White Chicks (2004) is a buddy cop movie written and produced by Marlon and Shawn Wayans, who also star in the film. The plot largely revolves around whiteface drag, as the Wayans brothers, who are African American, play undercover FBI agents disguised as white women. They are going, says the trailer, “where no black man has gone before.” Although the film reviewed extremely poorly, it fared well at the box office and has remained a popular choice for streaming devices and broadcast cable.
What are blackface and whiteface? What is drag? How and to what degree are they related?
Is whiteface just as problematic as blackface, or should it be considered “fair game” in certain instances?
America has a tenuous history of “race makeup”. Does this complicate possibilities for resistance and satire for non-white performers?
What do you think is meant by people who use the term “reverse racism”? Is it any different from “racism”?
Nearly a decade after its release, White Chicks is still cited by some viewers as a preeminent example of “reverse racism.” These critics argue that the overt usage of stereotypes and whiteface makeup to satirize elements of white womanhood is just as harmful and racist as it would be if directed towards those of another ethnic background.
Whiteface is a reversal of the term blackface, a historically popular style of theatrical makeup used by white actors to portray stereotyped caricatures of black people. Unlike blackface, however, instances of whiteface in theater or film are relatively hard to find.