A Stand Against Racism or Just a Gimmick?
In June 2020, four episodes of the popular satirical comedy 30 Rock were removed. This comes to us seven years after the show’s final episode. The removed episodes had recently received criticism because white actors had their faces painted black to play black characters in these specific episodes.
The show-owner NBCUniversal agreed with creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock to take down the episodes from viewing availability. This event seems to come from pressure by the audiences rather than the creators’ own discretion.
BLM Movement in 2020 Played a Role
In 2020, America saw the beginning of one of the biggest racial unrests. Protests against systemic racism towards black people haven’t died down yet in 2021. Meanwhile, the #BlackLivesMatter movement’s ripple effect hit the entertainment industry, too. Black society began calling out cultural misrepresentation and misappropriation in Hollywood.
Tina Fey faced the trending “cancel culture” when the black community wanted to boycott her for 30 Rock. This led to the four episodes being pulled from streaming platforms and syndication. It was an attempt to shift towards racial inclusion in comedy and keep future viewers away from race-changing makeup.
Canceled 30 Rock Blackface Episode Numbers
In June 2020, four 30 Rock episodes were made inaccessible so that people wouldn’t have to see racist content in the name of comedy. The episodes include – “Believe In The Stars” (S:3, E:2), “Christmas Attack Zone” (S:5, E:10), “Live from Studio 6H” (S:6, E:19), and “The Live Show” (S:5, E:4).
In the first two episodes, Jane Krakowski wears blackface (definition in next section), while Jon Hamm dons blackface in the third episode. As for the fourth episode, only the East Coast version is unavailable, while the West Coast version can still be viewed. Interestingly, there is no known reason behind the removal of the fourth episode.
The episodes were first removed from Hulu and Amazon. They soon became unavailable for purchase on Google Play and iTunes. Currently, all episodes of 30 Rock, except these four, are available on streaming platforms. The episodes will also not be aired during television reruns.
The decision came just in time to show Tina Fey’s proactive protest against racism. Content producers have been re-evaluating old shows to eliminate episodes that portray racism. Due to the widespread cancel culture, many TV shows and popular movies, like Gone With the Wind, are being eradicated from streaming services.
Blackface and Racism in Entertainment
With talks about racism all around, the term “blackface” comes up too often now. One might wonder what blackface means and why it is considered offensive. Historically, it is when white actors used makeup to paint their faces darker. This was meant to represent a black character in this way.
One major issue is casting white actors in place of a Person of Color. Blackface has a long and disappointing history besides this. The earliest representations of black people by white actors painted faces date back to the 19th century. These shows presented black people with negative or racist characteristics.
Such racist characteristics included laziness, hypersexuality, lack of culture, and more. The acts perpetuated offensive stereotypes and dehumanized black people. An entire community got reduced to nothing more than skin color. Wearing blackface is a reminder of how white people used to view anyone with darker skin as subhuman beings.
Taking Down Episodes from the Past: What’s the Game?
The 30 Rock Blackface episode removals might seem like an altruistic, even heroic move by Tina Fey and the show-owners. After all, it’s possible that the makers of 30 Rock might have reflected on their content. It’s entirely possible that they have taken the opportunity of the current situation to make things right.
But on second thought, other questions come to mind. Let’s face it – the controversies around blackface are not new. 30 Rock is a show made at a time when people in showbiz already know that it is immoral. Then, why did they make it in the first place – and why try to apologize for what they did seven years after the show ended?
It’s tempting to wonder if the intention behind this move was damage control. Fey recently received backlash for the episodes after racism became the subject of discussion again. Let’s not forget that Fey found herself in the middle of controversy before. This was for casting Jane Krakowski in the role of a woman with a Native-American background in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
By removing the blackface episodes, Fey might have opened Pandora’s Box. 30 Rock was known for pushing the envelope when it came to handling sensitive topics. It is a show that makes jokes out of them. After all, that’s what satires are supposed to do. In fact, comedians take their artistic credentials quite seriously.
30 Rock has always been controversial with their jokes about misogyny, poverty, struggles of growing up black, religious pedophiles, and more. Another instance is how the show stereotypes a blonde woman as dumb and a gay man as creepy, pasty, and weak. To be politically correct, these jokes are sufficient to take out three-quarters of the show’s episodes.
Was It True Remorse or Just Clout?
So why did the makers and owners choose to remove the blackface episodes alone? Was this an attempt to leverage the anti-racism movement? Was everything done to bring attention back to the show that ended in 2013?
Don’t forget that it is still available on streaming platforms. What better way to market the show again by taking a “woke” approach? It is also possible that the makers have been sitting on the idea of removing the episodes. Or, the current BLM movement has been an eye-opener for them. Still, some things don’t add up.
Either way, it can be said that the 30 Rock Blackface episodes removal has brought the show back to public discussion.
Photo credit: Newshub