Chinese state TV has been labelled “racist” after its Spring Festival Gala kicked off with a celebration of African culture featuring Chinese dancers in African-style costumes and black face makeup beating drums.
The five-hour annual program, which has drawn as many as 800 million viewers in the past, caused a storm on Twitter, with activists and commentators lambasting China’s CCTV for the culturally inappropriate move.
The show, titled African Song and Dance and featuring blackfaced dancers and a man dressed as a monkey, aired on Thursday, as Asia welcomed in the lunar Year of the Ox in a subdued fashion due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Black Livity China, a group for people of black descent living in China, described CCTV’s move as “disappointing” and said it would have a wider impact on black communities in the country.
“Blackface once again at the Spring Festival Gala on CCTV – not the first time, and extremely disappointing to see. We cannot stress enough the impact scenes such as these have on African and Afro-diasporic communities living in China,” the group tweeted.
Meanwhile, the China Africa Project, a multimedia organization dedicated to exploring China’s engagement with Africa, blasted what it described as the ignorance of the producers and their inability to understand the historical significance of the act: “They just don’t seem to grasp the historical weight of blackface and how truly offensive this is.”
Another Twitter user complained that the show reflected the “rampant & racist ill-treatment” of black Africans residing in China, adding, “It’s not just the blackface… it’s the limiting stereotypes and ridiculous mimicry of the host.”
However, some users were keen to point out that painting performers faces black did not have the same significance in China as it does in the West.
Racist, but the Chinese audience love it! CCTV’s Spring Festival Gala featured Chinese men & women in black makeup, wearing “African tribal” attire. A billion Chinese watched. Before, an actress in blackface appeared with an African man dressed as a monkey https://t.co/xBGwlrXavepic.twitter.com/fUag3zx5FY
— James Hall (@hallaboutafrica) February 12, 2021
Thursday’s show is the second time CCTV has elected to feature blackface dancers in its Lunar New Year TV extravaganza. The gala also showcased performances echoing the culture of Egypt, Spain, and Russia.
The 2018 extravaganza elicited an equally outraged backlash. It starred a famous Chinese actress in full blackface and equipped with oversized butt pads, leading a cheerful monkey played by an unidentified African actor. No apology was forthcoming from the network on that occasion.
Beijing said it “opposes” racism, and dismissed any criticism of CCTV’s blackface skit, adding it was a “futile” effort by foreign powers to drive a wedge between China and African nations.
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