New X Factor judge Shelton Woolright defends use of blackface

UNDER FIRE: New X Factor judge Shelton Woolright
Shelton Woolright/Facebook

UNDER FIRE: New X Factor judge Shelton Woolright

New X Factor judge Shelton Woolright has defended his use of blackface as a "form of expression and a point of difference".

Images which are accessible through his (now private) Facebook page and Twitter account feature the I Am Giant and former Blindspott drummer with a painted black face during performances.


Shelton Woolright and Natalie Bassingthwaighte are the new X Factor judges

Natalia Kills and Willy Moon break silence

Blackface – the act of putting on makeup to represent a black person – has a racist history, says Dr Nabeel Zuberi, a senior lecturer in media, film and TV at the University of Auckland.

'POINT OF DIFFERENCE': New X Factor judge Shelton Woolright in blackface
Shelton Woolrigh/Facebook

'POINT OF DIFFERENCE': New X Factor judge Shelton Woolright in blackface

However, Woolright defends his actions.

"My love of music and creativity means I have become not only a drummer in a hard rock band, but also a photographer and artist," he says.

"I grew up listening to and watching alternative bands like KISS, Mudvayne and Tool who all created stage costumes for their performances.

"Just like my influencers, the black face paint has been part of my stage performance for various shows and videos and and has been a developing concept.  As with my full body tattoos, it has been a form of expression and a point of difference.  

"As an alternative hard rock artist, I'm looking for ways to enhance my performances - to create attention and develop my stage persona - I love being creative, and it is as simple as that.  Creating a show that is enjoyable and different for audiences to watch"

A Mediaworks spokeswoman says Woolright's artistic history is unrelated to The X Factor NZ and it wouldn't be appropriate for the organisation to comment.

BLACKFACE: New X Factor judge Shelton Woolright
Shelton Woolright/Facebook

BLACKFACE: New X Factor judge Shelton Woolright

Zuberi says blackface took off with the rise of popular culture and minstrel shows, where white people would burn cork to black themselves up and pretend to be African American characters.

"I think people don't have a sense of the demeaning history. It's about perpetuating racist stereotypes – basically thinking white people can appropriate anything and it doesn't matter."

However, he says some people can use blackface to criticise racism.

"In Spike Lee's Bamboozled, he's an African American film maker, but is making fun of that."

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The photos are not the only X Factor-related blackface incident with new behind-the-scenes X Factor Raw host, Caito Potatoe, receiving backlash for a makeup tutorial she did a few weeks ago.

In a video titled Rihanna Makeup Tuturioal the 17-year-old vlogger, who has more than 200,000 Facebook fans, paints her face a dark colour.

She later deleted the video after a torrent of online criticism and apologised to her Twitter followers.

"Hi guys, I'm really sorry to anyone who I offended with my video. That certainly wasn't my intention and I've now removed the video."

Woolright and Natalie Bassingthwaighte replaced controversial judges Natalia Kills and Willy moon, who were fired from the show following their on-air tirade last Sunday night.

Following Thursday afternoon's naming of the new judges, former X Factor Judges Natalia Kills and Willy Moon broke their silence and released statements.

Bassingthwaighte will be mentoring the boys and Woolright will mentor the groups category.

Kiwi Woolright got his break-through with rock band Blindspott but formed British-based I Am Giant in 2008 with New Zealanders Paul Matthews, Max O'Donnell and Brit Ed Martin.

Woolright was rumoured to be one of the replacement judges leading up to Thursday's announcement.

His Facebook page erupted on Monday night with posts congratulating him on the role.

However, he told presenters on the radio station The Edge he only received a call asking him to be one of the new judges on Wednesday night.

Other New Zealand black face controversies

-  Burgerfuel Head Office apologised for a publicity stunt in 2013 where the Parnell store in Auckland had a man paint his face black and hand out fliers to promote the Jamaican Burger, "Usain Poultry".

-  Last year the University of Canterbury's Engineering Society apologised after a parody video, which featured an actor with blackface portraying 50 Cent, caused uproar.

-  Bar 101 in Hamilton held a jungle party this year as part of O-Week and some women went in blackface – as part of an "aborigine" costume – the photos were posted to the Bar's Facebook page and went viral.


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