12 TV Shows That Have Had Episodes Pulled Because of Blackface
Some shows have had blackface scenes edited out, while other series have been removed entirely.
The Black Lives Matters protests that have swept across the nation for the past month have inspired major changes. But along with new legislation and removed statues, there's been an ongoing cultural reckoning about the racist associations of the products and entertainment many of us consume. That's certainly being felt on streaming services, where several episodes of popular TV shows (and, in some cases, entire series) have been removed because they feature blackface. From 30 Rock to The Golden Girls, the following 12 shows have been tweaked or taken down due to blackface. And for more popular entertainment worth reexamining, here are 9 Classic '80s Movies That Have Been Called Out for Racism.
As of June 22, four episodes of 30 Rock featuring blackface have been removed from Hulu and Amazon Prime, and are also no longer available for purchase on iTunes. In a letter obtained by Vulture, series creator and star Tina Fey addressed the episodes in question, which aired between 2008 and 2012. "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 wrote.
While the use of blackface was meant to be satirical, Fey continued, "I understand now that 'intent' is not a free pass for white people to use these images. I apologize for pain they have caused." And for stars who have lost work over alleged racist behavior, check out these 6 Celebrities Who Were Fired After Being Accused of Racism.
On June 26, Netflix and Hulu decided to remove a 2011 episode of Community that includes blackface. In "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons," Chang (Ken Jeong) wears makeup to appear as a "dark elf," which Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) calls a "hate crime." In a statement given to Deadline, a representative of Sony Pictures Television said, "We support the decision to remove the episode."
On June 30, Netflix also opted to remove a 2004 episode of the British comedy Peep Show in which Jez (Robert Webb) wears blackface. Channel 4's streaming service, All 4, has decided to keep the episode, however. In a statement to BBC News, they said, "We understand the strong feelings provoked by some of this content but we do not believe that erasing our creative history is a quick fix for the issues affecting our society today." And for some classics that now come with cultural sensitivity warnings, here are 10 Disney Classics That Have Been Called Out for Racism.
Rather than lose an entire episode, The Office is now missing one scene featuring blackface, which has been edited out on Netflix and will no longer appear when the episode airs in syndication, as of June 26. The brief moment, which originally aired in 2012, involved a shot of an actor dressed up as Zwarte Piet, a Dutch Christmas character who is traditionally portrayed using blackface.
In a statement to Variety, creator Greg Daniels wrote, "The Office is about a group of people trying to work together with mutual respect despite the inappropriate actions of their boss and assistant manager. The show employed satire to expose unacceptable behavior and deliver a message of inclusion. Today we cut a shot of an actor wearing blackface that was used to criticize a specific racist European practice. Blackface is unacceptable and making the point so graphically is hurtful and wrong. I am sorry for the pain that caused."
The Golden Girls
On June 27, Hulu removed a 1988 episode of The Golden Girls because of a joke that references blackface. In the episode, Rose (Betty White) and Blanche (Rue McClanahan) are wearing mud masks when they meet a Black family, leading Rose to clarify, "This is mud on our faces, we're not really Black."
There has been some criticism of Hulu's choice, given that the episode does not include as overt an example of blackface as the others that have been edited. "That Golden Girls episode isn't blackface," New York Times contributing writer Roxane Gay tweeted. "Removing this episode is weird, counterproductive, and stupid. It diminishes the effort to actually end racism." And if you're looking to take a stand against racism, make sure you avoid these 7 Common Phrases That You Didn't Know Have Racist Origins.
On June 25, Hulu took down three episodes of Scrubs featuring blackface, which originally aired between 2003 and 2006. On a recent podcast, series creator Bill Lawrence took full responsibility for the show's attempted satirical use of blackface, blaming it on "ignorance" and feeling like the series had a "free pass" because it was a "very diverse show." Lawrence also said it's likely the episodes will return to Hulu once they have a chance to edit out the blackface scenes.
The Mighty Boosh
The 2004-2007 British series The Mighty Boosh was taken off Netflix completely on June 11 due to multiple appearances by a character called the Spirit of Jazz, played by the series' white co-creator and star Noel Fielding. It is ultimately revealed that the character is the ghost of a Black jazz musician.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
According to Vulture, as of June 29, Hulu has removed five episodes of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia that aired between 2008 and 2019 for multiple instances of white characters portraying different races. The scenes included the white actors using stereotypical accents and wearing offensive makeup.
The 2003-2007 British series Little Britain is no longer available on Netflix, and it has also been removed from BritBox and the BBC's streaming service, BBC iPlayer, as of June 14. The show featured multiple instances of blackface throughout its run. On Twitter, series co-creator and star Matt Lucas wrote, "David [Walliams] and I have both spoken publicly in recent years of our regret that we played characters of other races. Once again we want to make it clear that it was wrong and we are very sorry." The follow-up series Come Fly With Me, which ran from 2010 to 2011, was also removed from those streaming services.
W/ Bob & David
On June 16, Netflix removed a 2015 episode of its own original sketch comedy series W/ Bob & David because of a sketch featuring co-creator and star David Cross doing blackface. On Twitter, Cross seemed to object to the decision, writing, "Netflix is going to pull this sketch from With Bob & David because the ridiculous, foolish character I play puts on 'black face' at one point. The point of this was to underscore the absurdity."
Adding that he wanted to give everyone their "last chance to figure it out," Cross then linked to a YouTube video of the sketch in question, but it has since been taken down.
Summer Heights High
Summer Heights High, which first aired in 2007, is one of four comedy series created by Chris Lilley that have been dropped by Netflix as of June 11. That show, along with 2005's We Can Be Heroes, 2011's Angry Boys, and 2014's Jonah From Tonga, included repeated instances of Lilley doing blackface. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), which produced the shows, is now taking part in a "harm and offence" audit of its past and present programming, per the Sydney Morning Herald. And for more up-to-date information, sign up for our daily newsletter.
The League of Gentlemen
On June 10, Netflix removed the entire 1999-2002 British series The League of Gentlemen, which features a Black character called Papa Lazarou, played by white actor Reece Shearsmith in offensive makeup. The character was previously criticized, including in a 2019 article in The Independent about blackface in British pop culture, in which writer Kuba Shand-Baptiste noted that Papa Lazarou invokes the "ugly legacy of minstrelsy."