Was Amos n' Andy racist?

Sometimes when blackface comes up, people mention Amos N’ Andy in the same breath. I am only familiar with the radio show, so I am not sure if there were any movies or TV shows.

I am a 1/2 black 1/2 white, fairly liberal young person, and I don’t find the show racist. I am also fairly more comfortable with hollywood changing the race of characters more than most of my friends (unless it was Thor or something, a black Thor would be cool but make no sense. :stuck_out_tongue: )

I feel like the radio show was about funny southern blacks, played by white voice actors, but that there was no malice involved with it. There are also positive depictions of black people on the show. By modern standards it would be racist IMO if the black characters ALWAYS had to be well educated and smarter than the other characters, so I am fine with a black character being a knucklehead…but I can see why maybe the historical context the show came from might be offensive.

Anyway, I love the show and most of the people who hear I do and are shocked that I listen to it, have not actually ever HEARD the show, they have just heard it is offensive blackface. What do you guys think? Sorry if this is the wrong forum.

By the standards of its time, A&A was rather progressive. Some people didn’t like it.

BTW, they did turn Heimdall black in the Thor film. Forgivable because Idris Elba is cool, but still made racists uncomfortable.

Actually its what you’d call “Fair for its day”. The show depicted blacks owning businesses and generally being middle-class/bourgeois.

The reason you never heard of an Amos 'n Andy TV showwas because it was canceled, then pulled from syndication. Although the TV show did portray a thriving black community (IIRC, they were in the big city, not a rural setting), it focused more on the con-man antics of the Kingfish and his borderline-stupid victim, Andy. The hard-working, good-hearted Amos was pushed into the background – sort of like Fonzie taking over *Happy Days *and leaving Richie behind.

I really think a lot of the perception of the radio series is due to the broader, less-nuanced characters of the TV series.

It was very funny. But the Kingfish scammed Andrew H .Brown every show. The people were over the top. But it was not a hell of a lot worse than some of the shows of today.
The radio show was played by white actors. That caused some consternation.
There was little portrayal of blacks on any TV. The only show comes out with scheming blacks and dumb Andrew Brown. An over the top Ruby and Calhoun a completely incompetent lawyer.

The radio show seemed to play to stereotype and could be considered racist. The TV show (produced by Hal Roach studio) played storylines I later saw on Danny Thomas.

the radio show was popular. the claim was that; if it was a warm day (with windows open) and you were walking down the street then you didn’t need a radio to hear it because everyone had it on. i don’t think that another media show has ever been so universally popular. the rest of the country scheduled events around the radio show.

i think it was the usual mixing of personality types and the characters playing off one another. not a whole lot different than The Life of Riley or dozens of comedies.

It was the most popular program on radio for quite a long time. Some movie theaters would stop the movie to play Amos & Andy through the speaker system and re-start the movie when the program was finished. I don’t believe even racists regarded that program as racist; Klansmen would probably laugh as hard as anyone else.

Moving thread from IMHO to Cafe Society.

Moved from IMHO to Cafe Society.

TV wasn’t born with full awareness of its social responsibility. They had two decades’ worth of shows where nobody of color appeared on a regular basis, and advertisers (and white middle-class viewers) were comfortable enough with it not to notice. Amos and Andy deserves respect for flying in the face of this. I’d be surprised if Black families pointed to it as an object of pride, though.

Still, isn’t this a little like asking “Was I Love Lucy sexist?” Same answer for both: Yeah, but there were mitigating factors.

We watched the tv show all the time when I was a kid, back in the '50s. Of course at that time we didn’t think of it as racist, just a show that was really funny. And it certainly didn’t turn us into racists either. But I totally understand that the sensibilities back then were extremely different than today.

I’ve never seen/listened to the TV show or radio program, but there’s something that I’m curious about: Could a portrayal of a middle-class, exclusively black neighborhood full of mostly ordinary folks been interpreted as racist in a roundabout way, in that it supported the mythology of “separate but equal?” Sort of, “see, they’re perfectly content in their own enclave of society, there’s no reason that they should join ours.” Not sure if that makes sense.

As a white male speaking of the TV versions, some aspects were but it wasn’t bad. The lazy shufflin minor character Lightning was the worst. You could say the shyster lawyer Algonquin J Calhoun was but I found him amusing like I found the money-hungry Richard Fish on “Ally McBeal”. Burt then I grew up in Watergate and look at all lawyers as the dregs of society. Amos was very admirable but kind of a minor character by the TV show. Amos was a bit slow minded but always prevailed over the scheming Kingfish, played with skill by Tim Moore. It may have been a typical tv thing at the time. Sgt Bilko was always scheming and frequently trying to cheat his men but was always foiled.
But as others have said the show had Blacks as policemen, business owners, department store managers. In one episode Amos and Andy go to a factory to get a clock fixed and are mistaken for two visiting scientists. One of the real scientists was Black. I remember three episodes involving crooks (besides the Kingfish) and two were White. The one Black crook was a con man who married a lot of Black women.

I suppose the big thing was society was so racist that blacks were almost always portrayed badly, if they existed. When something came on with some flaws, the NAACP and others denounced it. In the 1930s they supported the radio show even though it was voiced by the two White men who created it.Perhaps a closer comparison would be the Honeymooners. If the cast was Black, I
think we would say it showed stereotypes about Ralph being a loudmouth threatening physical abuse and Norton as a total retard. But it wasn’t so it is regarded as a classic.

When you are dealing with television sitcoms, you have 30 shows a year and hopefully run for 5 to 7 years. Reallife doesn’t provide that many funny circumstances. So you have to exaggerate.

There is a TV documentary on it available in Hulu (or it was a few months ago) were various interviews with actors and others.

That is a great post, Jim’s Son. Were all of the black characters played by black actors on the TV shows?

Yes. There was a 1930 Amos and Andy movie. Check and Doublecheck, where Amos and Andy were played by their radio voices in blackface, but in the TV show, all the black characters were played by black actors.

The radio show was sort of two separate shows: it started out as a dramatic serial and then became a sit-com.

I’ve only heard the later, sit-com version of the show, but from the episodes of that I’ve heard, it didn’t strike me as racist (although, as a white guy, I could well be tone-deaf to some things).

Here’s a question I’ve been asking myself while reading the thread- could they make the show today, without it being racist? I’m not really very familiar with it (too young), but I know that it was a big part of the previous couple of generations of my family; enough to where I got nicknamed “Kingfish” for a while.

Say that it wasn’t cast using white actors like it was on the radio, but with black comedians and actors.

Was there anything about it that would preclude it from being on the WB?

That’s probably a good litmus test, I’d think. There are plenty of black-oriented comedies on TV nowadays where racial issues and differences are front and center, and it doesn’t sound like Amos & Andy would stand out in that regard now.

It’s actually not outside the bounds of plausibility to imagine that much more modern African-American oriented sitcoms are more offensive/embarrassing than A&A ever was. Martin, for instance.

I’ve only seen one episode, and it was shown to me by my racist uncle who got it because, well, he’s racist. Don’t remember the episode, so I don’t know if the show was racist, I just know that it was entertaining to a racist man.