Comedian Billy Crystal drew criticism just a few minutes into the Academy Awards when he revisited a Sammy Davis Jr. impersonation, in blackface, that he once performed on Saturday Night Live. The filmed skit featuring Crystal talking to Justin Bieber and Sammy Davis Jr. (actually Crystal in makeup) was a take on Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, and immediately sparked complaints on Twitter. But someone very dear to the late iconic black actor’s heart seems to have viewed the bit in an entirely different light.
While the nine-time Oscar host’s skit about the late Rat Packer, who passed away in 1990, was interpreted as being racist and offensive to many, Davis’ daughter embraced it.
Tracey Davis has spoken out on the controversy, telling The Hollywood Reporter: “I am 100 percent certain that my father is smiling.” Tracey also noted that the impersonation was one of Crystal’s most popular during the 1980s. “Billy previously played my father when he was alive, and my father gave Billy his full blessing,” she continues, noting that Saturday Night Live gave the imitation “legendary status.”
Davis did, however, take issue with using the word “blackface,” attributing the term born in the 1800s to describe white actors in makeup playing black characters to early film stars like Al Jolson.
Still, Davis’ daughter shared great admiration for Crystal. “I know the mutual love, respect and admiration that you had for each other and for his kids, Jeff, Mark and I,” she says. “Thank you.”
Others never warmed up to the skit. When Octavia Spencer won supporting actress for “The Help,” comedian Paul Scheer, for example, tweeted her win “shows just how far we’ve come since Billy Crystal performed in blackface.”
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