Twitter Explained | Jimmy Kimmel and Tina Fey’s Troubling Histories with Blackface

By | Jun 25, 2020
Arts & Culture, Latest

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.

Many noted that Kimmel, who often shares his progressive views on stage, was finally falling victim to liberal “cancel culture.”

As #CancelJimmyKimmel began trending, other opinions made their way into the thread. A few voiced concern over “canceling” people.

Others called out the hypocrisy of networks such as NBC and ABC firing women such as Megan Kelly and Roseanne immediately after an offensive misstep while no repercussions seem on the way for Kimmel.

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. 

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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. 

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