Dear Estelle, It Is Never OK To Wear Blackface

It looks as if my one-week love affair with Estelle's new song, "Freak," may be nearing an abrupt end after finally watching the accompanying video in its entirety. Aside from the video for such a hype track being an absolute bore and not doing the song any justice whatsoever, there's the itsy bitsy issue of Estelle wearing blackface in the clip. Yes, blackface. Take a gander, if you will, at this ill-advised attempt at freakiness and my thoughts on it after the bounce.

In the event that you're still awake after that monstrosity, let's examine the minstrelsy of it all.

The video starts off with Estelle's glossy red lips filling the frame against a black background while reciting the refrain "I can be a freak." OK, fine. Until the camera pans out and we realize that that black background is really Estelle's whole face done up in black makeup blackface. The combination of the red lips, white teeth, short hair and blackface screams pickaninny. All that's missing is bugged out eyes, fried chicken and watermelon. (Maybe that'll be in the director's cut?)

Estelle started defending the use of blackface before the full video
even dropped thanks to the teaser that surfaced along with the single. She had this to say when asked about the controversy by MTV News:

"I think they need to wait to see the clip. I could defend myself, but it's just silly," Estelle said of the comments. "I'm black, so how do I do blackface? Missy did the same thing [with her video] "She's a Bitch." I refuse to defend it, I didn't put any white ring around my mouth -- never that."

Good grief. Where do I even start? This woman needs a history lesson and a clue.

"I'm black, so how do I do blackface?"
Quite easily, Estelle. Back in the oppressive day, black stage performers had no choice but to perform in blackface if they wanted to perform at all. It wasn't an option to cake on "black makeup" for fun or sport or to be freaky in the 1800's. The blackfaced coloreds cooned their way across the U.S. in minstrel shows for the entertainment of the white masses. Kinda like...oh, never mind.

Missy did the same thing [with her video] "She's a Bitch."
Oh did she now? Who prepped Estelle for this MTV interview because they did a very poor job if the best they could come up with was Missy's "She's a Bitch" as an excuse example? I didn't even have to watch the video again to know that Estelle was talking out of the side of her neck. There is no blackface present here. None. At all.

"I refuse to defend it, I didn't put any white ring around my mouth -- never that."
Sorry to break it to Estelle, but blackface with painted-on white lips was only one type of blackface. The practice started out with exaggerated red lips painted onto performer's faces who perfected the art of shucking, jiving and cooning. I fundamentally don't understand how this was even allowed to fly from the door. It was a horrendous look for Estelle. Point blank. Period.

As if Estelle's comments weren't ridiculous enough, the video's director, Nabil Elderkin, had this to say in the same MTV piece:

"We are making a video about Estelle acting freaky and we're gonna do lots of things: turns, fingers, beauty looks, freaky looks, fast dancers, it's gonna be hot."

Hot? More
like a hot @#&!ing mess. I'm sorry, but there's nothing freaky, beautiful nor acceptable about blackface. It's a disturbing remnant of America's racist past that has no place in the present. But perhaps Australian Elderkin didn't realize that at the time, coming from where he does. The ignorance card could very well have been played again. It works every time.

No Black person in their right or left mind that I know--be they from the United States, Caribbean, Africa, Europe and all points in between--would rock blackface. It's right next to dressing up like Hitler in the big book of Shit You Just Don't Do. Estelle doesn't get a pass being from England, she should know better, especially since blackface was performed on British stages as well. If Estelle still wants to assert that all this blackface talk is "silly," then that's her prerogative. I'll just be sure to look out for that Ku Klux Klan-style hooded outifit in her next video and avoid it all costs.

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31 Responses

  1. Kick the truth to the young black youth Butta!!!

  2. IS she wearing blackface? Or could it just be it came across that way because she's very dark complected and the lighting in the clip isn't the best... It doesn't even look like she has any makeup on.
    We may be reading into this a bit too much...

  3. Another practice that seems to be repeated nowadays is only the light-skinned black women getting shine i.e. Beyonce, Alicia Keys, and Rihanna. Also of the oversexualized, prostitute. i.e. Beyonce Ciara, and Rihanna. Also the coon T-Pain( who was featured on this site the other day). In addition rappers who think its cool to refer to black women as jump-offs or bust-it babies apparently not aware of high rates of teenage pregnancy and STD's. But Estelle is the one who draws most of your ire right behind Erylkah Badu doing a song with Lil Wayne. Interesting.

  4. Um, yes this is blackface! and yes it is a snoozefest!! It is sad that the blackface is the only thing to talk about in this video. I mean, how much more could you do with this song than that. A video is supposed to enhance the song --- this did not. In fact it did the opposite.
    It really bothers me that people are so ill informed about history and for some reason think it is okay. Like it all didnt matter.... Doesn't have any effect on anything today. And to justify an action by saying that someone else did it (even if they didn't) does not make it right! Come on! You can find someone who has done just about every immoral, inappropriate thing that exists in the world, it doesn't mean that you should follow suite. Lazy justification, lazy creativity and lazy video making. I expected much more of Estelle as a fan of her previous work.

  5. Thank you for schooling folks on blackface! I don't think what she's doing has any relation at all to blackface, though, its more of an eff up by default...had she used purple or blue the freakiness would still come through and she wouldnt be out of order. You put it best with "It's right next to dressing up like Hitler in the big book of Shit You Just Don't Do." Completely careless, shame your momma type stuff on Estelles part.

  6. Who prepped Estelle for this MTV interview because they did a very poor job if the best they could come up with was Missy's "She's a Bitch" as an excuse example? I didn't even have to watch the video again to know that Estelle was talking out of the side of her neck. There is no blackface present here. None. At all.
    Furthermore, Missy's role in that video as futuristic master/bitch-running-thangs is in direct odds to Estelle's role as sexualized object in blackface. I never really found Estelle to be that attractive physically. Now I know that it extends to her brain.

  7. damn. and i really wanted to like this song unabashedly. thanks for the heads up, i won't be watching this vid in its entirety now. no need.
    this leaves me wondering if the stylist/makeup artist for the vid was a poc. i honestly wouldn't be surprised if they were, that would just be another cause for a headshake.

  8. @'s definitely blackface.
    That's very unfortunate, and whether or not she chooses to defend it, it's still offensive and disrespectful. And her bringing Missy into this is NOT a good look for her...considering that could be a "dark-skinn'd girl diss." Mad unfortunate.

  9. I'm in agreement with Miguel. I also think too much is being read into the makeup choices for this video. Agreed that this isn't a great video for the song. Actually, her look and the video just reminds me of Grace Jones.

  10. Good lord this woman is ugly.........................

  11. awful song an video-on the fence about the black face offense, but her comments were indeed offensive. maybe she wasn't educated on the blackface history given her UK upbringing?

  12. Very well written and very well put Butta. I saw the snippet a couple of days ago and thought the blackface was odd. I wanted to wait to see the video before I passed judgment. It is absolutely appalling. I liked the song at first but by the end of the video with it's blackface I wanted to throw up. It hurts to see Estelle buffoon herself like that. She should know better. I also blame the director because I am sure she would not have done that on her own. Ugh Blech Terrible Disgusting. The only good thing she ever did anyway was American Boy anyway. In my opinion I thought her last album was gahbage.

  13. I agree the video was done in poor taste and it's completely out of line but it's no more offensive than most of the other music videos, television shows and movies that depict stereotypical images of black people. I know this throws an element of a very painful time for black people directly in our faces but doesn't everything else? Flavor Flav's wardrobe alone on his reality show hits about a 9.5 on the coon a meter. Other music videos by so many rap artist that are nothing but advertisements of money, hoes, clothes and dope. And don't even get me started on Tyler Perry. I found the Freak video offensive but I still don't think it's that big of a deal because I see the exact same things everytime I turn on the tv. Minstrelsy is minstrelsy. No matter if it's blackface, wack rappers talkin about money, hoes and slinging cocaine or an episode of Meet the Browns. I got a question for all the people who were offended and outraged by this video. Why aren't you voicing this same outrage towards all the other forms of minstrelsy that are still rpesented daily in the media? Just my opinion. Very well written article, Butta

  14. yeah, coonish or not, the song AND the video suck. She looks stupid, Kardi looks stupid, and the horrid rendition of "Back to life" is just dumb. I really loved her last album, and I looked forward to this one, but this song blows.
    I saw a preview for the vid, and I thought the blackface was stupid as well... besides the fact that it just wasn't flattering for her. To the poster who wonders if it's makeup or not-- you should at least watch the video if ya wanna defend it. It's obvious that it's makeup- Black makeup.
    Dumb move, point blank. I'm almost not a fan anymore. Career suicide if ya ask me.

  15. This video is ALL TYPES OF WRONG. First of all, Estelle opens up in blackface. The first thing we see is a degrading image of African-Americans uses to deny our humanity and intellect. Second, this song is about being a "freak", which reinforces the long existing stereotype that black people are over-sexualized creatures. If Estelle is unaware of these enduring stereotypes, she has even more to be ashamed of.
    Thank you Butta for calling this out. Sadly, if you don't , this will continue.

  16. Can someone say "CD PUSHED BACK?"

  17. I agree with Iamthenewblack, very well put!

  18. Wow. You guys need to step back and chill out. This really isn't all it is being made out to be. But whatever. Everyone is entitled to their hysterical opinions.-QH

  19. Avatar

    I think the person who wrote this is reaching. Beyonce has been walking around in Joan Crawford red lipstick and not a peep of talk of blackface but when Estelle does it its blackface. Really red sparkly lips are blackface? I know black women have a difficult history with red lipstick back from the days that when some women refused to wear it for this particular reason. The song is called freak and red lipstick (regardless of race) has been associated with "loose women", the red lipstick can be related to that.
    And I noticed the author also pointed out short hair and white teeth, well Estelle has always been rocking short hair and would you prefer that her teeth were yellow?

  20. I like the song.
    The blackface? WOW, how do the people around her not comment on what a bad choice it was/is. As soon as the director, or whoever it was, suggested it I would've done a spit take, stopped them, and literally made the watch Bamboozled.

  21. I agree with this article completely, but I think this situation only goes to further show that Black Americans carry a psychological burden that won't go away until we as country address it. Blacks from Europe wouldn't understand it because their history isn't quite the same as ours. Should someone on her team been more aware? Yes. Do I feel the need to beat Estelle down over it? No. She just needs to be educated on the topic. Regardless, the video is boring as hell. Who's really gonna watch it?

  22. It's better that she not try to defend it -it only makes her look more dreadful then she does in that 3:41 shit fest aka epic race fail called a "video".
    While she draws the line a having a white ring around her mouth, I draw it at indignant ignorance...
    Someone please remove the collar around her neck and shake her...
    mental slavery is sad

  23. I'm glad I'm not the only one completely offended by that video. And of course, the director was white. I'm still amazed that she chose to not even defend it or that NOT ONE person on that set said, "Uh, this ain't the best idea." I just barely cared about her before; I'll be doing my damndest to persuade any friend of mine to not support her at all.

  24. ok i think the article is reaching. i mean i understand the significance of the blackface however, should we not judge this video within the context of it and what it is trying to portray instead of it being clouded by what you see. i mean i honestly don't think that this was what estelle was trying to does this also mean that every time someone where makeup that is significantly darker that it will automatically deemed a blackface? so i guess we should just all stop eating watermelons and chicken then.

  25. From George Santayana's Life of Reason, Vol I. Reason in Common Sense:
    Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, infancy is perpetual.
    "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
    --Enough said.

  26. I don't think it was black face..those are her features you can't change it.And it is like MIssy's video.

  27. Yes, I agree with the writer that Estelle's excuses were pathetic. But blackface aside, this song and video just DON'T cut it. Estelle turned in a confusing, uninteresting diarrhea of bad special effects and thinks people are supposed to find it freeing? It's awful and uninspiring. Not to mention boring. Wearing LaBelle's old wigs and onesies isn't "freaky.

  28. Completely agree with iamthenewblack about putting this video in perspective on the "coon a meter" among the likes of t-pain and flavorflav especially since I doubt Estelle made this mistake knowingly. Estelle's ignorance doesn't excuse her but other artists degrade themselves on purpose. Who has time to call out all that foolishness though? She should show some empathy and apologize for offending anyone. I'm a fan of her last album and I would hate for this to remain a black eye on her career.

  29., how do you do it?

  30. I believe that there was nothing wrong w this video.. its actually a HAWT vid... I do wish that we as a race could move past a lot of these issues(heal).. n grow in a new direction...

  31. Much ado about nothing. People are reading way too much into this. These blogs look for things to complain about. You all know she was not in traditional blackface ... I don't even get that looking at this. People are so simple.