IN recent weeks there has been a shift in the world of TV and entertainment with the likes of streaming platforms such as Hulu and Amazon Prime removing episodes, or series altogether, featuring blackface. Meanwhile, white actors that have long voiced characters of colour are quitting their roles.
Golden Girls, Scrubs and 30 Rock are just some of the shows that have been forced to reckon with their depictions of race and the offence it poses to their black audiences in the wake of the black lives matter movement (BLM). And it doesn’t stop there, The Simpsons announced they will no longer use white actors to voice non-white characters, having already faced backlash in the past for characters like Apu, as it plays on racial stereotypes – Apu was also voiced by white actor Hank Azaria.
It’s safe to say that inequality is present not just on screen, but behind the mic as well. Why now, after so many years, are these revelations taking place? Over in the UK, controversial shows like Little Britain and Come Fly With Me have also been cancelled, despite first airing more than 10 years ago. Many took to the show’s defence on social media, saying it was funny at the time despite the many racial undertones and dark humour. The same can equally be said in regard to Leigh Francis aka Keith Lemon, who came under fire recently for his portrayal of black celebs in Bo Selecta. The comedian was quick to acknowledge his past and apologise for the offence his characters had caused. However, so much more needs to be done.
Hulu made the decision to remove an episode of Golden Girls where they are seen wearing mud masks, as they were worried this could be seen as blackface. It is quite evident that they are wearing mud masks in the episode, therefore the decision to remove the clip almost makes a mockery of black lives – these are surface-level changes that take vital attention away from what is actually important.
Removing outdated series or having white actors step down from black roles is just the tip of the iceberg. While these ‘little triumphs’ should be noted, it’s vital that the focus does not shift from the bigger picture; which is to educate and eradicate institutionalised and systemic racism.
It’s astonishing how many black characters are voiced by white actors, but it’s no surprise in a world that is inherently fuelled by systematic oppression and exclusion. Black roles should be played by black actors if we are to take steps in the right direction moving forward. There are many more conversations about race and racial inequality to be had, that can be easily lost in translation when the focus is directed elsewhere.