When the concept of blackface comes up, most people think back to the turn of the last century. It was a time when "minstrel shows" were a regular staple of live vaudeville, which then carried over into film and, later, TV. But the truth is, blackface is still something comedians have used even now in the 21st century — though it looks like it's finally being eradicated for good. Tina Fey is the latest to apologize for using "race-changing makeup," as a four 30 Rock episodes are being pulled from streaming services and syndication.
The ongoing Black Lives Matter movement has caused a long-overdue rethinking of how the entertainment industry contributes to the racial discourse. Police-centered shows like Cops and Live P.D. have both been canceled. HBO Max temporarily removed Gone With The Wind to insert a preface explaining the historical context of the “ethnic and racial prejudices” depicted in the film. Netflix and the BBC have pulled episodes from several shows for blackface usage, and late-night hosts Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon have come under fire for resurfaced blackface sketches that had been televised in the past.
According to Variety, Tina Fey and 30 Rock co-showrunner Robert Carlock made the request to have the episodes pulled.
Fey reportedly explained the reason for this request in a letter sent to the services that currently stream or air 30 Rock:
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.
Two of the episodes, "Believe In The Stars" (Season 3, Episode 2), and "Christmas Attack Zone" (Season 5, Episode 10), featured Jane Krakowski's character Jenna switching races for various plot points and punchlines. The other two are from 30 Rock's famous "Live Shows," in which the East and West Coast versions are different. In the case of "The Live Show" (Season 5, Episode 4), the East Coast version is being pulled apparently for using a racist slur in reference to President Obama. (The West Coast version, which refers to him as an "Obammunist" will remain.) Both versions of "Live from Studio 6H" (Season 6, Episode 19) will be pulled; they both feature Jon Hamm in blackface as part of an Amos 'n' Andy spoof.
By June 26, 2020, these episodes will reportedly no longer be available for streaming on Amazon Prime or Hulu, for purchase on iTunes or Google Play, or for viewing on TV in syndication.