Warner Bros. reportedly planned to use the ancient blackface makeup technique on a white female stunt performer to portray a black actress on its “Gotham” series, until they were called out by Deadline.
Blackface is a theatrical makeup strategy that was adopted by white performers who wished to resemble black performers in the 19th century. The practice is considered offensive, because it parodies the stereotypes of black culture.
Two days prior to filming, the studio allegedly conducted a hair and makeup test on a performer, which consisted of applying black makeup to her face.
Upon receiving multiple inquiries regarding their tactic, Warner Bros. seemingly admitted to their “mistake” and hinted that they planned to employ a black stunt woman instead.
“A mistake was made this week in casting a stunt woman for a guest star in a particular scene on the show,” wrote the studio. “The situation has been rectified, and we regret the error.”
SAG-AFTRA called the act of “painting down” performers both “improper” and “unacceptable,” but claimed they have no comment on the specific incident because no one from the production contacted them.
“With respect to this issue in general,” said Adam Moore, SAG-AFTRA’s National Director of EEO & Diversity, “The relevant SAG-AFTRA contract is clear: The practice known as ‘painting down’ is presumably improper… particularly so in a production center like New York City with so many qualified stunt women of color trained for this type of work.”
Apparently, there is nothing written in the union contract that prohibits painting down performers, and stunt coordinators are only required to “endeavor” scouting talent that match the appropriate gender and race of the person they are doubling. Here is a sample from the contract:
When the stunt performer doubles for a role which is identifiable as female and/or black, Hispanic, Asian Pacific or Native American, and the race and/or sex of the double is also identifiable, stunt coordinator shall endeavor to cast qualified persons of the same sex and/or race involved…To achieve these objectives, stunt coordinator shall endeavor to identify and recruit qualified minority and female stunt persons.
Black industry members still find the blackface technique offensive, as it reminds them of Hollywood’s racist history.