brain think about "us" based on what they've seen on TV or a film. That ideology/mindset makes no sense AT ALL. I mean, until someone actually tells me that I've been denied a job, a promotion, a seat on a plane, a date, or my next breath of fresh air, because of information they received from some ambiguous caricature/image on TV, I am going to continue to put the "look how they make us look" discussion in file 13. Yeah, that's the garbage can.

  • CareyCarey | March 22, 2012 9:01 PMReply

    Who the hell is Ben Vereen?! Ooooh that's right, he's an "entertainer" , which to a small degree explains his stupid comment. Come on Ben, "the new blackface"? Blackface: Blackface is a form of theatrical makeup used in minstrel shows, and later vaudeville, in which performers create a stereotyped caricature of a black person. Alright Chicken George, the last time I checked reality TV was not exclusive to black folks. Besides, like Sergio said "how come people always want to have Perry and Spike form a partrnership?". Yeah, that too makes little or no sense whatsoever. That proposition is akin to asking the New York Yankees and the Boston Redsocks to form a union. Furthermore, how in the hell did President Obama find his name in Chicken George's foolishness? Seriously, wth is this---> "since Presdient Obama was elected"....."They will continue to do that if we don't say anything. We do not stand behind our artists who are there for us to express our truths". First, who are "they" and how exactly is he proposing "we" stand behind our artist? Stop it Ben, you're a legendary performer so people look up to you. Consequently, you may convince some misguided folks to follow you, which could be a bad thing. So stick to performing and leave the politics to those who have honed that skill. Now, having said all of that, someone still has to explain this --->"making us look like buffoons".

  • Miles Ellison | March 22, 2012 7:29 PMReply

    Vereen is completely, totally, and unquestionably right. Yet millions of black people are making this new blackface popular.

  • sandra | March 22, 2012 7:22 PMReply

    Re: RealityTV= Blackface--->PREACH! Re Spike/Perry Alliance...Why? I don't want that. I would appreciate if they would stop insulting each other and focus on their work. I wouldn't mind though (where it makes sense) for other directors to form an alliance Re black actors not getting much work...With the monstrosity that is "Reality"TV and random r&b/rapper/singers usurping jobs, and fewer and fewer roles requiring Black folks, I'm surprised I haven't seen black actors protesting and taking it to the streets.

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