A Mistaken Face


June 2, 2011. MTV published an article written by Alvin Blanco on February 24th, 2011, about the controversy on Beyonce’s photo shoot for the magazine, L’Officiel Paris. To begin, the controversy of the shoot was that Beyonce, a fair- skinned woman changed her skin color to a dark brown color. During this week, I found that most of the articles published about Beyonce’s photo shoot were biased toward her actions. So how did the issue of blackface come about?

What is blackface? Blackface was a form of theatrical makeup used by white people to mock the black race. It was offensive because it lead people to think the black race was inferior to Caucasians. It propagated the stereotype of the ignorant plantation slave.

What is traditional African face painting? African face painting is many things, but it is mostly a connection to our past. Even the configuration of the painting means many things.

Was Beyonce’s photo shoot really a reflection of Blackface or traditional African face painting? Beyonce wanted this look because she was inspired by the Nigerian musician Fela Kuti; a man known for his music and contribution to the black community. His motivational music is inspirational because it represents the African struggles for freedom and human dignity.

I believe that Beyonce’s photo shoot was inspired by Fela Kuti. He helped her to recognize her history and ancestral culture. She was inspired by the beauty of the art.

The seventh and eighth grade classes from Chamberlain went to the “American I AM” exhibit at the National Geographic Museum in February. Using this group of forty-one students I conducted a survey to find out what they thought. I used three pictures and one question. The pictures showed Beyonce’s photo shoot, one of African face painting and a blackface. The students were asked: “Which photo looks closest to Beyonce’s photo shoot?” Here are the results of the survey:

  • 34 out of 41 students said Beyonce’s photo looked closer to the African face painting.
  • 7 out of 41 students said Beyonce’s photo looked closer to blackface.

So you decide what inspired the photo shoot!

Christopher Hamilton is a 7th grade student and Maia McDowell is an 8th grade student at Friendship Chamberlain Academy.