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White Actors’ Most Egregious Portrayals of People of Color

The new reboot of the classic radio serial and television Western The Lone Ranger is out today, and much of the conversation has centered on the casting of Caucasian (with some Indian somewhere in his background — promise!) actor Johnny Depp in the role of Native American sidekick/stereotype Tonto. Unfortunately, it’s just the latest example of a white actor playing a character of color — though Depp can take some comfort in the fact that his portrayal isn’t nearly as offensive as some of those that came before him.

Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, Check and Double Check (1930)

The Amos n’ Andy Show was one of the most controversial programs on television, from its debut in the 1950s to its removal from syndication a decade later, for its stereotypical portrait of life in Harlem. But at least the show featured African-American actors; the men who created and performed the roles on the radio, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, were white, and when RKO wanted to turn the popular radio show into a movie, the two men slapped on the blackface and rendered the characters’ “dees,” “doze,” and miscellaneous malapropisms all the more offensive.

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