Some Thoughts on the Black Mime Character in GTA V: Outplaying GTA V with Machinima Paidia – an Artist Statement

“Skin mods and texture packs. Downloadable content and pre-order bonus.

[...] [D]igital minstrelsy. Your gift blackface.”1

- Larry Achiampong and David Blandy, A Terrible Fiction

Screenshot from Outplaying GTA V with Machinima Paidia, Luka*s Friedland 2023

In this text I would like to talk a bit about my machinima Outplaying GTA V with Machinima Paidia. As this machinima is a visualizer for a longer essay, titled The Impossibility of Resurrecting Hundreds of Dead Animals: Outplaying Violence in and the Rules of Video Games, of about 94 pages, I don’t want to get into depth too much (again), but I want to specifically just focus on my use of GTA V’s Black mime artist character in this shorter and less formal essay-statement. As the mime in GTA V is a fixed Black character with “whiteface” (and therefore: appearing whiter for a supposedly white target audience?), the possible political problematicness would be inscribed into the very structure of the game, which I am also talking about a bit in my other, longer text. In this text here, however, I just want to share and sort some thoughts and materials, without providing any definitive conclusion or anything whatsoever, and also to maybe learn something along the way myself. Most importantly, as I usually have trouble with that, I would explicitly like to keep this text short and condensed and not significantly longer than about 10 pages.

Like with all of the artistic things I make, due to my overarching concept of my artistic works as a huge rhizomatic web, I myself don’t want to overestimate single individual artworks within it and always ask my audience to do so as well. This is probably a different approach towards art and creating than other artists have, as their Œuvre is usually smaller and thus every single work in it is significant; whereas to me, in the end only the overarching conceptual view onto everything I make counts in an Œuvre that ideally evades its audience. Kind of a content-creator-approach to art where the artists individual “brand” domesticated by capitalism is more important than the single pieces of content; even though, contrary to that, I would like to have a framework wherein the artist disappears behind their art and is merely an executor-machine of intertextual creation rather than some kind of ominous “genius” figure. Not to give depression to much of a voice here, but: I would love to disappear, physically at least. No more bodily co-presence, only mediated behind-screen traces of existence.

Generally, I didn’t modify anything for making my short film, I only used characters, their appearances and the “god mode” etc. provided by the in-game Director Mode. I don’t have any knowledge and experience with modding, and I always love to work with “the vanilla player experience” as this is the one intended by the developers and also the one that most players do experience and therefore the most culturally significant. Every mod then exists as an override onto this experience and thus has to be contextualized in comparison to the “original” experience anyways.

For my machinima, I just thought about situations and characters that would fit my essay, and also I just picked avatars that I liked or that I found interesting in some way and that I wanted to bring into interaction with the game’s system(s). During watching my footage for editing (the day before my presentation on June 23rd lol), I also felt that there were quite some moments in which animal avatars and human avatars did similar things in this game world, which then, as I did some previous research on machinima during this semester, reminded me of for example Alan Butler’s video installation On Exactitude in Science (2017), consisting of Butler recreating the experimental documentary Koyaanisqatsi (R: Godfrey Reggio, USA 1982) in GTA V as KoyaanisGTAV and displaying the result next to the original film in a comparative approach2.

In her text Representing Race and Disability, Rachael Hutchinson writes:

I argue that to understand the representation of race in video games, it must be placed in the context of the narrative whole. Diegetic elements such as character motivation and gameplay dynamics like player-character identification must be taken into account”3.

If one writes about this Black mime artist character, I should therefore add more context to this character within the game. As one can read on the GTA Wiki, all mimes are depicted as African-American people4, and they are voiced by Gregg Goldston, who is a mime and theatre performer in real-life5 – and not a Black person. Of course, I would criticize this casting decision, but it goes to show that there definitely is a problematic relationship to the social construct of race inscribed into this game.

My personal decision to use this character in my machinima was because this avatar looked interesting in its theatricality, as I as a “theatre kid” always am a fan of theatrical figures, practices and elements in digital games, mime art is a generally cool practice with a distinct theatrical vibe to it6. I am even planning to write my master’s thesis on a theatre-theoretical approach towards digital games, one of my future larger video games will have theatrics at its centre, and a possible PhD thesis definitely would include a part on theatre and video games as well.

I mean, also generally with one of GTA V’s three main characters, Franklin Clinton, the possibility of digital blackface for white players is definitely there. And the GTA series has been already discussed concerning digital blackface. In her reading of the 2004 game GTA: San Andreas, with its Black main character, Hutchinson writes:

Accusations against San Andreas, however, focus on possible actions that players could take with the main character. Because the player embodies a black character, scholars see the gameplay as ‘digital blackface’ or minstrelsy, where the player enjoys the fantasy of playing as the other.7

She further states that some studies overestimate the dominance of white male gamers and overlook that black and other minority players of the game are also enjoying playing as the other when playing8. Hutchinson also notes that the other in question does not have to be racially defined9: The dangerous world of criminal activity is already an other space for most gamers, who enjoy the transgressive environment as an exciting alternative to their own socially acceptable lives10.

One could therefore make an argument of such transgressive experiences of “other” (whatever this even means) as a thing in lots of games’ narratives and characters, and in other media as well, even though this specific player-avatar bodily entanglement relationship is unique to digital games.

This virtual “race tourism”11 in video games can also be a valuable lesson for white privileged people as exemplified by Colin Campbell writing about the use of GTA V as a teaching tool at an elite private school12. If properly framed and critically examined, the problematic content can teach something. But still, as Paul Darvasi is quoted in Campbell’s article: It becomes a commodity. They're adopting blackness as a temporary style“13. I heavily agree with that and would like to add a great blog post by Chandler Pearson, Race and Gender Portrayals in Grand Theft Auto:

Unfortunately, the portrayals of race and gender in GTA are largely negative. The designers create characters whose costume, skin-tone, car, weapon of choice, preferred music genre, and linguistic style evoke common, yet problematic stereotypes. For example, the prominent character Franklin has dark skin; wears baggy jeans, wife-beaters, and varsity jackets; carries a gun; is a member in a gang; and is the product of an abusive father and drug-addicted mother. Franklin clearly evokes a ‘young, Black gangbanger’ stereotype. [...] Without exposure to non-stereotypical representations of Blacks and females in GTA, players create harmful associations between blackness and criminality and females and sexuality.14


In addition to its portrayals of race and gender, GTA creates an opportunity for players to essentially be identity tourists. The mostly white, male players can choose to be an avatar of any race; live in impoverished, crime-ridden neighborhoods; and essentially live the lifestyle of a stereotypical male of color (players do not have the option to be a female avatar). Nevertheless, they do not experience any of the real life consequences that men of color experience. As a result, playing GTA can be a form of digital black face, in which blackness is a commodity as opposed to an identity.15

As a gay person, sexualized depictions of (cis) women oftentimes feel incredibly alien to me and I don’t understand how someone could enjoy that and I don’t understand how (cis) male straight sexuality is a thing, but it is. In other areas I of course am more likely to make mistakes due to for example my socialization as a white person.

All games with open character creators unfortunately allow this “identity tourism”, that Chandler criticizes in the blog post, to be enacted by unaware white players. As I wrote before, the mime characters are fixed as Black in the Director Mode, whereas other characters of the same category, called “Costumes”, like the clown and the astronaut are available as white and Black characters, but the mime isn’t, as is for example the spy character, who in turn doesn’t have a Black avatar model16. When I am playing GTA Online, I am playing as a person that is being read as old and (cis) female, which also doesn’t match my real-life identity. This character is in my personal lore lesbian and aroacespec, and absolutely my inner soul personality. The act of gender swapping, by the way, is a common practice in video games with quite some research on it; I’ve talked about that a bit in another article17. Funnily, as I would like to add, as an agender person, I am of course constantly engaging in gender swapping when playing video games, as there are (next to?) no agender characters in video games at all. When I am playing a cis character, I already inhabit an avatar that doesn’t match my identity, therefore I am, strictly speaking, always engaging in a kind of identity tourism. But of course, there is a specific power dynamic at play when a dominant majority plays as a marginalized minority that just isn’t there when I as a marginalized person am playing as a cis person, and therefore I wouldn’t describe that as identity tourism, or at least as a more subversive and empowering, less harmful version of it. And additionally, due to video games usually not featuring agender characters, I have no other choice. In GTA Online, players can choose from a wide range of character looks, but in the story mode, this possible identity tourism of white players playing as Franklin cannot be avoided in order to progress in the story at all.

To truly prevent these kinds of identity tourism, it would make sense then for game developers to actually implement a restriction feature similar to what the visually and otherwise impressive and energetic game WE ARE HERE BECAUSE OF THOSE THAT ARE NOT (Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, 2020) does with an identity self-disclosure at the beginning, even though this could surely be exploited as well. This game also features a “cis pathway”18, as the game’s developer states in an interview with Otamere Guobadia: This is not a game of trans tourism19. (I got introduced to this game by some video essay I think, but unfortunately I forgot which one it was.)

On a side-note, to me and my personal artistic work, reality is always quite tricky, and I definitely prefer fiction and fabulation over it, and also fiction is inherently important to my poetological rules and aesthetics, which is why I always like to avoid hyper-realism, and also, to me, realism is just kinda ugly. I also usually wouldn’t have the budget to pay for necessarily required sensitivity readings. All the more strange it always is to me that for example the dominant aesthetics of the German literature scene, as well as of capitalism in general of course, are (hyper-)realism, which to me at the same time is a very neuronormative aesthetic mode. Neurodivergent perception of the so-called reality doesn’t necessarily mean “realistic” in a classical sense to me. And this machinima definitely is explicitly staged within the game’s hyper-realism, very conceptual, and so, it might develop a life of its own as an artwork, independent from readings relying onto the so-called “reality”. Even though people regularly make the argument that escaping into fiction, not facing reality, is a position of privilege, this point oftentimes seems to come from a position that doesn’t consider realism as an ableist position of privilege as well. A neurodivergent person’s perception and truth of the world might not match with the dominant societal norms of what “reality” would have to look like, or what “realistic” characters have to be like.

Is a Black character with whiteface problematic? Blackfacing for white people is, but whiteface for Black people would work against the racist, colonial-imperialist power dynamics in society, right? After all, isn’t this mime’s make-up just very exaggerated theatre make-up? White people do that too, so why should it be a problem for a Black character? It would be more a case of “whiting” a Black person, as previously mentioned, but this doesn’t seem to be the case here?

Maybe one just isn't used to seeing Black people performing this theatrical practice, and it is first and foremost neutral, in contrast to the undoubtedly racist blackface? Especially in Germany, actors in theatre ensembles are unfortunately still mostly white, and this only began to change over the last couple of years. For example in 2012 there was a controversy surrounding the use of blackface in a German theatre production, that was then replaced with using whiteface instead – the question remains, if this is a suitable answer, as for example the blog Afro-Europe asks20.

(Those were some of my thoughts/questions while creating the machinima. In art, I am oftentimes a person who first does something and then later actually thinks about it, which might make materializing concept-idea-things somewhat more efficient. After all, my artistic practice is rooted in techniques and aesthetics of early 20th Century European Surrealism, Dada and other historical avant-garde movements highlighting the deconstruction of reasoning and the foregrounding of the subconscious, and which practices I therefore consider to be anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian and anti-fascist. Realism as a sanist-mentalist aesthetic at its core breeds capitalism, breeds fascism.)

In his article Beyond the Pale, James Hannaham writes:

[…] [N]o black comedian can perform in whiteface without implicitly referencing the genre’s roots: blackface comedy, which began when whites still legally owned (and sired) slaves. In 1843, the Virginia Minstrels, a group of white men, darkened their faces with burnt cork, put on raggedy clothes, and plucked banjos at New York’s Bowery Amphitheatre, kicking off a craze that didn’t fizzle out until the twenties. It was the ugliest possible form of popular entertainment […].”21

Hannaham therefore calls whiteface “imitation as revenge”22. But, as for example the 2020 case of ballet dancer Chloé Lopes Gomes shows, where she not only was insulted in a racist way, but also had to put white make-up on her skin, with an intention by the ballet master rooted in racism and accompanied by clearly racist insults23. Sandra Luzina states in an article discussing this case: “White dancers also put on lighter make-up, but when a non-white dancer has to put on white make-up, it's not a purely aesthetic issue. It is an equivalent to the racist practice of blackfacing”24.

In the video essay Why Digital Minstrelsy Is Real, YouTuber Tirrrb talks about the whiteness of YouTube’s leftism and about digital minstrelsy in contemporary online algorithms. In act 2, part 2 of the video, digital minstrelsy is defined as a Black performance meant to cater towards a white audience and the white power structures inherit in online spaces25. Similarly to the examples that Tirrrb analyses, Marvin MacAllister offers the following definition in his book Whiting Up:

I define whiteface minstrelsy as extra-theatrical, social performance in which people of African descent appropriate white-identified gestures, vocabulary, dialects, dress, or social entitlements. Attuned to class as much as race, whiteface minstrels often satirize, parody, and interrogate privileged or authoritative representations of whiteness. Stage Europeans can be defined as black actors appropriating white dramatic characters crafted initially by white dramatists and, later, by black playwrights. Rooted in conventional theatrical practice, this component emphasizes physical and vocal manifestations of whiteness, often relying on visual effects such as white face paint and blonde wigs.”26

I also had to think of debates surrounding the use of emojis and for example that white people perform digital blackface when using emojis and GIFs and memes depicting Black people27. This definitely circles back to my beginning question of and remarks about Black avatars/characters used by white players. Arielle Corringham writes: Internet culture is so steeped in Black culture that the former would truly be unrecognisable without the latter […]28. (Corringham even references the terrible 2021 Thomas Gottschalk incident, where he “““discussed””” racism with other white people and also defended blackfacing, and he was rightfully later heavily criticized29. This being able to have happened only two years ago actually is a great example for how lacking behind the German discourse generally is regarding these things. And yeah, the unfortunate existence of German TV entertainment people, it makes one speechless all the time, what can I even say.) (I’m advocating for a general use of animal memes and emojis btw.) A quote from Larry Achiampong and David Blandy’s A Terrible Fiction:

Do I choose the palest clenched fist? Or is that too white? I’m not super fair. Some people may dream in a world where all social media posts are judged not by the colour of their emoji, but by the content of their ASCII. The racial dynamics inherent in emoji selection are making people uncomfortable. The default is yellow, but this neutrality, even in Springfield, is known to be default white. People of colour are portrayed as people of colour. Not default, not yellow.30

One could also read the mime character with Bertolt Brecht’s estrangement effect, which, as McAllister notes, Daphne Brooks builds upon regarding Black performers employing “Afro-alienation acts”31, which McAllister then describes as suitable for estranging, defamiliarizing and liberating “the spectacle of whiteness”32. By employing white make-up, masks etc., Black performers could then “stage parodic yet distant versions of their European colonizers”33. By whiting up, black artists like Bob Cole and Busta Rhymes have transformed ‘white’ forms into resistant acts, humanized white America, and proven that cross-racial theatrics do not have to denigrate or exclude34. McAllister emphasizes that whiteface minstrel can be such an empowering act for Black performers contrary to blackface: As a site of cross-racial play, whiteface minstrels and stage Europeans have succeeded where blackface minstrelsy failed precisely because these acts reject a top-down, exclusionary performance model35. Brian Logan notes this as well: That's partly why 'whiting up' is more acceptable than blacking up – poking fun works best when directed from disempowered to powerful, not vice versa36.

On the other hand, as McAllister warns, too:

Perhaps whiting up is another opiate for the masses, and the representational powers that be – indulgent slave masters, Broadway producers, comedy club ownershave allowed this artistic commentary from below because they recognized the significant difference between representing race and combating racism.”37

The mime character in GTA V might be created by white-dominated developers, and certainly embedded within white imperialist-capitalist power structures at play, and any empowering effects would then fade away.

In Digital Diaspora, Anna Everett writes that video games’ target player is a “privileged male gaming subject but one who is ‘universalized’ under the sign of whiteness”38, and even though in my longer essay I included more recent positions that disprove a straight white male gamer majority, video games are nonetheless of course embedded in a structurally racist society, and who knows if major game developer studios even know their audience all that well, as in the end it just counts whether something sells or not. The encrypted and encrusted racist ideologies in contemporary video games39 are still omnipresent, and there surely is truth in Everett’s assertion of a white, suburban male youths’ fascination with and consumption of a safe taste of urban-inspired cool40, even years later, as I cited above with for example Pearson’s statements on identity tourism in GTA V. David Leonard, referencing Dr. Dre and bell hooks (Dr. Dre by the way even appearing as himself as a VIP quest giver in multiple missions in GTA Online) calls this the “commodification, fetish and the pimping of a corporate ghettocentric imagination”41. “The payoff in these games’ intertextual relations is their reinforcement of dominant culture’s racist hegemony, and their redeployment and reification of specious racial difference for new generations and their new media culture industries”42. Digital games do carry meanings that represent desirable gaming heroes naturally as predominately white and victims and antagonists naturally as nonwhite others43. […] [R]ace is explicitly absent yet central [...]44, writes Leonard on the GTA games. On politicians and others raising their concern about the violence in these games, he states:

What links together these various voices [...] is [...] the types of games that cause outrage, induce panics, result in anxiety, and warrant governmental/communal intervention: those inside American ghettos and allowing players to ‘become gangstas.’ […] While reflective of a myriad of factors, it is not surprising that GTA3, with its celebration of an Italian mob family [...] and racial tropes, never resulted in national debates and cries for governmental intervention.45

And therefore:

It is not truly about violence, or even the affects of violent [sic!] on youth, but their exposure to particular types of violence, with violence committed by gangsters and criminals, particularly those of color, who also seem to represent a disproportionate number of these characters, against the state identified as a significant threat against the moral and cultural fabric of the nation. Violence committed by the state, whether from a virtual military or police force, which tend to be overwhelmingly white within virtual reality, is certainly not a threat or dangerous to America’s youth; in fact, it seems as if the discourse constructs these type of games as offering a desirable message concerning safety, security and the state, as needed to control the savages who inhabit the Third World or America’s inner cities.46

[…] [I]t is important to remember that the GTA series, [...] and a ghettocentric virtual reality matters because racism kills […]47, Leonard emphasizes. On the other side of that, on video games trying to “get right” their racial representations/characters, Everett critically asks:

Is this fetishization of digital technologies’ ability to render convincing representational signifiers of a limited and specific type of blackness what it means to get it right? And, dare we ask, for whom are we getting it right? After all, the early cinema eventually exchanged white actors in blackface for black ones without significantly changing demeaning and racist film representations of black life and culture.”48

She further states that “the independent video game industry’s discovery of racial diversity as a selling tool is downright scary”49. Indeed, minority representation doesn’t escape capitalist commodification.

To me, virtual-ludic violence ultimately never escapes its ridiculous clownery. Therefore, any clownesk figure seems to be a fitting avatar for reacting performatively to it, as does the army top brass character, and I also just didn’t want to use an all-white character cast all the time. If this mime avatar would be white too, the character would have just faded into a perceived “normality” of whiteness, and one might wouldn’t think about all of these questions in the first place, which doesn’t escape a racist video game norm in this default normalization of whiteness as well.

In the end, and this is really important to highlight, as a white person, I of course definitely do not have the position to give a proper evaluation on this whole topic.

- - - - -

Luka*s Friedland, 24.09.2023

1 Kettle’s Yard (2021): Larry Achiampong and David Blandy A Terrible Fiction, 2019. In: URL: [19.09.2023, 19:24]. TC: 00:05:39-00:05:50.

2 Cf. On Exactitute in Science (2017). In: URL: [18.09.2023, 21:13].

3 Hutchinson, Rachael (2017): Representing Race and Disability: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas as a Whole Text. In: Malkowski, Jennifer and Russworm, TreaAndrea M. (Eds.): Gaming Representation: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Video Games. Indiana University Press, Bloomington (IN) 2017. pp. 164-178. // p. 164.

4 Mimes. In: URL: [24.06.2023, 00:33].

5 Cf. Gregg Goldston. In: URL: [24.06.2023, 00:33].

6 As an illustration of the mime character “in action”, cf. for example Dynasty (2013): Grand Theft Auto 5 | Hidden "Pantomime" Easter Egg! (GTA V). In: URL: [24.06.2023, 00:33].

7 Hutchinson 2017, p. 166. Emphasis in italics in the original.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Campbell, Colin (2017): GTA5 and the problem of privilege. In: URL: [18.09.2023, 22:35].

12 Cf. ibid.

13 Ibid.

14 Pearson, Chandler (2019): Race and Gender Portrayals in Grand Theft Auto. In: URL: [18.09.2023, 22:35].

15 Ibid.

16 Cf. also Director Mode. In: URL: [18.09.2023, 23:12] and Director Mode/Actors. In: URL: [18.09.2023, 23:12].

17 Cf. Friedland, Luka*s (2021): Die Cyborg* hat sich 1 gender geswappt. In: Casjen, Mio and Mirko (Eds.): t*point – Das Magazin. Ausgabe 3. createIT4good e.V., Berlin 2021. URL: [22.08.2023, 23:07].

18 Guobadia, Otamere (2020): This video game celebrates the stories of Black trans people. In: URL: [18.09.2023, 23:32].

19 Ibid.

20 Cf. Afro-Europe (2012): Blackface and Whiteface in German theatre. In: URL: [19.09.2023, 18:06]. Cf. also Stenitzer, Nikolaus (2012): Durchs Goldfischglas gesehen. In: URL: [19.09.2023, 18:06].

21 Hannaham, James (2004): Beyond the Pale. In: URL: [19.09.2023, 18:06].

22 Ibid. Cf. also Oelze, Sabine (2022): Candice Breitz im Museum Folkwang: Mit dem „Whiteface“ gegen rassistische Vorurteile. In: URL: [19.09.2023, 18:06].

23 Cf. Luzina, Sandra (2020): „Das Problem ist die Institution, die Tradition“: Tänzerin erhebt Rassismus-Vorwürfe gegen Staatsballett Berlin. In: URL: [19.09.2023, 18:06].

24 Cf. ibid. Translated by LF.

25 Cf. Tirrrb (2023): Why Digital Minstrelsy Is Real. In: URL: [19.09.2023, 20:36]. Cf. also true (2023): The Never-Ending Cycle of Modern Minstrelsy. In: URL: [19.09.2023, 21:59].

26 MacAllister, Marvin (2011): Whiting Up: Whiteface Minstrels and Stage Europeans in African American Performance. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill (NC) 2011. p. 1.

27 Cf. for example Sand, Fabienne (2019): Warum es problematisch sein kann, wenn eine weiße Person ein Emoji mit dunkler Haut benutzt. In: URL: [19.09.2023, 22:35]; Corringham, Arielle (2021): You’re probably guilty of digital blackface. Yes, you. In: URL: [19.09.2023, 22:35] and Robertz, Andreas (2021): Rassismuskritik: Digital Blackfacing. In: URL: [19.09.2023, 22:35].

28 Corringham 2021.

29 Cf. ibid. and Hume, Tim (2021): An All-White Panel on German TV Decided Racism Wasn’t a Big Deal. In: URL: [19.09.2023, 22:50].

30 Kettle’s Yard 2021, TC: 00:07:25-00:08:09.

31 MacAllister 2011, p. 158.

32 Ibid.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid., p. 4.

35 Ibid., p. 264.

36 Logan, Brian (2007):Do the white thing. In: URL: [20.09.2023, 18:28].

37 MacAllister 2011, p. 263.

38 Everett, Anna (2009): Digital Diaspora: A Race for Cyberspace. State University of New York Press, Albany (NY) 2009. p. 111.

39 Ibid., p. 112.

40 Ibid., p. 116.

41 Leonard, David (2006): Virtual Gangstas, Coming to a Suburban House Near You: Demonization, Commodification, and Policing Blackness. In: Garrelts, Nate (Ed.): The Meaning and Culture of Grand Theft Auto: Critical Essays. [eBook] McFarland & Company, Jefferson (NC) and London 2006. pp. 69-93. // p. 70.

42 Everett 2009, p. 120.

43 Ibid., p. 124.

44 Leonard 2006, p. 70.

45 Ibid., p. 73. Emphasis in italics in the original.

46 Ibid., pp. 73-74.

47 Ibid., p. 91.

48 Everett 2009, p. 117.

49 Ibid.