David Harewood to explore history of Blackface for BBC Two

Black Lives Matter led to a reexamination of Blackface in various TV shows and films, including Little Britain.

David Harewood

The BBC has announced that Supergirl star David Harewood will present an hour-long documentary on the history of Blackface.

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The BBC Two film, Blackface With David Harewood, will form part of a series of single-film “impactful documentaries” that address “challenging cultural issues,” the broadcaster has said.

According to the official synopsis, the documentary “explores the origins of Blackface minstrelsy in early 19th-century America and how it crossed the Atlantic to Britain. This was entertainment as a delivery system for racist tropes and became the most popular form of entertainment of the Victorian era, taking the music of enslaved people and turning it toxic. David Harewood sets out to understand how it shaped ideas of blackness in popular culture and why it endured so long.”

The documentary announcement follows several recent celebrity apologies for the past use of Blackface: notably US presenter and comedian Jimmy Fallon, who in June 2020 apologised for previously impersonating Chris Rock while in blackface.

Following Black Lives Matter, Ant and Dec issued an apology for playing two Jamaican women while in blackface, in a prank segment on Saturday Night Takeaway. The comedy series Little Britain was also removed from various streamers, including BritBox, BBC iPlayer, and Netflix, due to the use of Blackface.

Harewood previously presented a BBC Two documentary on mental health and psychosis; in an exclusive interview with RadioTimes.com, Harewood revealed he thought he’d have another breakdown during filming.

The BBC has also pledged to double investment in arts and music on BBC Two over the next two years. The pledge follows a difficult year for the arts industry, with theatres and galleries closed for months due to Covid-19.

Further future projects announced include “a documentary exploration of the forbidden in art,” fronted by historian Mary Beard, and “extraordinary profiles and biographies including Daniel Barenboim, Sir Quentin Blake, Brian Catling, Jackie Collins, Delia Derbyshire, Sir Kazuo Ishiguro, Kae Tempest and Andy Warhol”.

Chief Content Officer Charlotte Moore said: “The BBC has always prided itself on having a world-class arts and music offer. The BBC wants to build on that to expand the reach of Arts and Music programming and deliver even more unique, high-impact content for the public. Alongside that, we want to be Britain’s creative partner and platform for talent. I am excited about the content we have commissioned and how our new approach will help that reach more people.”

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