Monday, March 3, 2008

A Mixed Race Medley--Multiple Plugs

So for your viewing pleasure this morning, and to get the week started, I've got 3 plugs that also have 3 video shorts:

MUSIC PLUG: J.G. Bocella & the Modo Midi Band have released a song that they are distributing gratis in the hopes that it will help to inspire dialogue about race in America. Here is a link to the band's website (click here)--I recommend viewing the video--it's low tech but gives a good history lesson in terms of America's legacy of race relations and the lingering after-effects of racial oppression that we're still coming to terms with.

And for an Op-Ed piece written by J.G. Bocella in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where Bocella opines about the presidential elections, Obama, and the need to have real conversations about race, click on this link.

RESOURCE PLUG: Mixed ROAR (Mixed Race Organizations Against Racism) has joined with a host of organizations (including the MAVIN foundation, iPride, MASC, and others) to launch a campaign in which people of mixed heritage answer the following question:

"What are you?"

For more, here is an explanation by Louie Gong, MAVIN foundation VP:

If you haven't visited the Mixed Heritage Center, I recommend paying a visit--there are many great resources for anyone wanting to explore more about mixed race issues.

INFORMATION PLUG: Finally, this isn't so much a plug as a newly found piece of information and something to provoke thought. The infamous SNL skit that Clinton referenced during last Tuesday's debate with Obama featured Fred Armisen in "black face" so to speak, playing the role of Barack Obama. This CNN article (click here) details the controversy over having Armisen portray Senator Obama (and you can also watch the original skit). I say this is controversial, because I personally think it is, at the very least it should provoke discussion about cross-racial representation, although truthfully I think few people seem bothered by Armisen's portrayal (and at least to date, it seems fairly respectful for SNL) but what I found most interesting was the racial background of Armisen and CNN's own brief mention of Armisen's mixed-racial heritage.

In the article, it notes that Armisen is half white and half Asian. I did a google search and found the trusty Wikipedia entry (click here) for Fred Armisen, which describes, in slightly more detail, his ethnic profile--he is Venezuelan on his maternal side and he is also part Japanese. Wikipedia lists him as both the second Latino actor on SNL (Horatio Sanz is the first) and the second Asian American actor (Rob Schneider, of part Filipino heritage, is the first).

There is more that I'm mulling over regarding both Armisen, Schneider and the idea of their mixed-Asian heritage being all but forgotten/glossed over, as well as the appropriateness of Armisen donning darker makeup to play Barack Obama. I suppose one could say that since Armisen seems to be of part white ancestry as well as his other mixtures, that perhaps it's the "white guy" inside him that gives him the authenticity to play a fellow mixed-race American who also has white heritage?


Babalon said...

Re: SNL -- I've been mulling over this question as well. On the one hand, it seems that this troupe that is limited in number has to use what resources it has. Also, I've been trying to decide if the fact that he's doing an impression versus doing a caricature is a factor. If he needs to look like the guy and added a nose or hair or padding, is that the same? Knowing the history of blackface, I have to say no, it's definitely not the same, but I'm not sure yet where the line is.I don't think it's on the same scale as the whole Marianne Pearl/Angelina Jolie thing, because there was room for casting a mixed-race woman in that role, and it went instead to a white woman with star power. It seems that SNL was trying to do what it could with what it had, and that also opens the floor up to questions of whether its cast is diverse enough.

If it gets people thinking and talking, that'd be good. I felt like Lorne Michels wasn't taking the issue very seriously, tho.

Hey, love your blog, BTW :)

Jennifer said...

I agree that the SNL issue is different from the Jolie/Pearl issue (and it strikes me as being similar to the ways in which white actors often donned "yellowface" in the 20th Century because Hollywood claimed there weren't qualified Asian American actresses, but look at Nobu McCarthy and Anna Mae Wong and you'll see what a lie this is). And I do think SNL does not do a good job at diversity of its cast members.

But in thinking about casting Armisen, a mixed race man, to play another mixed race man, it may be a brilliant strategy, in one sense, to highlight the instability and insufficiency of race as a category.

Problem with my interpretation is it only carries currency in limited realms--like the blogosphere or academic circles--the average person watching SNL is only going to be faced with Armisen in blackface and either be uncomfortable or be told this is OK and not really evaluate the political and social ramifications of it all.

Thanks for stopping by (h)apa thealogy--I appreciate your comments and hope you will continue to leave more observations!