Tina Fey got the ’30 Rock’ blackface episodes pulled from circulation

Tina Fey at arrivals for The 72nd Annual...

There is no nuance on the internet, and intention and context are often the enemies of cancel culture! I can’t believe I just wrote that, but here we are. I am an unapologetic 30 Rock stan. There are so many jokes on that show which hold up, and there are so many episodes and storylines which are still the funniest pieces of art ever on television. Was every episode, every storyline, every joke a home-run? Of course not. But it was a good show and, like, 80% of it holds up. In four episodes of 30 Rock, white characters are seen in blackface. Does it matter that the context for the“blackface” instances was the fact that blackface is and was extremely racist and inappropriate and horrible? Like, that was the joke – that Jenna Maroney is tone-deaf and she thought it would be a good way to win an argument. Or that NBC is so racist, they would hire white actors to play black characters. Those were the context of the jokes – they weren’t punching down, they were punching up on clueless white people and corporations.

Instead of waiting for a national Twitter movement to “cancel” the show, Tina Fey has tried to get ahead of the issue and she’s asked those episodes to be removed from circulation:

“30 Rock” creators Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, along with the show’s owner NBCUniversal, have asked that four episodes of the series in which characters appear in blackface be removed from streaming and syndication. In a note obtained by Variety, Fey wrote to the platforms saying that the episodes are “best taken out of circulation” and apologizing “for pain they have caused.”

“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,” Fey wrote.

All of the episodes will be removed by the end of this week, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, while some have already been removed from Amazon and Hulu. The episodes will no longer air as reruns on television, and viewers will also no longer be able to purchase the episodes from on iTunes and Google Play.

The episodes in question are “Believe In The Stars” (season 3, episode 2) and “Christmas Attack Zone” (season 5, episode 10), both of which featured Jane Krakowski’s character Jenna in blackface, as well as “Live from Studio 6H” (season 6, episode 19), which featured Jon Hamm in blackface as part of an “Amos ‘n’ Andy” parody, and the East Coast version of “The Live Show” (season 5, episode 4).

[From Variety]

I think this was a good call, in general. I think that even if the context of the comedy was punching up on “white devils” (as Tracy Jordan would say), it’s good to acknowledge that blackface is still a tremendously hurtful and gross thing, and that everyone can do better. Tina Fey has definitely had racial blindspots before, as have so many others (that being said, she wasn’t sitting in the 30 Rock writers’ room all by herself).

Tina Fey at arrivals for American Museum...

Photos courtesy of WENN.

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46 Responses to “Tina Fey got the ’30 Rock’ blackface episodes pulled from circulation”

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  1. Erinn says:

    I think this was smart. I did appreciate that it only was ever used to punch up, but I completely understand why she would want them taken off the air. I am also an unapologetic 30 Rock fan, and it will always be one of my favorite shows to ever exist.

  2. savu says:

    30 Rock is my favorite show on the planet. I totally understand this decision, but will be sad to see those episodes go as whole episodes. Luckily we were always laughing at how stupid people must be to think blackface is okay. Still, unnecessary.

  3. osito says:

    My husband recently rewatched all of 30 Rock and brought up these episodes. My thought (having not seen them in *years*) was that there’s nuanced and satirical social criticism there and that’s great, but it’s still an uncomfortable flex of white liberal privilege, even if it was on the “right” side. I’m glad she’s beginning to see that “intention” doesn’t just magically make everything she thinks is funny a-ok.

  4. Betsy says:

    I wonder if she’s going to get that horrible marital rape scene episode pulled too. That was disgusting.

    Good for her for asking these episodes to be removed. It was a joke on par with the premise of “the Aristocrats” – just absolutely shocking (in this context). The juxtaposition of Jenna in Hollywood-level makeup with Tracy in same, plus his monster hand, was so shocking it made me laugh indeed, also because, as you say, the point was that Jenna was so stupid as to think this won the argument.

    • SKE says:

      Betsy I totally agree about that episode with the marital rape- the only scene in the whole series that I absolutely hated. They wouldn’t even have to cut the whole episode, just that one flashback. At least with the blackface episodes it felt like there was a point being made, however clumsy. What was the point of that scene with Pete and Paula though? Apparently it was co-written by Paula Pell (who played Paula Hornberger), which further confuses the matter.

    • D says:

      I think that people really need to stop and think about what’s important here. Is it Black Lives Matter or putting our focus on obviously satirical rhetoric on a sitcom from 10 years ago. If it was so offensive to you then why didn’t any of you speak out before? Is it because you know deep down that Tina fey is not racist and did not do this to be offensive but everyone is so confused they don’t know where to stand? I’m genuinely asking because this is clearly satire and actually brings these issues to the forefront, so does anyone turkey think she’s a racist or do we all need to sit down and think abut whatsoever really important here.?

  5. lucy2 says:

    I think this was the right move. I love the show, it’s one of the best written comedies ever, and it was punching up in those instances, but I agree it could still be hurtful and removing them is best.

  6. sa says:

    I’m not sure the context makes a huge difference. It seems more like a way to have their cake and eat it to. Like ‘we’re going to do blackface, but we’ll criticize it while we do it, and then it will be okay.’ It feels more like a loophole to be able to do something offensive and shocking.

    There are many ways to show that a character is tone deaf or that a corporation is evil. They made a choice that they were going to use blackface to do it.

    30 Rock was a comedy, not a reality show. They decided it would be *funny* to have blackface on the show.

    Just to be clear, while I don’t think it makes a huge difference, I am not saying that it makes no difference, or that people can’t grow, learn, and evolve. Tina Fey asking for the episodes to be removed suggests that she has.

    • Naomi says:

      I agree — I love/loved 30 Rock, but its use of blackface was very much part of the hipster-irony of the aught’s, when white people could basically dress up racism, misogyny, etc. as ‘ironic,’ snarky, and funny — a way to have your (racist, misogynistic) cake and eat it too.

      Lainey has a really good piece today about Tina’s ‘apology’ – which reads hollow to me because she doesn’t even say ‘blackface,’ but calls it ‘race-changing makeup,’ which sounds EXACTLY like the corporate-euphemism speak she mocked in 30 Rock. I have a hard time believing she’s really done the kind of work/reckoning she should be doing to acknowledge the racism that her ‘feminist’ humor has often pedaled.

      I’ve re-watched 30 Rock in the past couple years, and each time get increasingly uncomfortable with its handling of race. What about that episode where Alec Baldwin does that ‘therapy’ with Tracy about his father issues –he speaks ‘as’ Tracy’s father, using a voice that is *effectively* blackface.

      • Darla says:

        If I were Lainey I might stick to cleaning up my own backyard right now. Free advice. And I’m not a big Fey fan, so I’m not defending her. But…

      • sa says:

        I didn’t see Tina Fey’s apology and didn’t know that she refused to call it what it was. ‘Race-changing makeup’? Yikes. I never know what to do with apologies that refuse to actually acknowledge what they are for.

        Also, I see that my earlier post has a “to” that should be “too,” but I can’t edit the comment to fix it. It’s making me cringe, so I just wanted to mention that I see it and I’m sorry to anyone else that instinctively cringes at things like that.

      • SKE says:

        I think she said race-changing makeup because Tracy Morgans character was in white face for a couple of those episodes. Not saying I agree with her, just saying that explain her wording.

  7. MsMercury says:

    I love 30 rock but the blackface episodes never sat right with me and they ruined the episodes. It just didn’t need to be done at all. She also did it again with Asian face on Kimmy Schmidt. I also hated the rape joke on 30 rock.

  8. Hyrule Castle says:

    Whew!

    Anyone thinking this is good news needs to follow Black twitter.

    This… isn’t it, not even close.

    Don’t be so flipping white, people.

    • FITTB85 says:

      Could you expand on why this isn’t great, for those of us who don’t follow “Black Twitter” (or any Twitter…)

      I don’t agree that it’s great news that they are pulling these episodes. I think 30 Rock did good social commentary, on how stupid celebrities are, it’s not a malicious attack on the African American race the way black face was originally portrayed. It’s a spotlight on ignorance and the often extreme ignorance of celebrities.
      *Note, the black swans episodes can go, those buts are lazy*
      If any blackface is going to be Deleted from the NBC vault it should be Darrell Hammond’s frequent portrayal of Jesse Jackson.

      • Lee1 says:

        Yep, completely. I am a huge Tina Fey fan, have loved 30 Rock since forever and really enjoyed most of Kimmy Schmidt, but Tina definitely has some real issues when it comes to race. To me, she has always come across as the kind of person who has racially diverse coworkers and casts and probably friends, and that felt like enough to let her get away with not actually reflecting deeper on any issues that affect the BIPOC in her life. She included them, wasn’t that enough? Can’t they take a joke? And I get that there is maybe a generational aspect and an element of having had to ignore and shut down your own instinct towards offense as a woman in comedy in the 80s and 90s, but she is a smart woman with access to information and education and just because something was enough to be considered progressive 20+ years ago doesn’t mean it actually was (I mean, the gate-keepers were still straight white men, even if they were “liberal”) and it definitely doesn’t mean it was or is acceptable. And these “jokes” were pretty much all in the last 10 years or less. People need to keep educating themselves and doing the work. A lot of things that didn’t make me think twice as a 19yr old in 2005 made me really really uncomfortable when I re-watched 30 Rock recently. That kind of shift doesn’t happen over night. The fact that she was still making those kinds of jokes in the last few years is unsettling and erasing it from syndication doesn’t actually make it disappear. I still think she’s very funny and I think she probably has good intent and I hope she has done the work to educate herself more recently and that she has grown and changed. This isn’t what is going to convince me of it though.

  9. SomeChick says:

    Good for her. I’ve never seen 30 Rock, but I can tell you those episodes would have made me cringe even if the joke was on the character. Anything rapey, also Not Funny.

    Being into a show and then stumbling upon that sort of thing always breaks the spell and just makes me go “eww.” Racists are morons, but racism just isn’t funny. Nor is rape. This should not have to be spelled out, but here we are.

    FWIW the Simpsons pulled the Michael Jackson ep. (Yes, it was really MJ voicing.) It is a funny and charming ep, but MJ just makes most people’s skin crawl now, so I agree that it was the right thing to do.

  10. Nanny says:

    Huge fan of 30 Rock, was never offended by their use of black face.
    BLM to me means social justice, reforming the criminal justice system that keeps us chained, courts, prisons, representation in society at large.
    Black face, statues and offensive movies are the least of my problems, white liberals should keep their apologies and either help BLM or please keep to yourself.

    Imagine a world where your screaming stop killing us and the response your given is oops sorry you were offended by my actions

  11. Marty says:

    It’s not just those blackface episodes though…

    • likethedirection says:

      @Marty exactly. I will admit that I didn’t realize how racist the show was the first time I watched it, in high school. I started to rewatch last year, thinking it would be fun to revisit, but it was EVERY EPISODE. Not just the blackface ones. The racist “jokes” are everywhere.

      Then there’s this, from a New Yorker profile of Donald Glover (who wrote for 30 Rock): “‘I wondered, Am I being hired just because I’m black?’ Tina Fey, the show’s creator and star, told me that the answer was in large part yes; she admired Glover’s talent but hired him because funds from NBC’s Diversity Initiative ‘made him free.’” Between 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, can we just admit that Tina Fey is racist?? Sure, she’s not the only writer, but she’s the creator or co-creator of both.

      • Beach Dreams says:

        YES. Tina Fey gets routinely overlooked for her racism and I can’t stand it. She’s just as awful as a lot of the white male comedians like Kimmel.

      • tealily says:

        I never watched 30 Rock but Dong from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt? Her whole SNL sheet cake bit? Ugh. The woman is tone deaf. I don’t get the stans.

      • shalla7 says:

        Thank you @tealiliy and others. I never understood why she often gets a free pass.

      • MA says:

        Yes, Tina Fey is an unapologetic racist. She also said she’s opting out of cancel culture when people were complaining about her racism towards Asians, (which people don’t care about as much). So she’s not doing this out of some crisis of conscience, she’s doing this to protect her bottom line because of the cultural shift.

        She’s tremendously talented and funny too. Why can’t people admit her racism instead of making a pass for her? It’s uncomfortable but it’s the truth. People wouldn’t give the same pass to white male comediens.

  12. LunaSF says:

    I’ve never really watched that show but it does kind of seem like Tina wanted to get ahead of the “cancel culture” bus so she doesn’t go under. Something about her always bugs me and seems off. I think hearing her comments a few years ago about how much she hates strippers and sex workers really bothers me. Strippers are people too and provide a service and deserve protections and it seemed so anti feminist. I have several friends that ex strippers and they are some of the smartest, kindest and yes gorgeous people I’ve met. I think in instances like this she should listen to the black community and if they say these episodes hurt them then listen and take them down. Sometimes loud white people drown out the BIPOC voices by being offended for them and speaking for them instead of listening and following their lead.

    • Beach Dreams says:

      She also critiqued the notion of the ideal woman years ago in a book she wrote, and seemed bitter that the likes of Beyonce and J Lo (and features she stereotypically attributed to nonwhite women in general) were now included in what counted for society’s standards for women’s appearances. I’m sure some will explain away that quote, but it’s part of a pattern of questionable remarks and behavior from her over the years.

      • D says:

        How about you actually read what she said and then make an intelligent comment based off that instead?

  13. Valiantly Varnished says:

    She may not have been in the writers room by herself but she was in the writer’s room with a bunch of other white people. Im not a 30 stan. I like Tina but I have always given her side-eye for how reacted when she was called out for her racial insensitivity in the shows she wrote and produced. Her reaction was to pretend like she hadn’t been called out at all.
    I get why she took them down but I also think it highlights her desire to simply avoid uncomfortable conversations. Because she have actually used those episodes to talk about racial insensitivity and lack of diversity in creative spaces. But she was too afraid to do that and was afraid of being “canceled”.

  14. bub244 says:

    If she’s doing that, she needs to take a quick look at Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt too. And that was only a few years ago…

  15. anp says:

    Perhaps she took the episodes down quickly to avoid being harshly criticized.

  16. Amelie says:

    I never watched 30 Rock but I did watch Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt which Tina was an exec producer of. Jane Krakowski’s character was from a Native American background and the whole joke was that you would flash back to her living with her Native American parents (the actors who played the parents did seem to be actually Native American) and she rebranded herself as a white woman when she moved to NYC. Her shameful secret she didn’t want getting out was that she was actually Native American. Jane Krakowski is 100% white so I never understood this weird creative choice to add the Native American subplot (though later on Krakowski’s character goes on to date an owner of the Washington Redskins and tries to conspire with him to change the team name so it seems they tried to make amends for the racist NA subplot).

    At one point Kimmy dates an Asian guy named Dong which wasn’t handled all that well and Titus tries to dress us as a geisha and there’s this whole weird “cancel culture” satire going on… Tina Fey has tried to use race as a punch line and as some kind of social commentary satire throughout the run of the show and it always fell pretty flat to me. She definitely has some major racial blind spots and needs to stop using minorities at their expense for cheap humor.

  17. CROOKSNNANNIES says:

    I never liked 30 Rock. I know it was supposed to be over the the top but I found it desperate and cringy. Can’t believe Tina Fey refused to say “blackface.” Talk about trying to have your white liberal guilt cake and eat it too. She should own up 100%.

  18. KL says:

    Okay, cool.

    Now if she would finally admit the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt episode which mocks outrage against yellowface and Asian fetishizing while making “I can’t breathe” into a PUNCHLINE was a huge goddamn mistake…

    I am not coming from a higher ground, here, I love 30 Rock and I love big sections of UKS. But people called out Fey’s hipster approach to racial humor while the show was airing! She hated the criticism! (It wasn’t always punching up: Jon Hamm’s character got a hand transplant from an executed prisoner where his natural skin was darkened. It went rogue, he said “oh no it’s doing a Black Power salute” before it strangled him. Stuff like that.) Recognizing that as a white creator she maybe shouldn’t play with blackface feels like the barest minimum, and literally almost a decade after the show ended? It’s hard to believe a woman who created such smart, funny shows isn’t smarter than THAT.

  19. Tiff says:

    It’s not just 30 Rock. Tina Fey has been problematic for a long time and very recently. 30 Rock, Mean Girls, Kimmie Schmidt, and basically everything else she has done has issues with race – black face, yellow face, casting Jane Krakowski as indigenous. I read an article recently about her hiring Donald Glover and basically telling him he was the diversity hire and being “surprised” he wanted to write for characters other than Tracy Morgan. She is also on record saying she refuses to apologize for any of her jokes after being called out on the racist shit she writes. Tina Fey has, and has always had, big Karen energy.

    • Darla says:

      Big Karen energy, what a turn of phrase. I am so jealous of you right now. I love it, and I am probably going to steal it.

      Yeah, I am not a Fey fan. Interesting, I thought I was alone for a long time. She rubs me wrong on many things, race a big one, and she’s got other blind spots. She’s got a big Madonna whore complex going. She truly does.

    • D says:

      Honestly, I’m baffled… have none of you heard of satire?

  20. Regina Falangie says:

    I never understood the love for Alec and it always bothered me that he was such a big part of the show. I couldn’t get into it with his angry bloat face. He ruined it for me.

    As far Tina’s approval on storylines with blackface, her ego wrote checks that couldn’t ever be cashed.

  21. Ellie says:

    Like in Mean Girls…. welcome to our new student straight from Africa
    Tina looks to the black student and says “Welcome!”
    “Uh… I’m from Michigan”

  22. PK says:

    I bet if someone else was in her position Tina, the rich white Democrat, would cancel them.

  23. Jane Does says:

    Much of Tina Fey’s comedy, including this show is racist. The “punching up” up argument doesn’t hold.

  24. Sass says:

    I always found the transphobia troubling on 30 rock… what was that about?!