What I’m going to show you may be surprising, may be confusing, may be upsetting. Just trust me on this. You won’t believe what you see.
In the 1970’s, there were television dramas that featured detectives and police officers who were – for lack of a better term – different. There was Longstreet, which featured a blind detective. There was Sarge, which featured a police officer who left his badge behind to join the priesthood.
But what if I showed you a drama that featured a detective … who wore blackface?
Welcome to the television drama Boney.
Boney is based on a series of Australian novels about a half-Aboriginal, half-English police detective (name of “Bonaparte”). The novels were very popular, and eventually plans were set for an Australian television drama series about the popular detective.
I should note, however, that when casting the lead actor for the role of Bonaparte, the producers claimed to have looked all over Australia for an Aboriginal actor who could play the part to the producer’s liking. Having not found one to fit their expectations, they eventually settled on New Zealand actor James Laurenson to play Bonaparte.
Oh, and did I forget to mention that Laurenson was white?
And that he had to wear black makeup for the role?
Granted, Boney did feature Aboriginal actors in the series – mostly as tribal elders and the like – but casting a white New Zealander as a black Aboriginal Australian is just way beyond the boundaries of common sense.
And the crazy thing is … the show was popular. It stayed on Australian TV for two seasons, 26 episodes in all, and a third season was planned before Laurenson withdrew from the role, saying he didn’t want to be typecast as Boney.
There’s only one episode of Boney on YouTube, and you can see it above. It looks more like Bonaparte is the spiritual ancestor of Adrian Monk or Lt. Columbo, as he seems to notice tiny details that bypass everybody else when it comes to solving crimes.
But I’m sorry, I still can’t get past the fact that they had to find a white man to play a black character. Or that it was completely accepted as normal. You’re telling me there wasn’t a single Aboriginal actor that could have played an Aboriginal detective?
Oh, by the way – there was one very long-lasting popular offshoot of the Boney TV series … the name “Boney” was appropriated by a 1970’s disco band.
You know … these guys.