Madrid bans blacked-up actors from Three Kings Christmas parade

There have long been complaints in Madrid that a white actor wearing black make-up to play Balthasar was racist

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Wanted: one black actor to play a king. Must be able to throw sweets convincingly.

Finally, Madrid’s new left-wing city administration has insisted that it will recruit only a black performer for the Spanish capital’s traditional Three Kings parade on 5 January – the day before the Epiphany, when most Spaniards swap gifts. Unlike other European countries, Spain celebrates 6 January as the most important day in the Christmas calendar.

The actor playing Balthasar, who along with Caspar and Melchior, throws sweets – rather than gold, frankincense and myrrh – for children lining the route, has hitherto been a white actor in make-up, leaving many to question why a black actor could not simply be employed instead.

The leftist city government of Mayor Manuela Carmena agrees, and has backed a 60,000-strong petition gathered by the Socialist Party that calls for a black actor for the role. Mar Espinar, a Socialist councillor, told The Local website that the change was needed “to reflect the integration and diversity that increasingly characterises Madrid’s community”.

There have long been complaints in Madrid that a white actor wearing black make-up to play Balthasar – who in appears along with the other kings in St Matthew’s gospel – was racist. Previous administrations had denied that, saying that it had become traditional to employ a non-black actor. It has also been pointed out that in many famous artistic depictions of the Three Kings, they are painted as white men, even if some historians argue that Balthasar was, in fact, king of Arabia at the time. 

The Christmas period will no doubt come as welcome relief for many Spaniards this year. They have been subjected to a seemingly never-ending stream of elections, not least the municipal polls in May that brought Ms Carmena to power.

It is also widely expected that a general election will be held on 20 December. If polls are to believed, many Spanish politicians will spend their holidays arguing over the make-up of an unusual coalition government.