Blackface on British TV Finally Faces a Reckoning


Black comedians had been pointing out that using blackface in comedy was wrong “for years,” she added. “We were told we had no sense of humor. We were told we were being negative,” she said. “We were told that it was sour grapes, that we were jealous.”

“They say, ‘Oh it’s just us playing characters,’” Yashere added. “It isn’t characters. It’s always in comedy and it’s always sending up black people.”

Some of the shows pulled from streaming services were made by household names here. On Tuesday, the BBC removed “Little Britain,” a sketch show created by David Walliams and Matt Lucas that aired from 2003-05, from its streaming service because it featured Walliams playing an obese black woman in a sauna. “Times have changed since ‘Little Britain’ first aired,” a BBC spokesman said in an emailed statement. The pair both also played minority characters in their follow-up BBC show from 2010, “Come Fly With Me,” which was not available for streaming.

Earlier this year, Lucas was appointed a host of “The Great British Baking Show.”

On Wednesday, Netflix removed the surreal comedy shows “The League of Gentlemen” and “The Mighty Boosh” from its platforms. Noel Fielding, who is also a host of “The Great British Baking Show,” appeared as a character called The Spirit of Jazz in one “Mighty Boosh” sketch, wearing dreadlocks and blackface. (“The League of Gentlemen” and “The Mighty Boosh” are still available to stream on the BBC’s platform.)

Ava Vidal, a British comedian, said in a telephone interview that she had never been surprised about the use of blackface in these shows. “I think it’s so ingrained,” she said, “people don’t even realize what’s going on.”

“You’ve got to let black people and people of color decide what racism is,” she added.

In Britain, blackface has promoted “harmful stereotypes that are often not even based in truth,” she said. She pointed to the impersonation of Goddard, saying it also included a Jamaican accent.

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