The Black Lives Matter movement has drawn attention to systemic racism across many industries in the last few weeks – and entertainment is no exception. As conversations that began with the killing of George Floyd by police in late May continue, many films and TV shows are reassessing racism in their archive content and responding by pulling episodes, or offering disclaimers. Here’s our constantly updated tally of the offenders:
The Golden Girls
The streaming service Hulu has removed an episode of the sitcom about four female friends in their old age in which Betty White and Rue McClanahan’s characters assume a form of blackface. Greeting friends while wearing mud face masks, one says “This is mud on our faces, we’re not really black.” In the same episode, characters express disapproval at Scott Jacoby’s character’s intention to marry a black woman.
Democrats in Orange County, California have submitted an emergency resolution to change the name of its airport from John Wayne, citing the late Western actor’s past “white supremacist, anti-LGBT, and anti-Indigenous views.” In an interview that Wayne gave to Playboy Magazine in 1971 he said he did not believe in white supremacy and did not feel guilty about past slavery in America.
The BBC removed an episode of the classic hotel sitcom, starring John Cleese and Prunella Scales, from its subsidiary streaming platform UKTV earlier this month because it “contains racial slurs.” The episode is best-known for coining the phrase “Don’t mention the war!” but the original broadcast also included a scene in which Major Gowen, a regular guest at the hotel, uses very strong racist language in relation to an anecdote about the West Indies cricket team. A decade ago many broadcasters began editing out this part of the programme, although the racist language can still be heard on the version hosted by Netflix.
The comedy sketch show starring David Walliams and Matt Lucas was removed from all UK streaming platforms (including BBC Iplayer, Britbox and Netflix) because of the pair’s use of blackface. Walliams and Lucas have both publicly expressed regret over their decision to play black characters. “I wouldn’t make that show now” Lucas said in 2017. The Little Britain follow-up show Come Fly With Me has also been taken down.
Gone with the Wind
Infamous for its romanticisation of slavery and mistreatment of black actors on set, the 1939 Oscar-winning film was taken down by American streaming platform HBO Max after John Ridley, writer of 12 Years a Slave, took aim at the film in an L.A. Times editorial. HBO Max has since issued a statement confirming the movie will return to the platform in the future, but will include “a discussion of its historical context and a denouncement of those very depictions” while still being presented in its original form “because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.”
Saturday Night Takeaway
Ant and Dec have apologised for using blackface on their sketch show and have requested that ITV remove the episodes in question from their catch-up service and Youtube channel. “We realise that this was wrong and want to say that we are sincerely sorry to everyone that we offended” the pair said in a social media statement.
The League of Gentlemen
Netflix removed the comedy horror series just before its expiry date because of its blackface character Papa Lazarou, played by Reece Shearsmith.
The Mighty Boosh
Netflix also removed Noel Fielding’s break-out comedy because of the blackface character Spirit of Jazz, supposed to be the ghost of fictional jazz musician Howling’ Jimmy Jefferson .
Episodes involving characters in blackface from the long-running American medical sitcom are being removed from streaming platforms including Hulu and Amazon Prime at the request of the show’s creator Bill Lawrence. One episode had star Zach Braff wearing blackface at a party and another had Sarah Chalke in blackface during a fantasy sequence.
The creator and star of the hit US comedy series Tina Fey apologised for several episodes involving blackface. In one, guest star Jon Hamm appeared in a wig and blackface; in another, Jane Krakowski and Tracy Morgan’s characters decide to swap identities in order to determine whether black men or white women faced more challenges in society. The episodes have been removed from streaming platforms including Hulu and Amazon Prime. “I understand now that ‘intent’ is not a free pass for white people to use these images. I apologise for pain they have caused. Going forward, no comedy-loving kid needs to stumble on these tropes and be stung by their ugliness”, Fey said.
The US version of the show has removed a Christmas episode featuring offensive Zwarte Piet, a real-life Dutch character of folklore who appears in blackface. Mark Proksch’s character Nate briefly dresses up as him. Series creator Greg Daniels has apologised, saying “The Office is about a group of people trying to work together with mutual respect… we employed satire to expose unacceptable behavior and deliver a message of inclusion… [but] making the point so graphically is hurtful and wrong. I am sorry for the pain that caused.”
The British comedian best known for his Keith Lemon character issued a tearful apology for impersonating black celebrities on his sketch show Bo’ Selecta! He used latex face masks to do impressions of singers including Michael Jackson and Craig David, and the talkshow host Trisha Goddard. Franics took to Instagram to apologise, saying he “didn’t realise how offensive it was back then” and that he was no doing “a lot of talking and learning.”
The comedian defended his decision to imitate black people such as Nelson Mandela on TV in the Nineties. He said it was “so wrong, it was right” and although “I wouldn’t do it now” he added “I don’t think I regret it.”
Netflix has removed an episode from the NBC comedy series in which Ben Chang (played by Ken Jeong) wears black makeup to dress up as a “dark elf.” His fellow classmate Shirley (portrayed by Yvette Nicole Brown) calls his look a “hate crime.”
Mr. Show, With Bob and David
An episode of the sketch show in which US comedian David Cross plays a black cop has been removed from Netflix. Cross first flagged that the sketch was being removed via a tweet in which he defended the sketch, saying it was intended to “underscore the absurdity” of the character he was playing.
Cops and Live PD
Two classic American cop shows, the docuseries Cops (which follows regular city police officers and federal agents as they carry out their day-to-day tasks) and Live PD have been cancelled by Paramount Network, over concerns that they uncritically glorify the police. Ongoing scripted police shows like Law & Order: SVU and Brooklyn Nine-Nine have confirmed plans to address the Black Lives Matter movement during their upcoming seasons.
Actor Hartley Sawyer was fired from American superhero show The Flash, where he plays Ralph Dibny aka. Elongated Man, after old racist and misogynistic tweets resurfaced online. Showrunner Eric Wallace released a statement in which he said that Sawyer’s tweets “broke my heart and made me mad as hell [and are] indicative of the lager problem in our country.”
Four of the Australian comedian’s shows – Summer Heights High, Angry Boys, We Can be Heroes, and Jonah from Tonga – have been taken off Netflix because of their use of blackface.