Little Britain should have been removed a long time ago
Photo credit: BBC
By digital spy
Blackface has been in the headlines again recently due to the new dynamics of the Black Lives Matter movement, but in order to fully understand the conversation, we need to consider its history.
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Like racism itself, the black face goes back centuries and its effects are deeply rooted in oppression. The use of blackface was particularly widespread in the 19th century in response to anti-slavery campaigns and was a means to ridicule blacks. It played with attitudes and ideologies that underpinned transatlantic slavery and segregation.
"The depiction of blacks as caricatures was part of a process that undermined their entire humanity, which in turn served to justify unequal and degrading treatment," said Dr. Katie Donington, a history lecturer at London South Bank University, told inews.
As such, Blackface was never morally justified, even if it was considered acceptable by a dominant white culture. What has changed, however, is that those who were at the receiving end (and their growing number of allies) are now heard loud enough to no longer be ignored.
Photo credit: Dave J Hogan - Getty Images
Unfortunately, perhaps due to a lack of black history, perhaps due to deliberate ignorance, Blackface has entered a more contemporary conversation - but it seems the tide is finally turning.
When it became known last week that Little Britain was being removed from streaming platforms like Netflix and BBC iPlayer, it felt like "Finally!" At. Moment for many. Unfortunately, there was also a predictable rush of criticism from those pushing against these waves of progress.
The show, launched in 2003 by Matt Lucas and David Walliams, has worked out its legacy by introducing a number of different fictional characters. In their self-known "greed" to represent as many people as possible (via the RHLSTP podcast in 2019), the duo also dared to represent a disabled person, transgender characters and black people. Since then, every creator has expressed regret for these decisions.
While many are trying to defend it by mocking the less tolerant mindset of some in Britain (hence the name "Little" Britain), the problem is that these jokes are also at the expense of real groups who have marginalized a long history of and be attacked (whether verbally or, as recent news points out, physically).
In a statement, the BBC confirmed that Little Britain was removed from its streaming platform. It labeled the show part of its "historic show," which is reviewed regularly, and noted that "times have changed since Little Britain first aired ..."
The problem is that Little Britain is not a dusty, long-forgotten series from a bygone era. Rewind just a few months and the format of Matt Lucas and David Walliams was restarted as part of the BBC's Big Night In. While the couple deliberately avoided Blackface on this occasion, the nature of the show still leaked in the form of a racist bat joke.
At a time when conspiracy theories and misinformation about the Coronavirus were spreading and there were increasing reports of racist incidents against East Asian communities, it could be argued that Little Britain was applying his own kind of comedy to another target.
The removal of Little Britain was followed by a number of other significant changes in the entertainment world. Netflix has discontinued The League of Gentlemen and The Mighty Boosh because of the use of Blackface for some characters, and UKTV confirmed that it had temporarily removed an episode of Fawlty Towers from its platform while offering options to edit or add a warning next to its content considered.
The episode in question, which aired in 1975, contained the regular character The Major, who used a number of derogatory terms to describe the West Indies cricket team.
Actor John Cleese, who played Basil Fawlty in the British comedy, criticized the distance in an interview with Australian newspaper The Age (via Deadline), arguing that people laughed at the character's offensive comments rather than him. It implied that anyone who didn't understand this was "too stupid" instead of admitting that, depending on your perspective, you wouldn't find it funny, regardless.
Photo credit: BBC
Cleese also aimed at the BBC (it is important to point out that UKTV works independently of the BBC Studios) and argued: "Many of the people in charge at the BBC just want to stick to their jobs. If a few people get it." they excitedly calm them down instead of asserting themselves as they would 30 or 40 years ago. "
This is a particularly harmful stance because it rejects the idea of change and advocates continued decommissioning of those who oppose the status quo. Society and its institutions have been built on a foundation of white supremacy, and Cleese, as a white man, cannot speak for those who do not benefit from this system.
His words also fit the ongoing narrative of "crazy political correctness" - an assertion that distracts from the specific problems and in turn only benefits those who already benefit from the system.
In contrast, Leigh Francis (aka Keith Lemon) made a name for himself as the creator of Bo 'Selecta! In the early 2000s, he apologized for playing black celebrities on the sketch show.
Photo credit: Ian Walton - Getty Images
The comedian, also known as his on-screen person, Keith Lemon, admitted that "he didn't know how offensive it was at the time," but that he had "talked and learned" more about recent events.
While this is the bare minimum we should ask people to do, it is positive that many of those who thought this was okay now are learning why it wasn't. An important part of the Black Lives Matter movement is the promotion of further education and understanding.
Gone with the wind recently became another topic of discussion when HBO announced that the film would be temporarily removed from HBO Max due to the racist portrayals it presented.
The 1939 film takes place on a plantation during the American Civil War and has been widely criticized for its imprecise portrayal of slavery and blacks.
Credit: Warner Bros.
"These racist representations were wrong then and are wrong today, and we thought it would be irresponsible to maintain this title without an explanation and a condemnation of these representations," said one statement. It was later clarified that the film would return, but with the additional "discussion of its historical context and a condemnation of these representations".
This move came after John Ridley, screenwriter for 12 Years a Slave, published an open letter in the LA Times about including the film on the new streaming platform. He pointed out that Gone with the Wind is not only inaccurate, but that this period in history is "romanticized" and "glorified" while using screen time to "maintain some of the most painful stereotypes of people with color".
Ridley did not advocate censorship or even the removal of the film, but instead advocated that it be presented together with other works that "offer a broader and more complete picture of what slavery and the Confederation really are" and these other perspectives are not easy affirms "the views of prevailing culture" will also be given a platform.
When Gone with the Wind returns to HBO, it will appear next to a disclaimer written by a black film scientist named Jacqueline Stewart. "HBO Max will bring Gone with The Wind back into its line-up, and when it comes out I'll give an introduction that puts the film in its diverse historical contexts," she wrote in one play for CNN.
"For me, this is an opportunity to think about what classic films can teach us. Right now people are turning to racist re-education films, and the best-selling books on Amazon are about anti-racism and racial inequality. People really do their homework "Maybe we are ready to have our most informed, honest, and productive national talks about black life on screen and outside."
Photo credit: BBC
Some seem to argue that shows like Little Britain and Fawlty Towers shouldn't be removed because they feel part of their own story or identity is being taken away. First, it is worth noting that these shows are not forbidden - DVD box sets and other online platforms still exist for those who have a deep desire to watch them again.
But there is an even greater irony here that should not be lost. For many blacks, identity and history is something that has to be fought for, and the narrative has long been dictated by whites.
Giving up some television programs or accepting that they maintain a problem that makes life harder for some is hardly a victim in comparison, especially if it helps to put the scale in a more balanced position.
For more information on how you can support Black Lives Matter, visit the official website or donate here. Readers can also donate to the British anti-discrimination group Stand Up To Racism and the Unite Families & Friends Campaign, which supports those affected by police, prison and psychiatric deaths.
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