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."
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.