You don't have to look very far to find examples of gringos playing white Cubans in American culture: There's Taran Killam's portrayal of Marco Rubio on Saturday Night Life. Jimmy Fallon dressing as Pitbull on The Tonight Show. Of course, Al Pacino in Scarface. Some examples have been met with criticism and mild controversy, but none have reached the level of "this is unequivocally problematic" outrage often found on the internet. Of course, none of these example involved the actor painting his face brown.
Well, today Paula Deen, still on probation from her 2013 racial controversies, posted a photo on Twitter of her dressed as Lucy Ricardo from I Love Lucy. Standing next to her was her son, Bobby Deen, in brown makeup, ostensibly supposed to resemble Desi Arnaz as his character Ricky Ricardo.
The internet was not pleased. Not one bit.
Ricky wasn't even that dark, Jesus Paula Deen is butter soaked stupid— Take Down That Flag (@CerromeRussell) July 7, 2015
do you care that you are this racist or is their too much butter coursing through your veins for logic to properly circulate? @Paula_Deen— Nah Champa (@hatzigsut) July 7, 2015
Hey @Paula_Deen, how is it you can remember recipes but can't remember not to be racist?— Jason Paradis (@JasonParadis) July 7, 2015
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SHOW ME HOW
However, the photo is apparently not recent. It dates back to a 2011 episode of Deen's show. It says a lot about both changes in mainstream discourse and our perception of the Deens that this is only becoming controversial four years after the fact.
Predictably, there's also a stream of tweets claiming this isn't a big deal.
But it's quite telling that Bobby Deen's efforts to dress up as Ricky Ricardo pretty much involved only brownface, and a brown quite a few shades darker than Arnaz's own skin tone. A good Ricky Ricardo costume (and Google search brings up quite a few examples) should involve a big head of slicked-back hair (male wigs exist!), a nice suit, and maybe a conga drum. It's like the Deens looked at the character, realized he didn't quite meet traditional American standards of what was white, and decided to paint Bobby's face brown. It's creepy — almost as creepy as a mother and son portraying American television's most iconic married couple.
Deen, of course, has since deleted the tweet and the accompanying photo.