A reality TV singing competition in Poland is under fire after two contestants used blackface to imitate Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé during an episode that aired over the weekend.
“Your Face Sounds Familiar” (or, in Polish, “Twoja Twarz Brzmi Znajomo”) appears in multiple countries, including the United States, where it ran on ABC for one season in 2014 and was called “Sing Your Face Off.” The show encourages contestants to recreate the appearance and sound of famous singers as accurately as possible.
In Saturday’s episode of “Your Face Sounds Familiar,” the singer Kuba Szmajkowski won with his rendition of Mr. Lamar’s “Humble.” Mr. Szmajkowski performed in blackface and wore his hair in cornrows in order to look like Mr. Lamar.
Mr. Szmajkowski posted video of his transformation to his 163,000 Instagram followers, with the caption “get ready with Kendrick.” The video showed the singer in front of a mirror getting multiple layers of makeup applied. A representative for Mr. Szmajkowski did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
While Mr. Szmajkowski’s post about his transformation received thousands of likes, hundreds of people commented on it, many of them expressing criticism and anger.
“This is top racism. Do you not see how inappropriate this is? Not to mention offensive? Wrong,” one user wrote.
Another contestant in Saturday’s episode, Pola Gonciarz, performed Beyoncé’s “If I Were a Boy,” also using blackface in an effort to evoke the look of the superstar.
“Your Face Sounds Familiar” is produced by Endemol Shine Poland, which is owned by the French company Banijay. In a statement, the company said, “Banijay condemns Endemol Shine Poland’s local execution of ‘Your Face Sounds Familiar,’ which contradicts our group’s global values.” A spokeswoman declined to provide more details until an investigation is completed.
It’s not the first time the program has come under fire for the use of blackface. In 2021, a white contestant wore blackface to portray Kanye West performing “Stronger.”
In response to that criticism, the show said the negative comments were surprising. “The Polish edition of the show, seen as exemplary abroad, always tries to show great performances, which strive to be as close to the original as possible,” an Instagram post from the show read at the time.
This time around, “Your Face Sounds Familiar,” which is in its 19th season, has not yet publicly responded.
The show’s Instagram account indicates that multiple contestants have dressed in blackface to perform as Black singers, including Snoop Dogg, Ray Charles, Bill Withers and Missy Elliott. Mia Moody-Ramirez, a professor at Baylor University in Texas who specializes in how race is portrayed in the media, said Mr. Szmajkowski’s performance was particularly offensive because of the combination of blackface, cornrows and his use of a racial slur, which is among the song’s lyrics.
She said the continued use of blackface on the show might be because the stigma surrounding it is smaller in Poland, which has a population that is overwhelmingly white, than it is in the United States. About 97 percent of Poland’s population identifies as ethnically Polish, according to Minority Rights Group International.
“We are living in a global society,” Dr. Moody-Ramirez said. “If it is produced in one country, it is going to be seen around the world.”
In the United States, blackface dates back to early 19th-century minstrel shows, and the racist tradition — even though widely condemned — has persisted, showing up at bachelor parties, in old photos of politicians and elsewhere. The popularity of blackface was at its height in the early 20th century and has waned sharply since the 1950s, but it has not disappeared around the world.
In Europe, too, there has been something of a reckoning. In Britain in 2020, some comedy shows that included blackface or racial slurs were removed from streaming platforms, including BBC’s iPlayer and Netflix. And in the Netherlands, a holiday tradition in which people dress in blackface to portray Black Pete, a servant to St. Nicholas, is slowly changing.