Twitter Explained | Jimmy Kimmel and Tina Fey’s Troubling Histories with Blackface
It’s hard enough to digest current events without an endless stream of unsolicited commentary clogging up your newsfeed. So it’s understandable that some of us avoid Twitter, or at least avoid the conversations and fights occurring among the masses of unverified users who could very well be bots. But interesting things happen on this social media platform (as well as others such as Facebook and Reddit, but we’re taking this one step at a time), and some even end up making mainstream headlines. So, in this new series, Moment will shed some light on what’s been trending and why.
Earlier this week, as conversations about race relations in America continued in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, two relatively well-liked celebrities popped up on my “What’s Happening” sidebar—Jimmy Kimmel and Tina Fey—for joining the not-so-exclusive club of white personalities who have a history of using blackface.
Emerging less than a month after fellow late-night host Jimmy Fallon was criticized for appearing in blackface on an episode of Saturday Night Live, the news of Kimmel, host and executive producer of the nightly comedy talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live!, playing black characters inspired calls to “cancel” Kimmel and his show.
Oh hell naw, Jimmy Kimmel.
Your ass done did black face too many times…
— Anita Faker (@MovesLikeRoy) June 23, 2020
Many noted that Kimmel, who often shares his progressive views on stage, was finally falling victim to liberal “cancel culture.”
Jimmy if you want to make your woke bed then you are going to have to lie in it
— Winston Smythe (@WinstonSmythe4) June 24, 2020
As #CancelJimmyKimmel began trending, other opinions made their way into the thread. A few voiced concern over “canceling” people.
Cancel Culture – A Special Thread: Jimmy Kimmel has apologized for doing Blackface back in the day and as much of a hypocrite that he is, I don’t think he should be cancelled. Not because I’m especially fond of him but because I’m against cancel culture. 1/5 pic.twitter.com/t8rAc7TqJA
— Price of Reason (@priceoreason) June 24, 2020
Megyn Kelly was fired within hours after saying, “But what is racist? Back when I was a kid that was OK, as long as you were dressing up as, like, a character.”
Jimmy Kimmel wore blackface, said the N-word repeatedly and mocked Black culture. When will he be fired?!
— JT Lewis (@thejtlewis) June 23, 2020
Still waiting for ABC to Fire Jimmy Kimmel. ABC fired Roseanne right away but since Jimmy is a man and liberal they’ll give him a pass. #CancelJimmyKimmel
— Louisemarie (@Louisemsugar) June 24, 2020
As the hashtag continued to move up and up on my trending tab, news also began to spread that Kimmel had used the n-word in a 1996 Snoop Dog imitation, which caused some of Twitter’s broader thinkers to question the history of the term in media, and when, if ever, it’s acceptable to use the n-word.
Just searched the NYT archives for the n-word (the actual word) and there were over 24,000 results, as recently as… today. I get why people are mad at Jimmy Kimmel but saying the word in a non-racist context was not taboo until recently. That should matter.
— Katie Herzog (@kittypurrzog) June 24, 2020
And in the true spirit of no rest for the wicked, a video of a 2009 Jimmy Kimmel Live! interview with Megan Fox resurfaced, in which Kimmel makes some lewd comments about the sexualizing of underage actresses in Hollywood, prompting actress Rose McGowan, one of the original accusers of Harvey Weinstein and outspoken feminist activist, to add misogynist to Kimmel’s CV.
Megan Fox told her truth and she was laughed at. And so many of you say, ‘why don’t you all come out sooner?!’ We do, you just don’t listen. You’d rather throw rotten tomatoes & razor blades at sexualized young actresses. Blackface + misogyny = @jimmykimmel
— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) June 24, 2020
— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) June 23, 2020
Wrapped up in the Kimmel threads were calls to cancel comedy actress and writer Tina Fey for using blackface and other racial insensitivities on her productions. Known for movies such as Mean Girls, and TV shows such as Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Fey’s name originally appeared in the news cycle when she announced a request to take down episodes of 30 Rock that included characters in blackface.
But no good deed goes unpunished, and tweeters quickly flipped this seemingly good-natured move on its head, accusing Fey and NBC of merely succumbing to pressures of the moment heightened by the Black Lives Matter protests.
I want people do realize, NBC andTina Fey are only doing this because fo negative pressure they may feel if they keep it. Blackface was bad in 2013 when the show stopped airing and it’s bad now.
NBC and Tina Fey didn’t LEARN anything over those 7 years and if they did thats sad
— Keith Nelson Jr (@JusAire) June 23, 2020
Other users quickly brought up some of Fey’s more questionable uses of racial stereotypes, such as her portrayal of Asian American characters in Mean Girls and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and her casting of fellow white 30 Rock co-star Jane Krakowski as a Native American in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
What’s up with Tina Fey’s weirdness with Asians? In Mean Girls, underaged girls being raped by Coach Carr are Trang Pak and Sun Jin Dinh. And it’s played for laughs as the 2 girls fight over him. pic.twitter.com/CIZINQCola
— Ceda DEFUND THE POLICE Shiiiiiiiiong (@slobear) June 20, 2020
When confronted in 2016, Fey was basically a shrug emoji. That same year, Kimmy Schmidt included an episode where Titus believes he’s a geisha and comes under criticism from an Asian activist group. The acronym for that group was RAPE: pic.twitter.com/HV6EJ7k2es
— alex (@alex_abads) June 23, 2020
Hey Tina Fey, how about taking down all the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt episodes that promote red face by having a White woman play a Native character?
Oh wait, that would be the entire series.
— Rebecca Nagle (@rebeccanagle) June 23, 2020
While Fey’s use of racial stereotypes was news to many on Twitter, others tweeted sighs of frustrated relief as the online world began to understand what they had deemed questionable for years.
Tina Fey is racist as hell, how am I just learning about this now :
– Black face in her show 30 Rock
– Yellow face in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
– Repeatedly using Asian stereotypes as the butt of a joke
– Cast white actors to play Native American roles in Kimmy Schmidt pic.twitter.com/l8f6i7dUXQ
— Alijah, the Kaiju (@alijahthekaiju) June 23, 2020
I just think it’s funny that I’ve been talking about Tina Fey’s racism for almost 20 years. But whatever. Let’s get into this racial reckoning for white celebrities.
— Come Through with Rebecca Carroll (@rebel19) June 23, 2020
And all this bad press comes just weeks before a 30 Rock reunion special is scheduled to air on NBC.
Despite all the virtual hullabaloo, by early Wednesday morning, Kimmel had issued an apology, and by mid-afternoon #WearADamnMask was trending higher than he was. Perhaps rightfully so, people now seem more preoccupied with the alarming and rising numbers of COVID cases in the U.S. than they do with how to deal with Fey and Kimmel. It looks like they may be joining the not-so-exclusive-club of white celebrities who’ve gotten away with it.