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HBO's 'Angry Boys' and that Black Face thing...

by Jasmin
January 6, 2012 3:30 PM
30 Comments
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I must have missed this through the rush of the holidays, but HBO recently premiered their new mockumentary series Angry Boys, starring Australian writer/actor Chris Lilley as six different characters, including an L.A. rapper named S. Mouse whom he portrays in black face.

Find a clip of Lilley as S. Mouse here.

Well, here we go again. It seems that no matter how far we've come, no matter how often political pundits proclaim a post-racial America, we continue to deal with these images - poor attempts at humor at black folks' expense.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Lilley said of his political incorrectness:

"There were things with [previous series] Summer Heights High that I got into trouble with and I think I got a bit scared off. But when I look at [the show], it's that desire to shock and challenge people -- I don't like the idea that my main motivation is to be politically incorrect. It's part of what I find funny but mostly I like compelling and real characters. That's what I care more about than shocking people."

At this point, all I can do is groan and change the channel.

For those of you who tuned in to the show, feel free to weigh in with your thoughts below. Perhaps I'm seeing this all wrong. I'm not a fan or follower of Lilley, so perhaps there's some deeper cultural understanding that I'm just not getting. If so, feel free to chime in.

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30 Comments

  • Wayne | August 15, 2012 2:13 PMReply

    I loved this show and S.mouse was my favorite and i thought to be the funnest of the show. Im a young black male, and he reminded me of a lot of guys in my from my block, cause they look like clowns. He reminds me of Soulja Boy. I just wanna Know where can i find the shows, I cant ceem to find them any where.

  • Stephania | February 19, 2012 7:26 AMReply

    Lets be honest, there are people like S.mouse out there, egotistic, grandiose, and living in their own reality. His own father calls him "retarded" as he can see how deluded his son is. Towards the end of the show when S.mouse can't seem to make a comeback his father tells him that he's not the first star to have to return to the real world and get himself a a real job. All of Lilley characters fit into these types of personalities like his surfer character BLake who instead of getting a real job and taking care of his wife and kids he spends his day with the Mucka Mad Boys, a group composed of middle aged surfers who ffight all day and think they are contributing to their community in some way. She even has to tie a bag to his foot so he remembers to buy groceries. All these characters act like they are more important, intelligent, and meaningful than they are. He addresses these types of people who we can all agree come from every background.

  • Mike | February 15, 2012 6:08 PMReply

    I really don't see much of a difference here from a white director / writer writing a part for an African American actor. It still involves a white person's interpretation of an African American character. The irony though is that Chris Lilly doesn't even use his role of S.mouse for cheap laughs. He is poking fun at all Angry Boys. He is showing what immature boys need to experience before they grow up. Somewhere in the middle of the season you end up really liking the characters and then you see all the different layers of them at the end of the show. It is hard to believe I know, but believe me you get there.

    In the beginning they paint "S.mouse" as exactly what you are saying, a stereotype which draws cheap laughs. He is surrounded by a few characters who acknowledge his ridiculousness, his father, and his best friend D'Anthony. You see him struggling with losing his fame, but it isn't until he hits rock bottom that he finally is able to draw upon his creativity and produce a higher quality song. You end up rooting for the characters and getting to know them.

  • Shonda | February 11, 2012 2:15 AMReply

    So what you are saying is black comediand can dress up as white & its hilarious but when the roles are reversed its unacceptable? I'm sorry but a lot of you guys need to get over yourself. The difference between black face & his portral is black face was an always outlandish behavior that was suppose to degrade black people. And was nowhere near how they acted. But have you seen soulja boy, thats practically his twin!! Haha. Why in 2012 Americans are still so stuffy. I had some of my greatest laughs watching foreign t.v..try it some time, & loosen it up ITS JUST COMEDY ha

  • skip | February 6, 2012 11:46 PMReply

    i dont think anyone freaked out when "white chicks" made it's debut. lighten up, its comedy & meant to push boundaries.

  • Marie | January 12, 2012 1:54 PMReply

    @Charles Judson -
    'chosen a White middle class rapper pretending to be poor and from the "Ghetto"' instead of a Black one?" Actually, Sascha Baron Cohen already did that with Ali G and it was quite funny, because he's a smart comedian who knows how to pull off parody. This Australian dude just isn't that smart or funny which is why he's clinging to crass stereotypes throughout his show, even though he's up "lightened" it up a bit. Another reason I can't understand HBO's decision. Then again since the show was panned in Aussie media, they must have gotten it for dirt cheap.

  • Marie | January 12, 2012 1:44 PMReply

    @j @Jeffdc5 @ Nia and all the other pro-Lilley commentators, since you're stuck on "his blackface is just a fun, funny impersonation for laughs" argument, tell us is Lilley parodying S.Mouse as rapper, as a black rapper, or a black guy of a certain age? Pls. consult your talking points and get back to us.

  • J | January 9, 2012 2:20 PMReply

    Blackface = white guys putting on black makeup and acting like buffoons.

    Am I missing something or is S.Mouse supposed to be a genius? The only way this is different from a minstrel show is S.Mouse is supposed to be a rich rapper rather than a poor freedman.

  • Jeffdc5 | January 9, 2012 12:05 AMReply

    I watched the episode. He makes fun of many diff types of people. He seems more like an equal opportunity offender.

  • Nia | January 8, 2012 12:33 AMReply

    In Summer Heights High Lilly played a Polynesian boy named Jonah in a wig and noticeably darkened skin. His appearance wasn't a major plot device, but Lilly played all of the main characters on that show too. If I'm going to get angry at this then I deserve to be angry at the new show on Fox which simultaneously pokes fun at women and transgenders, or the fact that nearly every successful black actor has performed in womens' clothing at some point. The point here is not to say "Oh look I'm donning a curly wig how funny, 'cause I'm really a white guy.", but I can see how that could be conveyed. I'm bothered by alot of things I see in the entertainment industry, this doesn't make me as outraged as some others.

  • Jasmin | January 7, 2012 11:49 PMReply

    @Charles I'm well aware of the historical use of black face, thanks. The point is that its modern use, even here, is linked to a hurtful past. Simply put, we don't exist in a vacuum. Imho, acknowledging our history means that some things simply aren't ok today. This isn't about dissecting Lilley's body of work, and I'm free to critique any part of it I choose, just as you all are. I look forward to reading your article on the links between race and hip hop.

    After careful consideration, I still don't think this is cool. I also think maybe Filmguy doesn't understand the meaning of the term "ratched." I'd prefer if folks didn't misconstrue my words, but I guess that's to be expected in any public space. I never used the word "racist," suggested a boycott of HBO or anything outlandish. I think groaning and changing the channel is a perfectly reasonable response.

    Thanks to everyone for your thoughts.

  • Charles Judson | January 7, 2012 9:30 PMReply

    @Jasmin Blackface on film and on stage wasn't just dark makeup. It was an entire performance based on a stereotypical caricature. You can't separate Lilley's choice to put on Black makeup and a fro from his choice to portray a rapper. The two inform each other. The series is built around the concept of exploring what it means to be a boy in the modern world. If you were critiquing this through that lens, instead of just solely off Lilley portraying an African American this would be a stronger conversation and your post much more pointed, because there are interesting questions. Why could Lilley have not chosen a White middle class rapper pretending to be poor and from the "Ghetto" instead of a Black one? Why set it in L.A. and not New York, or somewhere in the South? Why a rapper and not some other type of musician, like a Justin Bieber type? By only concerning your focus on the Blackness of the character's skin, you're basically saying that if Lilley had simply removed the makeup, everything else about S. Mouse (his language, his posture, his accent) wouldn't bother you, which I'm sure isn't something you meant to imply. It also short changes the even deeper questions about how Hip Hop and Race are linked and coded in ways that can be troubling and revealing. Either dissect all of it, or none of it.

  • Marie | January 7, 2012 11:43 AMReply

    More surprised, fed-up responses. An interview with hip-hop artists and writers for the shows' July Aussie premiere, including Kool A.D., MC from Das Racist:
    "This is dumb. I had to turn it off a couple minutes in. ... The only time I've seen blackface used in a way that actually made me "think more critically about race" is [the Spike Lee film] Bamboozled ...#blackfacenotfunny

  • Marie | January 7, 2012 9:17 AMReply

    @Jess. Angry Boys certainly seems to have insulated themselves with a guerrilla marketing campaign of commenter s like you to spread the show's official PR-massaged talking points. Sorry to break it to you, but it's really transparent, because blacks aren't as dumb as Aussies think. On to the actual show ...

    Unfortunately, I suffered through the first two shows and the "Slap My Elbow" segment. It is absolutely the lowest form racial caricature and it's simply not funny. The hip-hop character is simply a pre-text to get away with blackface, not the inverse as he argues that it's really about the depth of character. Really, what's so taboo or edgy about making fun of a broke rapper with idiotic lyrics? Nothing.

    This guy is not a character actor, certainly not a comic genius, he's a cross-eyed dwarf in the company of Giants. Real comedians on premium cable (Larry David, Ali G, Bill Maher, George Carlin, Chris Rock, etc.) the ones who can do real comedy & social commentary. He's just a stupid Australian dude with dark paint on his face.

    News flash: We don't need to grow as culture, especially with cues from a nation that's barely confronted its treatment of the Aborigines and who "black up" for tv shows and soccer games just for fun.

  • jess | January 7, 2012 3:43 AMReply

    I don't think it's possible to critique his work based on shock-value alone. Without having seen his previous work, you can't understand the value of his work. He's a character actor, which is why he's not getting a black man or an asian woman to play these characters. The format of his shows (which he's had several at this point) is a documentary about different characters from various backgrounds, but who all have serious issues dealing with reality. They're often conceded and believe that the world revolves around them. However, many of his characters have heart, and, after watching more than one episode, you grow to love them.

    In his last series he tackled a young, aboriginal boy, which, in Australia, is just as shocking as black face is here in America. But he tackled the issue in such a way that you deeply cared for this character by the end of the series. I was actually almost in tears when he was being removed from school. He took a stereotype-a young, aboriginal bully-and made you feel for him. Meanwhile the two white characters remained entertainingly despicable throughout.

    Two episodes have aired, and most of the outrage I've heard is in regards to the first glimpse of the character. I don't know for sure how it will play out, but it's likely that we'll discover that depth in the character by series end. It's very easy to look at a guy in black face and be offended. If that's all this character turns out to be, you have every right to be pissed off. But I'd trying to get beyond a thirty second clip of "Slap My Elbow" before your hands up and yell, "THAT'S RACIST!" I don't think we can ever grow as a culture if we're unwilling to challenge taboos.

  • moses | January 9, 2012 3:16 PM

    The show already aired last year here in the UK and I'm Black and trust me when I say this watch the whole show. The character is much more then blackface he is a deluded egomaniac. A full 3 dieminsional character. The blackface of the 19th century were not.

  • blaqbird | January 6, 2012 11:59 PMReply

    I'm guessing this is the first time FilmGuy has read S&A. Correct me if I'm wrong....

  • FilmGuy | January 7, 2012 2:06 AM

    Nope, I've read it. Just think it's silly that things like this even get any attention. This site really is inspiring in showcasing people who wouldn't otherwise get much coverage, but 'ratchedness' like this can stay on mediatakeout.com, imo, of course.

  • filmguy | January 6, 2012 9:32 PMReply

    So black people can make fun of black people, i.e. Chappelle. And black people can make fun of white people, i.e. Chappelle, Wayans Bros., but white people can't make fun of black people (who in the case of some rappers live in ways that beg roasting). I call bull. You can't even laugh without thinking it's some sly reference to slavery and racism.

  • M.A Imperiale | January 10, 2012 3:26 AM

    that's the dumbest excuse I have ever heard.
    1. White people were never enslaved and oppressed by black people for 400 years. so, it's not the same.
    2. If he was really talented and funny he wouldn't need black face to do it.
    3. Admit it your a racist..

  • Marie | January 7, 2012 8:48 AM

    Anyone who reduces Chappelle's tv show to "black people making fun of black people and white people" already sees the world in racial caricatures, and would find blackface refreshing, if not nostalgic.

  • Marie | January 6, 2012 9:21 PMReply

    At last, some coverage, some dissent on this. Don't beat yourself up about not catching it. I'm certain it was part of HBO's strategy to bury it between the holidays to avoid outcry. Most of the press about it was published between 12\28 - 12/30 , so no one really bothered. In most major outlets, his absurd defense of his style of edgy "comedy" got a free pass. Basically NyMag, Huffpost and THR published his PR speak verbatim. (btw, I also found a Vine article in which select hip-hoperati were asked their opinions about it 6 months ago. Will post linklater.) Furthermore, HBO premiered the show on New Years day and day after. Who premieres a show like that? No one noticed except hard core Chris Lilley fans whoever they may be. Basically the show sucks, he's not funny
    And blackface isn't funny. #blackfacenotfunny

  • Jmac | January 6, 2012 8:53 PMReply

    I read "black face" but I don't see it. Sorry. There is a fine line between "black face" and dressing up like a black person. The only thing shocking about this is the idea of a white person acting like a black person. The clip was boring and typical. Wasn't challenging a damn thing. Couldv'e been Ali G - and it would've been funnier if it was ... I mean it would have been funny at all if it was. I admit Soul Man was one of my favorite movies but I refused/and still refuse to watch Tropic Thunder on different grounds. There's a proper, effective way to do anything, even controversial acts. This bit failed completely.

  • Miles Ellison | January 6, 2012 8:03 PMReply

    What is compelling and challenging about blackface, exactly?

  • Nola | January 6, 2012 7:26 PMReply

    I think Chris Illey is full of Sh**.What I don't agree with is the fact that he feels the need to rely on a negative stereotypes and then portray it as social/political commentary.He isn't saying much of anything.Don't believe me?Watch the show.How exactly is he challenging people?I saw the show on a British cable and watched it and whilst I wasn't scandalized per se,I was slightly pissed off.Australia has very few African descended Black people and couldn't be further away from Urban Black American culture.Compelling and real characters?Whatever.

  • Jasmin | January 6, 2012 6:17 PMReply

    @Tony Thanks for the insight, but the issue, for me at least, isn't about him portraying a rapper - it's simply the use of black face. Regardless of the performance, it's impossible to separate black face from its very offensive historical roots. To ignore that is to approach the situation from a position of extreme ignorance and privilege.

    Frankly I don't understand why some actors are so pressed to use black face (and other offensive practices) to begin with. We're people, we have a culture and a history, and "art" doesn't exist outside of that. No matter how good the acting or the "message" may be, black face is not going to be okay.

  • Marie | January 7, 2012 9:43 AM

    @ Jasmin - I've read his interviews and seen the show. He's an Equal Opportunity Bigot or profiteer thereof. In addition to blackface, he caricatures and degrades Asians with the tiger mom character. Did I mention that he throws around a lot of homophobic language very casually? The worst part about is: his defense. It's hysterical. RE: blackface, he gives the defense that Asians don't mind being stereotyped, so blacks shouldn't either they're too sensitive. He says "but the only one that people talk about is S'Mouse. It's kind of funny that there's only certain races that it's an issue..." Go to nymag for remainder of interview. tiny.cc/wetar. He gives the same wobbly defense for the homophobic stuff ... "I know people who are victims of homophobia who say that they think it's hilarious. They're like, "This is great." Really? Jump to huffpost interview in which he's given a pass on the blackface thing.
    He shouldn't get a pass on any of this. Neither should HBO. #blackfacenotfunny

  • Tony | January 6, 2012 4:19 PMReply

    It's actually not all that shocking and controversial as everyone would lead it to be. The reason that it went under the radar so low is because it's not presented in such a way to mock or put down an entire community or race. This very funny writer/creator/performance artist delves into his characters with such vigor that he does embody a certain depth to them. He is not poking fun of all but possibly the absurd slant on the hip-hop mind set of which Boondocks, Chappele Show and many others have done.

    Chris Lilley not only performs as a young black rapper who, "Rocks the one ski boot, rocking with the right ski boot", but has also portrayed a middle aged asian woman and a young Tongan street dancer. The performance of which you find humor also finds seriousness. As many Tongan actors were working around him with no issues or alarm. He purely gets it and is able to wear it as his skin. Showing another side to that character of lashing out at teachers, Jonah became a stand out character yet one with troubled emotional issues. Something comedy manages to slip in and to quote DJ Pooh's reasoning for tackling the 3 Strikes rule, Showcase a serious issues by using the device of humor to get them in but leave with questions as well as an ongoing debate.

    It is a tough deal to tackle with such esteem but when performed with high intensity and respect you not only earn the respect but also the accolades of nominations as did Robert Downey Jr. for his outstanding performance in Tropic Thunder. Or as well as one of the greatest comedic actors of our time, Sacha Baron Choen.

    Not only will I watch this show I may even grab some MP3's of the tracks, "Slap My Elbow" & "Animal Zoo." Summer Heights High was classic and made me laugh so hard. Only saw a bit of We Can Be Hero's.

    Big ups Chris Lilley aka S.mouse... rock the one ski boot.

  • Carol | January 7, 2012 10:03 PM

    I agree with Tony. Check any mockumentary. "Best In Show" totally plays off gay stereotypes and with all great comedy, Lilly ignores political correctness. The white trash twins reveals the pathos under the comedy in the 2nd episode when the "hearing" twin can't bear to lose the "deaf" twin. Don't write off Lilly. Based on the first 2 episodes, I would say that this is not as funny as "Summer Heights High." But I am sticking with it; the "Gran" character alone made me realize that Lilly is going for something deeper with his commentary.

  • toexplain | January 6, 2012 3:34 PMReply

    Australians love their black face. See clip after clip on TV of Australians in Black Face. Shocked by the tone deafness of HBO. SMH

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