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Aug. 4, 2020

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Shows remove blackface episodes

Entertainment industry confronts racist past, present

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Several TV episodes and scenes featuring characters in blackface have been pulled from streaming and syndication in recent weeks as Hollywood confronts its racist past and present.

Last week, Tina Fey made headlines by asking NBC to remove episodes of “30 Rock” featuring blackface, and issuing a controversial apology “for pain they have caused.” Other scripted shows, including “Community,” “The Office,” “Scrubs” and “The Golden Girls,” have since followed suit in an effort to erase racist tropes and images from their histories.

Late-night TV also has been forced to address blackface scandals after sketches with the hosts of “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live” performing in blackface resurfaced.

Fallon apologized for making the “unquestionably offensive decision” to wear blackface while impersonating fellow comedian Chris Rock for a 2000 “Saturday Night Live” sketch, while Kimmel apologized for appearing in blackface multiple times on “The Man Show,” which ran from 1999 to 2004, apologized weeks later.

Notably, multiple animated series, including “Central Park,” “Big Mouth” and “The Cleveland Show,” have vowed to recast Black characters originally voiced by white actors.

With viewers increasingly dependent on streaming platforms rather than physical media, the editing and removal of these scenes and episodes leaves little trace of their existence. As such, The Times has compiled a list of streaming TV shows that have recently edited or removed episodes featuring blackface, along with synopses of the racist imagery and stereotypes contained therein.

‘The Golden Girls’

Hulu removed a 1988 episode of “The Golden Girls” featuring Blanche (Rue McClanahan) and Rose (Betty White) wearing mud facial masks.

“Mixed Blessings” (Season 3, Episode 23) saw Dorothy’s (Bea Arthur) son, Michael (Scott Jacoby), introduce himself to the mother of his fiance, Lorraine (Rosalind Cash), who is concerned about Lorraine marrying a white man.

Unaware of the family meeting, Blanche and Rose stumble into the room in matching brown mud masks. “This is mud on our faces,” Rose says, explaining their appearance to their guests. “We’re not really Black.”

‘Community’

Also scrapped was an installment of “Community” titled “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” (Season 2, Episode 14).

Netflix pulled the episode, which saw Ken Jeong’s Ben wear a white wig, blackface and body paint while participating in a roleplay game with his classmates. At one point in the game, Pierce (Chevy Chase) refers to Ben as “Blackface” and Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) asks whether the study group is “just going to ignore that hate crime?”

‘The Office’

On June 26, “The Office” creator Greg Daniels confirmed to Variety that a scene from “Dwight Christmas” (Season 9, Episode 9), featuring a character in blackface, had been edited out.

The scene took place during an office holiday party thrown by Dwight (Rainn Wilson), who dresses up as the Dutch gift-giver Belsnickel and taps his assistant, Nate (Mark Proksch), to accompany him as Zwarte Piet, or “Black Peter,” a racist character from Dutch folklore.

Prior to edits, Nate was briefly seen walking through the Dunder Mifflin parking lot wearing blackface with red lipstick before immediately turning back at Dwight’s last-minute request. Dwight calls him off after being scolded by Stanley (Leslie David Baker) when his colleagues learn of Belsnickel’s racist origins.

‘Scrubs’

On June 23, “Scrubs” creator Bill Lawrence confirmed on Twitter that plans to pull blackface episodes were “already in the works.” Hulu subsequently removed three episodes.

In “My Friend the Doctor” (Season 3, Episode 8), J.D. (Zach Braff) appeared in blackface during a fantasy sequence in which he imagines himself as his best friend, Turk (Donald Faison), in a romantic situation with Elliot (Sarah Chalke).

In “My Jiggly Ball” (Season 5, Episode 4), Chalke wore blackface during another fantasy sequence in which J.D. imagines her character as “half Turk and half Elliot” while playing video games on the couch.

And in “My Chopped Liver” (Season 5, Episode 17), Turk and J.D. arrived at a fraternity house in white face makeup and blackface, respectively. “Are you sure this isn’t offensive?” J.D. asks, to which Turk replies, “Buddy, relax. These are my guys, all right? As long as you’re with me, they’re going to find this funny.” But when J.D. is met at the door by several Black fraternity members, they aren’t amused, yanking him inside to beat him up and throw him out.

’30 Rock’

At executive producers Fey and Robert Carlock’s request, four episodes of “30 Rock” have been removed from Hulu, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play and syndication.

In “Believe in the Stars” (Season 3, Episode 2), Jenna (Jane Krakowski) wore blackface while swapping identities with Tracy (Tracy Morgan) in a “social experiment” to “prove who has it hardest in America: women or Black men.”

“Live Show” (Season 5, Episode 2), the East Coast edition of “30 Rock’s” first live episode, featured a sketch in which guest star Jon Hamm gets a hand transplant from a Black man who was executed. The show also referenced the unfounded racist conspiracy theory that former President Barack Obama was not born in the United States with a fake Fox News ticker that read, “Exclusive Interview With Kenyan Liar.”

“Christmas Attack Zone” (Season 5, Episode 10) saw Jenna wear blackface again when attending a costume party dressed as former Pittsburgh Steelers star Lynn Swann. And “Live From Studio 6H” (Season 6, Episode 19) saw Hamm wear a wig and blackface again alongside Morgan in a parody of the racist radio and TV program “Amos ‘n’ Andy.”

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