The Toulouse Burlesque Festival, produced by Florence Boué, and Stephane Lafage of Le Kalinka, has a cast crisis on its hands after a dispute over a blackface burlesque act. Eight performers have walked out in protest at the inclusion of the act.
According to information given to 21st Century Burlesque Magazine, local performer Fafa Bulleuse performed a tribute act to Nina Simone which involved ‘blacking up’ on stage and putting on an afro wig. Some of the festival performers found the act offensive and asked the producers to remove the act. The producers refused to do so, and eight performers ultimately decided to walk out.
The striking performers have released the following statement:
An Open Letter:
Due to an egregious incident at the Toulouse Burlesque Festival, we are writing an open letter to explain our actions and the issue at hand. The three day festival, set at La Kalinka in Toulouse, France began on March 9th, 2017. We arrived, we were treated to a lovely cast dinner, enjoyed accommodations provided by the festival and were otherwise having a grand time for most of the evening, and most of the show.
Towards the end of the evening, a great many of us were shocked and dismayed to witness an act that featured full body blackface. While the white performer had intended the act to be a tribute to Nina Simone, regardless, the presence and act of blackface on stage was and is wholly unacceptable.
As a group, we felt that we were unable to participate in a show and a festival featuring such an act. After much discussion that evening and throughout the morning, one us spoke with management expressing our concerns and desire for the act to be removed or altered. Our request was met with resistance, and ultimately aggression. We had hoped that through positive discussion we could reach an agreement and find resolution that would not only satisfy all parties involved, but also provide education and a opportunity for those involved with and supporting the act to understand why blackface is deeply offensive.
The management was adamant that they wanted to uphold free speech, and therefore the act would remain in the show, unchanged. Part of the ethos of the venue was asserted to be one that embraces “shock value” and the management declared that if the act was shocking, then so be it. While the performer of said act was upset, she ultimately refused to acknowledge that there was a problem. And there was much incredulity that we were upset in the first place, and told that we were too “politically correct.” In fact, upon catching wind of our reaction of this backstage, after the incident, the manager posted a comment on the public event page this morning (March 10) that “intolerance” was displayed backstage, meaning those that were offended (us) were intolerant.
The quote; “Une jolie soiree! De beaux artistes !! sur la scene, rien a dire !! parfait!! En coulisses par contre on est loin de la tolerance et de l’ouverture d’esprit.. Mais bon c’est visiblement dans l’air du temps.”
Our desire was for the white dancer to cease to perform in full body blackface (she began the act to the song I’m Feeling Good, with a head wrap and large earrings, grabbed a bucket of what appeared to be mud, and proceeded to smear brown makeup on her body. She started with her legs, and moved upward, ultimately covering her full face. Afterward, the music changed to an upbeat tune, she donned an afro wig and finished doing dance moves, dumping confetti on herself for the finale). The shock of this was compounded by the presence of a POC dancer who later performed her Blaxploitation act which is a comment on police brutality and racial injustice.
As a group of professionals, we all uphold the mentality of “The Show Must Go On.” We strove to find a solution that would enable us to continue to perform and fulfill our obligations to the three day festival. We elected to take a stand about this persistent problem of cultural appropriation and racism within burlesque. We decided to uphold our values as performers and citizens of the world, by walking away and refusing to perform.
We traveled from all over the world to attend and were saddened that this happened, not only in the first place, but that we were not truly heard and left without a positive change. We packed our bags in a hurry and felt in many ways nervous and a tinge of worry about our safety as the situation escalated quickly. Those of us who were staying at the venue’s flat next door were kicked out, with no place to go. On top of that, all of our pay was withheld, not only for the entire three day run but, for the night we all performed.
This is not a France versus America problem, as the festival producers were insisting. Our group of dissenters hail from several different countries. This is not just an issue of “politically correct” Americans. This is a global issue and these kind of acts are not okay, under any circumstances, regardless of where you live and where you perform. It is not about “shock value.” This is not about “free speech.” This is about right and wrong.
Lotta Love (Slovakia)
This is not the first time European performers have been called out for racially offensive acts. Last year, Mele Kapunkt and Stormy Heather were criticised for their astonishingly racist burlesque act involving blackface, highlighted on 21st Century Burlesque Magazine by Sadie Sinner and Coco Deville.
Toulouse Burlesque Festival producer Florence Boué also appears to have culturally appropriative acts in her repertoire, and Fafa Bulleuse also performs a questionable Dia de los Muertos burlesque act.
The Toulouse Burlesque Festival has been contacted for comment.
@Stephvivian: Your bullish insistence to continue presenting an act that bills itself as a tribute to a civil rights activist and pioneer, but which sees a white performer black up her entire body and face, don an afro wig and 70’s-style aviator shades and prance about is truly extraordinary. Your only rebuttal to the criticism you have received has been the old ‘freedom of speech’ chestnut, and yes, I will concede, you and Fafa do indeed have the right to say/do what you like, you are not, however, immune to the consequences of your words and deeds, and instead of crying ‘it’s not fair’ when you are challenged, I’d like to suggest you provide something a bit more substantial. I don’t understand the act in question, I don’t understand why it is a ‘tribute’ to Nina Simone, because on the surface it seems a very strange way to honour someone. I’d very much like to hear the defence for this ‘art’ and something about the process of making it, because at what point in deciding to honour a woman who dedicated her life to challenging the way her race was presented and perceived, did blacking up seem like a good idea?
Very proud of those who walked out. Shocking that anyone thought that was acceptable, partic in “honour” of Nina – jeez. And to say the protesters were uptight Anglo-Saxons? Good grief, nationalism and racism as a defence for racism?!!! Brilliant?!!!
Jane, who are you to talk in the name of Nina Simone ?
I think the majority of us are not questioning the fact that Fafa’s intentions were noble. This does not, however, excuse her actions which were thoroughly misguided. Race is not, no should ever be used as a costume. There are dozens of ways to pay tribute to Nina without assuming the color of her skin, which is by extension assuming the black experience.
I am unfortunately not surprised that this happened at a festival Florence produces. She was recently talked to about her Native American act in a war bonnet, and she was COMPLETELY unreceptive. Her defense of being French and therefore not a part of the problematic history is totally laughable and ignorant.
My cabaret was the setting for a new conflict for me:
8 performers (the majority from English-speaking countries) decided to leave the burlesque festival of Toulouse after only one evening ( they were initially engaged for 3 days).
The reason for this conflict: A performance on stage where was a so-called “Black face” -A number created for the Festival by ‘Fafa Bulleuse’ a French performer. It is a sincere and from the heart tribute to Nina Simone. This number is between a tribute to Nina and transformism, a moment of poetry and finesse full of respect. To incarnate her character she partially paints her body and face on stage, gradually changing. She does this with body paint and not with mud as one may have read.
Shocked by this performance, the 8 performers represented masterfully by a spokesman decided to make us a proposal (or rather blackmail us by their proposal :
If Fafa Bulleuse performed in the evening, they would not go on stage. We discussed this together and could not reach an amiable agreement. I did not want to take away the performance of Fafa and much less change it. Following my refusal, they began to try and negotiate: Here are the proposals that were made to me in order :
1-Fafa leaves and they remain on stage
2-Fafa remains but does not use painting, apologizes to the 8 performers, and one of the performers produces Fafa’s number in the afternoon AND ‘educates’ Fafa in order to redo his number
3-Fafa remains and performs with them but uses a paint brush to paint
I of course maintained my position since I find Fafa’s performance simply beautiful, respectful and very well interpreted. I do not see any racism, on the contrary.
There was therefore no alternative or possible arrangement.
So they left.
Of course Thursday evening they were paid (some left very quickly and with bashing). We must not believe everything that has been written. We are very honest people.
My cabaret is a special place in the world of entertainment. The owners and bosses are artists above all and our establishment is a space of freedom. I know in advance all of the performances that I program and therefore I have validated them. So I can not give in to any pressure!
We are open, tolerant and curious, nothing frightens us and I like to discover new artists, new disciplines. And we are not a burlesque-oriented establishment. This discipline does not even represent 10% of our programming. We welcome dance, theater, performances, exhibitions … (more than 130 shows per year !). Our reputation is one of integrity and open-mindedness.
Obviously, I am against the Black Face, of course I hate racism and discrimination, !! In this case, the reactions were disproportionate (as this spokesperson and several of the 8 performers did not even see the performance of Fafa since they were backstage or in the dressing rooms !) and only exacerbated the discussion by an outrageous attempt at negotiating.
My decision was taken at the beginning of the conflict: I will never give way to blackmail! It is my cabaret, these are my values that I defend!
In short I assume that they thought that if they all left, the festival would stop and therefore I would be obliged to give in. But no not at all !! I think enough artists feel at home in our cabaret and within an hour I had a new show and artists ready to perform for the evening show !
And last night we triumphed !! Of course before starting the show, we shared everything with the audience without hiding anything and allowing them to judge Fafa’s performance for themselves. Nobody saw racism in his performance,people were moved and touched and Fafa received an ovation.
Be careful not to be mistake your opponent !! We are in France and this movement/reaction is Anglo-Saxon !!
We do not make an innocent person cry all night long, we do not shame someone like that !! It will take a long time for Fafa to recover! Shame on you for trying to make a performance pass for what it is not at all !!
The letter from these 8 artists is sincere and mine is too.
We can live together and not think alike. I have my conscience for myself, my integrity is intact AND I can look at myself in the mirror !!
No one is indispensable, no one is irreplaceable, we had proof last night.
And it goes without saying that Lady Flore who co-organizes the Festival with me agrees and validates my remarks.
My god….have we all reached the bottom now…. it was an artists impression on a subject..i think its ridicculous to call this racist just because there is brown paint involved… if in her act there was any sign of cruelty or surpression maybe than it would be jutifiable to ask her to change her act or even withdraw her act but as it was a tribute that was not the case..
I hope people stop fanning the flames of hate and the way i look at this…. this is clearly a very misplaced so called correct move to get your name in a paper… i find it pathetic….and i hope the organisation will sue these artists for the dammage they did to the festival and for the cost of hotels they stayed in….
If U want to know who rules U, pay attention to those U cannot mock, criticize or satirize without it being called hate speech.
Granny: If you knew anything about Nina Simone, you’d know that she would not have felt honored by this. Art has value, this has none. Now go listen to Strange Fruit over and over until you understand why Nina would not have appreciate this.
Granny, your ignorance is showing.
That isn’t art.
“Art” Is not a carte-blanche to profit off the back of oppression. You do not get to make money, promote, or condone human rights violations (LIKE RACISM) under the guise of creative license and expect us all to suck it up. Yes, freedom of speech is a thing. Freedom of speech gives you the right to expression free of government intervention. You know what else is a thing? Community accountability. Which is the purview of our fellow artists.
Bravo to those who live their values and don’t let themselves be gaslit into squeezing every last bit of exploitability from our fellow artists and performers. Bravo for the leaders that reveal themselves when they find themselves in an important cultural flashpoint. I hope we can all be so brave and demonstrate such tact and insightfulness.
Granny in HotPants–why can’t the performer in question perform her tribute without resorting to putting on blackface? Blackface is a style of entertainment based on racist stereotypes of people of color. The performers painted themselves black in order to portray characters who were meant to be ridiculed, not celebrated. Therefore, anyone even remotely knowledgeable about history would know that painting oneself dark is not an appropriate way to show tribute to a black artist. Ignorance is never an excuse. A quick internet search of the word Blackface clearly demonstrates its offensiveness from its very inception.
Granny, covering yourself in mud to simulate black skin is not a tribute and is not art. It’s disgusting, discriminatory and offensive. #blackfacehistory. Look it up.
If it is a tribute, who the hell are you people to stop her?
#ART Look it up.