Community blackface

As protests supporting Black Lives Matter continue, Hollywood finds itself in the sometimes uncomfortable position of playing defense when it comes to race relations in the United States. That’s resulted in people like Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel apologizing for using blackface in the past, and shows like 30 RockScrubs, and the Netflix comedy sketch series With Bob and David wiping episodes featuring blackface from streaming platforms and syndication.

Now two more former NBC comedies, The Office and Community, have found themselves in the crosshairs regarding blackface concerns, and you can read about how the two different methods by which those concerns have been addressed below.

Let’s start with The Office, which is regularly one of the most-streamed TV shows on Netflix. The Office creator Greg Daniels has already edited out a shot of a character wearing blackface in the ninth episode of the ninth season, entitled “Dwight Christmas.” In the episode, Dwight Schrute dresses up as Belsnickle, a fur-clad Santa Claus-type character from Germanic folklore who is still celebrated in several places around the world, including the Pennsylvania Dutch community where Dwight grew up. In the folklore, Belsnickle has an elf-like assistant named “Black Peter.” In the episode, Dwight explains the history of Belsnickle and Black Peter, and Stanley (one of the only Black employees at Dunder-Mifflin) reacts negatively to the idea that Dwight would have one of his friends dress up to portray Black Peter; Dwight claims he wouldn’t do that, but then quietly calls his white friend dressed in blackface and tells him not to show up at the office. Daniels has edited out the section where Dwight makes the call and we see the friend in blackface.

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,” Daniels said in a statement. “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.”

It’s unclear if this edited version will be what’s available when The Office makes the jump to NBCUniversal’s new streaming service Peacock in 2021. For more information about the historical version of the character in question, check this out:

The instance of blackface in Community, though, is more complicated. The Wrap reports that Netflix has pulled the season 2 episode “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons,” one of the best episodes of the entire series. The Wrap says it’s because the episode features Ken Jeong’s character, Ben Chang, wearing blackface during a D&D session.

Chang is painted black in the episode, and he explains that he’s dressed as a “dark elf.” At first, I wasn’t sure there was anything in the episode to support the idea that he’s wearing blackface in the traditional racist sense, but as this clip shows, Chang, an Asian man, says “This is going to be awesome, yo,” and Shirley, one of the show’s Black characters, interjects, “So we’re just going to ignore that hate crime, huh?”

It’s obviously not up to me to be passing judgment on whether or not this moment offends anyone, but after rewatching it, I can understand how a case could be made that this might rub some folks the wrong way. It’s unfortunate that Netflix decided to pull the entire episode, especially in light of them doing the same thing to an episode of With Bob and David recently, but for those who aren’t offended by the episode, consider this another reason to value physical media.

This topic doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon, and, like You Must Remember This host Karina Longworth, I’d love to see the industry collectively figure out how to address its issues in a way that doesn’t involve locking things in a vault.

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