UPDATE: As was expected, more shows are being forced to deal with their use of racially insensitive portrayals. On Wednesday, Variety reported that Hulu took down three episodes of Scrubs due to their use of blackface. This decision reportedly came at the request of ABC Studios and the Bill Lawrence, the show’s creator. On Twitter, Lawrence was asked about Scrubs in response to the 30 Rock news, and he agreed that the episodes should be taken down, saying that the move was “already in the works.”
Original Article: For many people, the last few weeks have been an important period of reexamining what modern-day racism looks like. Many of us were taught in school that racism is an evil that was mostly extinguished with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, but that’s just not true. Racism still exists in every corner of society, from governmental systems to workplaces and even to the movies and TV that entertain us.
This week, NBCUniversal decided it would pull four episodes of 30 Rock from streaming services and TV reruns due to racially insensitive content, namely, the use of blackface. The request for the episodes to be removed came from executive producers Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, with Fey writing an open letter to the various platforms that currently distribute 30 Rock. She wrote, “As we strive to do the work and do better in regards to race in America, we believe that these episodes featuring actors in race-changing makeup are best taken out of circulation.” She said that she now understands that “‘intent’ is not a free pass for white people to use these images,” and apologized for “pain they have caused.” She concluded by saying that “Going forward, no comedy-loving kid needs to stumble on these tropes and be stung by their ugliness.”
A source confirmed to Vulture that the episodes have already been taken down from some platforms, and will be completely gone by the end of the week. Of the episodes in question, two feature Jane Krakowski in blackface as Jenna Maroney—one as part of a Halloween costume, and one in a storyline where she and Tracy agree to an “experiment” in which they swap identities to see who has it harder in America, black men or white women. Even one of these instances would have been bad, but NBC had to take down four?
Just think about that. In a critically-acclaimed, award-winning show that premiered less than 15 years ago (in 2006), there were FOUR different episodes deemed problematic enough that they should no longer be shown. The most recent of the episodes, which featured guest star Jon Hamm in blackface, first aired in 2012, just eight years ago. It’s alarming that NBC, a network that follows strict guidelines when it comes to language and sexual content, apparently found no red flags with multiple instances of blackface used for comedic effect.
With the renewed focus on racially insensitive material, content distributors are reevaluating problematic material across the board. Earlier this month, HBO Max removed Gone With The Wind from their streaming platform over its depiction of slavery, and announced they will bring it back with content warnings and an introduction from scholar Jacqueline Stewart explaining why the film is problematic. Amazon, meanwhile, is considering removing the classic 70s and 80s show The Dukes of Hazzard from their platforms. The Confederate flag is featured in every single episode of the show, and the car that plays a central role is nicknamed General Lee.
It seems likely that more shows and movies will be reexamined in the coming days and weeks, but racism isn’t the only issue at hand. This week, Comedy Central made the decision to pull a 2011 episode of Workaholics, in which Chris D’Elia guest stars as a child molester. Last week, D’Elia was accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate contact with numerous underage girls, but he has denied all the allegations. Ironically, D’Elia also played a pedophile in the most recent season of You, but Netflix hasn’t made any comment about that show.
While instances like 30 Rock’s blackface depictions are coming up in conversation again, insensitive content in TV and movies is far from an isolated issue. In the past, we’ve discussed problematic moments in some of our favorite shows like Sex and the City and Friends, both of which are still widely available to binge in 2020. I have a feeling that these 30 Rock episodes are the first of many that will be looked at again with a more critical eye and possibly removed.
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