2nd Edition

Michael Jackson and the Blackface Mask

By Harriet J. Manning Copyright 2023
    184 Pages 20 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Michael Jackson challenged the power structure of the American music industry and struck at the heart of blackface minstrelsy, America’s first form of mass entertainment. The response was a derisive caricature that over time Jackson subverted through his art.

    In this expanded, all-new edition, Michael Jackson and the Blackface Mask argues for the tangible relationship between Jackson and blackface minstrelsy. It reveals the dialogue at minstrelsy’s core and, in its broader sense, tracks a centuries-long pattern of racial oppression and its resistance and how that has been played out in popular theatre. Michael Jackson and the Blackface Mask explores Jackson’s early talent and fame and the birth and escalation of ‘Wacko Jacko’. In relation to all this, the book examines Jackson’s dynamic art as it evolved, from his live performances and short films to the very surface of his own body.

    Scholarly and interdisciplinary, this work is suitable for readers across a diverse spectrum of academic fields, including African American studies, popular music studies and cultural theory, media and communication, gender studies and performance and theatre studies. Academic but accessible, this book will also be an engaging read for anyone interested in Michael Jackson and especially in his role as an icon of difference, in America’s dynamics of race and his mass media image.

    Introduction: Michael Jackson and the Afterlife of Blackface Minstrelsy  1. ‘Billie Jean’ at Motown 25: Blackface Minstrelsy for a New Generation  2. ‘Weel About and Turn About and Do Jis So’: The Demands and Desires of Antebellum Minstrel Theatre  3. ‘It’s Black, It’s White’: Hollywood, Racial Stereotypes and the Blackface Mask  4. ‘We Wear the Mask That Grins and Lies’: The Black Minstrel Tradition  5. ‘Wacko Jacko’: Michael Jackson’s Misrepresentation and Its Strategic Resistance  6. ‘The Truth of Lust, Woman to Man’: The (Re)masculation of Michael Jackson  7. ‘Come and Rescue Me Out of This Storm’: The Question of Michael Jackson’s Legacy


    Harriet J. Manning is Associate Researcher at Newcastle University, UK.

    "Michael Jackson and the Blackface Mask is one of those rare works that excels on both the macro and micro level. Manning provides detailed, insightful analyses of some of Jackson’s most important performances, while also skillfully placing them within American performance traditions spanning more than a century. Manning shows how those traditions have shaped the perceptions, beliefs and even the very identity of white Americans, especially, and how Jackson forcefully challenged both those misperceptions and the traditions that gave rise to them. I have a much better understanding now of blackface minstrelsy – and, more than that, of American racial history – and how the 'cacophony' surrounding Jackson fits into that."

    Willa Stillwater, author of M Poetica: Michael Jackson’s Art of Connection and Defiance, USA


    "The first edition was a clear leader in its field, the second revised and expanded edition is one of the finest pieces of scholarship that I have reviewed in recent years … Its history from below of the minstrelsy traditions, white and Black audiences and performers, postbellum U.S. theatre, racialization and politics and the contemporary reception of Jackson is deft, intense and revealing."

    Martyn Hudson, University of Northumbria, UK