Blackface row in Spain: Outrage after white actor ‘paints himself black’ to portray Balthasar in a Three Kings video for children

ANOTHER Three Kings Day in Spain, another ‘blackface’ row. 

In what is becoming a tradition as closely observed as Christmas and Three Kings Day themselves, a row has broken out in Spain over the practice of a white actor painting his face black to portray Balthasar, one of the Wise Men. 

This year the controversy has broken out in the Chamartin district in the north of Madrid, after the council sent out personalised videos to children in which King Balthasar delivers personalised messages. 

The white actor wearing 'blackface' in a video from the Madrid council
The white actor wearing ‘blackface’ in a video from the Madrid council. Twitter

But not only is the actor wearing black makeup, but is also employing an exaggerated accent, imitating someone who does not have a firm grasp of Spanish.

Parents in the Chamartin district had the chance to request one of the personalised videos between December 1 and 26, according to online daily El Español. Then, between January 4 and 5, their children were due to receive a message via WhatsApp.

Some of the videos received featured the white actor wearing blackface. 

Sources from the local council, however, gave an explanation to El Español as to why a white actor had been used. 

“Balthasar has recorded messages according to the availability of the different kings, given that they have had a lot of events in recent days,” the sources told the newspaper. “The last two Balthasars have had Covid, and as a last resort, the company [hired to create the videos] had to rely on one who is not black.”

The council also said that it would apologise to the families who received the video featuring the white actor, news agency Europa Press reported. 

Traditionally, white Spaniards would wear blackface at Kings Day parades across the country, but in recent years the practice has been causing more and more controversy, not just at home but also in the foreign press.

There have been increasing calls for the practice to be scrapped, and in more and more parades in recent years Black people have portrayed Balthasar instead. 

Using the hashtag #stopblackfaceinspain, the anti-racism media outlet Afrofemininas posted the following message on their X (formerly Twitter) account on January 2.

“It doesn’t matter what you think you are trying to represent. It doesn’t matter that you think it makes the children happy. It doesn’t matter if it’s a tradition. If you paint yourself to caricature a black character, it’s racist,” the message read. 

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