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August 1994


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"Chad Dominicis, ([log in to unmask])" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 7 Aug 1994 01:15:56 EDT
text/plain (76 lines)
On 31 Jul 1994 Krin Gabbard wrote:
>"I would like to enter _The Mask_ into our discussions of both blackface and
the exclusion of African Americans from recent blockbuster films such as
_True Lies_.  It seems to me that the
green face in _Mask_ is really blackface.  Don't forget that Jim
Carrey was for several years the only white male in the cast of
_In Living Color_.  In the film, when he is transformed into the
comic book hero, his speech patterns and much of his body
language is taken from black vernacular.  As Eric Lott has
pointed out in _Love and Theft_, young white men have
internalized a black paradigm of masculinity for almost two
centuries now.  The principle element in Carrey's transformation
is that he is more aggressively male in the way that adolescent
boys conceptualize it as they first begin to emulate black models
of masculinity.  Even when Carrey takes on the guise of the
French apache lover (actually the cartoon character Pepe le Pugh)
or when he sings "Cuban Pete," it has more to do with how
stereotypes of the Latin lover constitute additional versions of
a sexual Other which are easily folded into the African American
Other.  For me, a crucial moment in the film is when the police
attempt to arrest the green-faced hero, and he says directly to
the camera, "Where is a camcorder when you need one?"  Here is
another level on which the hero is identified with black males.
Also, I can recall only one _real_ black man in the film, a
barrel-chested actor in a tuxedo who turns out to be the mayor of
Edge City.  This too seems to be significant.  I would guess that
a more svelte, street-smart, Wesley Snipes-type character would
have confused the issues by getting in the way of the image that
the Carrey character is supposed to represent.  Finally, it is
significant that Carrey "grows up" and finds out that he need not
play the super hero in order to achieve his sexual maturity.
Again, although Hollywood loves to represent hyper-masculinity
along the lines of African American models, it also stigmatizes
it as pre-adult in one way or another.  Ultimately, Carrey gets
the girl by acting white."<
I might be wrong, but now that I have finally seen "The Mask," I have to
disagree with most of these comments.
To begin with, there is nothing to link the mask itself with black culture,
or even with vaudevillian stylizations. The origins of the mask as stated in
the story are in Scandinavian mythology, (Loki.) Later in the story Stanley
states that the mask brings out the inner true character of the wearer, (as
modified by Loki's representation as a mischief maker.)
In second place, in my opinion Stanley/the Mask's accent and physical
patterns, though at times "Zoot," are not so much "Black" as they are "ruff
'n tuff" talk and walk. I'm not a linguist (though I try to be cunning,) but
 it seems to me that "ruff 'n tuff" characters usually tend to not speak
Midwestern American, instead their vernacular and body talk patterns are
based on the "lower" or "common" classes prevalent in the milieu of the
story, e.g. "The Bowery Boys" Newyorkese.
The third of Krin's opinions with which I disagree is a positing of a white
versus "black/French/Cuban" sexual identity conflict. If there is such a
conflict being presented then why is Stanley's coworker friend (as played by
R. Jeni) depicted as being more successful in his approach than non-mask
Stanley, he is also a "white boy," just more self confident than Stanley,
(not much though.) Stanley's problem is presented as being, in his words, a
nice guy, which is why he always finishes last.
In my opinion *this* is the point that the film really tries to make: that
one's self confidence is really more responsible for one's social success
than one's external affectations. (A point with which it struggles a bit,
actually, since at times it is money, or possessions that determine the
outcome of some situations in the film, e.g. getting into the nightclub.)
As to the scarcity of Black actors in the film, ask the producers, but I
don't see a reason to think it was all too deliberate. As to the camcorder
joke, just topical humor.
To see more than is there seems to be the order of the day. Yes, film is a
medium of symbols. But one must be careful to interpret the correct symbols.
I saw "The Mask" as a technically very well crafted film. IMO, it's not bad,
for "popular entertainment." The story and the humor weren't as infantile as
I had feared. The hype had scared me. The film in my opinion has little or
nothing to do with any of Carrey's previous work. "Ace Ventura" was a totally
different kind of effort. In truth I'm looking forward to seeing him as The
Riddler in Batman 3. Before I saw The Mask I wasn't too keen on his selection
for that role.
Thank you for your attention.
Sincerely, Chad Dominicis, Miami, FL.