Blackface French Puppets & My Ali Jab
This is the true story of how me and my petite famille went down to Luxembourg Gardens this weekend for the classic Three Little Pigs puppet show and were all WTF two-thirds in when a Sambo puppet popped up to box the Big Bad Wolf.
The Jardin du Luxembourg is one of the more beautiful parks of Paris, with tennis courts, sandboxes, fountains, box-cut trees, kids guiding wooden sailboats in the pond, etc. Well worth the parking-space headache. Christine and I brought our boys (3 and a half, 1 and a half) to Luxembourg for the swings and such early this morning, and made a last-minute decision to check out the 11:00 puppet show: Les Trois Petits Cochons.
So I’m following the French as best I can (I kinda know the story), our kids are paying attention, everything’s all good. Then Bim Bam Boom comes on the scene. The brown-skinned, buck-eyed puppet with its cherry-red lips comes around to administer some knockout punches to the Big Bad Wolf early in act three, which is fine. But what’s up with the blackface? I didn’t pay 16 euros to take my black-and-proud boys to a minstrel show. Nobody in the audience batted an eyelash, except maybe from the flash of the Nikon when Christine snapped the picture.
I wasn’t indignant enough to storm out or complain to management. In their pretty harmless ignorance, the French, I’m sure, meant nothing by it. As the only black family at the show, my wife and I might’ve been the only ones to even think twice. Homeboy’s role was positive, Bim Bam Boom, he just had those popeyes and the Al Jolson firetruck-red lips.
For a deeper exegesis on blackface and the minstrel tradition, check out my old review from The Washington Post on Black Like You: Blackface, Whiteface and Imitation in American Popular Culture. After the show, I told my oldest that I didn’t like it. I didn’t explain why, but I’ll probably end up pointing at the picture on this post in a day or two to tell him I was no fan of Bim Bam Boom. I never really had any rose-tinted glasses re: French impressions of black people when it comes to Paris, so don’t think I’m shocked. I just, y’know, wanted to put the Marionnettes du Luxembourg kids theater on blast for that insult to my young ones. And to its director, Francis-Claude Desarthis: get a new puppet, dude. For anyone who cares to make a bigger stink, email them: email@example.com.