A good rule of thumb when developing a comedy series is to examine the number of episodes that feature characters in blackface. If that number is higher than zero, you should immediately halt production and consider leaving the entertainment industry entirely. NBCUniversal just announced that it is pulling four (4) episodes of the hit sitcom 30 Rock from syndication and streaming that featured white characters in “race-changing makeup”, as well as a joke about the racist birther conspiracy directed at President Barack Obama.
As reported by The Wrap, the episodes are being removed at the request of co-creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. They won’t be available to stream or purchase on any platform, and they will no longer be aired as reruns on TV.
In a statement, Fey said, “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. I understand now that ‘intent’ is not a free pass for white people to use these images. I apologize for pain they have caused. Going forward, no comedy-loving kid needs to stumble on these tropes and be stung by their ugliness. I thank NBCUniversal for honoring this request.”
While removing the episodes is unquestionably the right thing to do, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with Fey’s apology, she has a checkered history with making racially insensitive jokes. She seems happy to insult Native Americans and Asian-Americans on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and she famously told a terrified country to eat cake the week Donald Trump was elected president and ushered in one of the worst periods of violence and bigotry against minority groups in recent history. The move with these 30 Rock episodes appears to be a preemptive strike against criticism more than anything else, but maybe I’m wrong and she’ll address the controversies with Kimmy Schmidt in the coming weeks.