Netflix recently removed the British sketch comedy Little Britain and White Chicks has since opened up a wider debate about the portrayal of race in entertainment.
Humour is fascinating in the sense that two individuals can watch something sat side-by-side and have totally conflicting reactions to what they’ve seen.
Recently, we’ve seen a series of old jokes and sketches unearthed and judged under a new lens. For example, Jimmy Kimmel was criticised for using blackface for a gag years ago; he has now apologised for his actions.
However, the most recent example comes from Little Britain.
As highlighted by Digital Spy, Netflix – amongst others – has pulled the early 2000s comedy series for employing stereotypes and the use of blackface.
Inevitably, many have flocked to social media to offer their thoughts and audiences are clearly divided about its removal. Interestingly, some have come out and said that White Chicks shouldn’t be allowed on streaming services.
While it isn’t currently available on Netflix, it has been in the past. Should it ever be allowed back?
Netflix: White Chicks sparks new debate
The argument is: If there’s no place for the likes of Little Britain on Netflix, should there be a place for the likes of White Chicks?
The 2004 comedy film stars Shawn and Marlon Wayans as two FBI agents who go undercover using whiteface.
In the wake of the recent controversy surrounding blackface in entertainment, some have drawn parallels between it and whiteface. For example, one recently argued on Twitter: “They have banned Little Britain off streaming services. Let’s talk about White Chicks. I am deeply offended by this film.”
Lots have tweeted asking when the film will be banned. So, let’s take a moment to consider the debate…
Opinion: White Chicks shouldn’t be banned
A number of people have hit back at claims that White Chicks should be banned.
This Twitter user [see below tweet] recently wrote: “Remember that long history of black people enslaving white people and then painting their faces white in performances and on TV to ridicule and dehumanise white people, to justify denying white people basic human rights? No? Then White Chicks is not the same as blackface.”
Reflecting upon history, blackface remains so controversial because it exercised a wealth of damaging racial stereotypes and helped cement a divisive sense of “otherness”.
In theatre and later cinema/TV, blackface was used to reinforce racist stereotypes of black people and can be read as an act of mockery. The caricatures that the use of blackface helped conjure up linger today and that is why it should have no place in the realm of modern entertainment.
The history of whiteface, on the other hand, isn’t so damaging. From Dave Chappelle to Eddie Murphy, a number of black actors and comedians have used whiteface for comedic effect to address the absurdity of blackface and their actions can be read as a direct response to it.
White Chicks can be read similarly as a subversive response to blackface from a somewhat satirical perspective. An arguable reading of the film is that it was challenging this tradition, turning the tables in order to open the floor to debate. It worked.
Sadly, critics just didn’t think anything else worked!
Blackface in modern entertainment
If comedy which comments on race in some way can be considered damaging or dangerous then there is a real issue as to why that is.
One of the arguments against using blackface in comedy remains: if you wish to make race-related humour, why not simply hire black performers? Is there really any logical reason whatsoever to use blackface?
On the other hand, there are some tricker examples of the use of blackface in modern entertainment, with Robert Downey Jr.’s performance in 2008’s Tropic Thunder perhaps being the most discussed.
However, many consider this just as much of a response to blackface as White Chicks.
According to IndieWire, Robert recently expressed one of the things he achieved from tackling the controversial role:
“I get to hold up to nature the insane self-involved hypocrisy of artists and what they think they’re allowed to do on occasion, just my opinion.”
In the case of Tropic Thunder, it can be considered more of a commentary and reflection on the use of blackface in Hollywood, rather than simply another example in a long line.
As for Little Britain and White Chicks, we’re sure the debate will continue to spark outrage.
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