Entertainment

Amid controversy, Miami theater eliminates blackface in Spanish-language play

A Miami actress performs in blackface and her audience 'loves it'

Tres Viudas en un Crucero (three widows on a cruise), playing at the Teatro Trail near Little Havana, features light-skinned Cuban actress Marta Velasco smeared with dark makeup, exaggerated red lips, thick, drawn-in eyebrows and an afro wig.
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Tres Viudas en un Crucero (three widows on a cruise), playing at the Teatro Trail near Little Havana, features light-skinned Cuban actress Marta Velasco smeared with dark makeup, exaggerated red lips, thick, drawn-in eyebrows and an afro wig.

Miami’s Teatro Trail has modified a Spanish-language play to stop including a character in blackface and change some of the content in the show. The changes are effective this weekend.

The play "3 Viudas en un Crucero" (Three Widows on a Cruise), which has been showing since January, featured light-skinned actress Marta Velasco smeared with dark makeup, exaggerated red lips, thick, drawn-in eyebrows and an Afro wig. A trailer of the play posted on YouTube shows Velasco pounding her chest, with her legs wide open while saying "Bailar, tomar y gozar como tres gorilas" (to dance, drink and have fun like three gorillas).

The theater explained the decision in a statement posted on social media and signed by Marisol Correa, the venue's director. It says:

“Our mission has always been clear: to provide healthy entertainment through the arts and culture for the entire population of South Florida. Because of the controversy surrounding one of the characters in the show “3 Viudas en un Crucero” (3 Widows in a Cruise) — a work conceived without the intention of offending any race, creed, or social condition — its director and writer, Pedro Román, the actress, Marta Velasco, and the Trail Theater have made the decision to change the appearance of the character, modify texts, and thereby avoid misunderstandings to stay consistent with our mission.”

In the statement the theater also announced that it will hold a conference on topics related to cultural sensitivity and theater history. The event will be held at 8 p.m. June 28 in the Catharsis hall, the same room where the play is showing. The conference will be led by Orlando J. Addison, founder of the Ernesto Gamboa project and the Afro Latino Heritage Excellence Summit, celebrated recently in Miami.

“We are sure that through the dissertation and mutual respect we can continue to build a completely inclusive community,” the statement says.

The Herald reported about the play and the character in blackface last week. At that time, those involved with the show said they had never received any complaints from the audience about the character, which is part of the Cuban vernacular theater tradition.

Blackface, a form of theater makeup used by non-black actors to represent a caricature of a black person in minstrel shows that became popular in the 1830s, has long been considered offensive and racist across the United States. The theater was a place where white actors in blackface mocked African Americans and made light of slavery and racism. That kind of performance helped perpetuate stereotypes about black people and excluded blacks from performing arts for more than a century.

The blackface style of performance ended in the U.S. in the 1960s with the rise of the Civil Rights movement.

On Saturday, Marisol Correa told the Herald that the decision to modify the play wasn’t a difficult one.

“We never thought that this was going to be such a sensitive issue for this community and since the character was not created with the intention of hurting anyone, we have changed it,” Correa said. “We are an evolving society, constantly changing and the theater is an instrument to unite, to communicate and understand each other.”

Follow Brenda Medina on Twitter: @BrendaMedinar
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