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Dan Aykroyd Looks Back at a ‘Trading Places’ Scene That Didn’t Age Well

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures / murraymomo / MovieStillsDB
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures / murraymomo / MovieStillsDB

It was 40 years ago when Canadian actor Dan Aykroyd participated in a Hollywood practice that has since been deemed highly inappropriate. He recently reflected on when he wore dark makeup in a scene from Trading Places, and noted that it would not fly these days. He also reflected on the changing sensitivities in the comedy world in the four decades since the film’s release.

The film was an absolute success

Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy smiling in suits.
Trading Places became a massive hit when it was released on June 8, 1983. (Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures / diannecan / MovieStillsDB)

When Trading Places hit theaters in 1983, it became a commercial success. While it never claimed the top spot in box office sales, it did spend seventeen straight weeks in the top ten-highest-grossing films. It also earned the title of the fourth-highest-grossing film that year.

The movie, directed by John Landis, follows Aykroyd as the rich commodities broker Louis Winthorpe III and Eddie Murphy as the poor street hustler Billy Ray Valentine. These two men of different social tiers are the subjects of a bet that sees them switching their financial situations.

Aykroyd used dark makeup in the movie

Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy smiling in suits.
A scene in the film saw Dan Aykroyd’s face painted with dark makeup, accompanied by his wearing of a wig with dreadlocks, to give the appearance that he was a Jamaican man.(Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures / diannecan / MovieStillsDB)

During the film, a revenge plot sees Aykroyd sporting dark makeup and dreadlocks, speaking in a stereotypical Jamaican accent. “I probably couldn’t get away with it now,” Aykroyd explained.

“I probably wouldn’t be allowed to do a Jamaican accent, white face or Black,” he said. Throughout the 20th century, the practice of wearing dark makeup for caricature purposes diminished as more people began to recognize how highly offensive it is, though it did not disappear entirely – as Trading Places shows.

He says the scene couldn’t be done today

Headshot of Dan Aykroyd wearing sunglasses
Actor Dan Aykroyd arrives at the Premiere of Sony Pictures’ ‘Ghostbusters’ at TCL Chinese Theatre on July 9, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo Credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images)

Aykroyd remembered, “Eddie and I were improvising there. Eddie is a Black man and his entourage were all Black people, and I don’t think they batted an eye. There was no objection then; nobody said anything. It was just a good comic beat that was truthful to the story.”

Now, he says, things are much different. “In these days we’re living in, all that’s out the window. I would be hard-pressed to do an English accent and get away with it. They’d say, ‘Oh, you’re not English, you can’t do it.'”

“Who can be the subject of an impression today?” he continued. “That’s an area of discussion. Can I do my James Brown imitation? He was one of my best friends. I do his voice pretty good. But maybe I shouldn’t anymore.”

He did stress the importance of the increased sensitivity in comedy, saying that comedians “don’t have to go pulling any divisive cards to get a laugh. There is so much in the world to comment on that is outside the realm of offensiveness. As a writer, you can go to other areas and have successful creative endeavors.”

More from us: The Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd Moon Movie That Was Lost In Space By MGM

When speaking of Trading Places’s legacy, Aykroyd said he thinks it’s “right up there with It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story” as a lasting fan favorite.

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!