Black Fridays: Transatlantic Entertainments and the Racial Construction of Robinson Crusoe’s Man Friday

Victoria Pettersen Lantz


Since Robinson Crusoe was first adapted into a staged pantomime in 1781, Crusoe’s companion has been a stereotypical comedic native. By the late 1800s, the narrative was one of the most popular texts for children, and British and American stages filled with comedic revisions of Defoe’s characters. In this paper, I argue that transatlantic popular cultural exchanges transformed Friday into a fusion of blackface panto-minstrel caricature by the 20th century. I trace the historical staging of Friday in popular entertainments such as pantomime in England and the colonies, Jim Crow blackface performances in America and London, Al Jolson musicals, and animated cartoons. These theatrical and cinematic representations played on racial stereotypes, and Friday became a clown figure in the Euro-American collective imagination. In considering these representations, I explore racial constructions of Friday, the colonial power dynamics inherent in the original narrative, and the transatlantic exchange of ideas through popular entertainment.

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Popular Entertainment Studies ISSN 1837-9303