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July 1994


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Krin Gabbard <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 31 Jul 1994 23:44:16 -0400
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               State University of New York at Stony Brook
                       Stony Brook, NY 10025
                                            Krin Gabbard
                                            Associate Professor
                                            Comparative Literature
                                            212 749-1631
                                            31-Jul-1994 11:43pm EDT
TO:    Remote Addressee                     ( [log in to unmask] )
Subject: The Mask and Blackface
     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.
Krin Gabbard
SUNY Stony Brook