Dan Aykroyd Wisely Wouldn’t Do the Blackface Scene from ‘Trading Places’ Today

The ‘Saturday Night Live’ star said that he wouldn’t want to paint his face today — nor would we want him to, either
Dan Aykroyd Wisely Wouldn’t Do the Blackface Scene from ‘Trading Places’ Today

Is there an easier choice in entertainment than the decision between “doing blackface decades after we realized that it’s not appropriate and never worth it,” and just, like, not?

When Trading Places premiered in 1983, a scene in which Dan Aykroyd’s character Louis Winthorpe III dons dark makeup as part of a convoluted scheme to exact revenge on his racist bosses who conspired to destroy his life played to noticeable less controversy compared to how it would fare in a film released 40 years later. Worth noting is the fact that Trading Places carved its place in Hollywood history at a time when the practice of blackface was — well, “tolerated” is too strong a word… Let’s just say that the film came out three full years before Soul Man was astonishingly allowed to be made.

Looking back on one of his biggest movies, Aykroyd told The Hollywood Reporter that, if he was making the film today, “I probably wouldn’t choose to do a blackface part, nor would I be allowed to do it.” In other news, water is just as wet today as it was in 1983.

“I was in blackface in that film and I probably couldn’t get away with it now,” Aykroyd recalled as he remembered the excitement of playing opposite an up-and-coming star in Eddie Murphy. “Eddie and I were improvising there. Eddie is a Black man and his entourage were all Black people, and I don’t think they batted an eye. There was no objection then; nobody said anything. It was just a good comic beat that was truthful to the story.”

Aykroyd added, “I probably wouldn’t be allowed to do a Jamaican accent (either), white face or Black,” before saying, “In these days we’re living in, all that’s out the window. I would be hard-pressed to do an English accent and get away with it. They’d say, ‘Oh, you’re not English, you can’t do it.’”

Considering how non-English actors today don dismal British accents on Saturday Night Live and other comedy projects with about the same frequency as they did 40 years ago, Aykroyd’s comparison of blackface in 1983 to, uh, Britface in 2023 doesn’t really hold any water. Besides, we’re still letting Canadians like him pretend to be normal folk with impunity — for now.

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