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Why was 30 Rock so problematic when it came to race?

  • In Mike Roe's new book The 30 Rock Book, Rolling Stone TV critic Alan Sepinwall tells him: “Race has been kind of an Achilles’ heel for Fey and Carlock," referring to 30 Rock creator and star Tina Fey and her collaborator Robert Carlock. 30 Rock made headlines amid the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 when Fey announced she was pulling several episodes featuring blackface. As Roe learned in his reporting, 30 Rock prop master Kevin Ladson, who is Black, was at first fine with blackface, but became concerned with its repeated use. “I came down and I saw Jenna, and that…that really hurt,” Ladson said. “And I said, ‘I really want to know how this gets a pass.’” Roe adds: "The blackface jokes are a microcosm of 30 Rock’s wider treatment of race. The show offered a distinctly upper-class white view of the world, not doing much to connect with people of color beyond giving Tracy Morgan a place to shine. As Tracy Jordan, Morgan was playing off a comedic voice he’d established on SNL—gloriously wild, able to credibly say anything. But it was also a voice that fit a long-established narrative: an uneducated Black man ready to act the fool for his audience, a characterization that keeps non-Black people from feeling uncomfortable. The character of his wife, Angie, was portrayed hilariously by Sherri Shepherd—but almost every other Black woman who appeared on the show delivered the same sort of satirical sassiness. The show also lacked much grace in the less-than-careful ways it dealt with Native Americans, trans people, and other underrepresented groups throughout the series. The show frequently employed stereotypes with a wink, indicating that it wasn’t really being racist while still using those racist tropes. In each case, 30 Rock failed to bring the same level of insight that Fey often brought to discussions of gender—perhaps because of its largely homogenous creative team."

    TOPICS: 30 Rock, Robert Carlock, Tina Fey, Retro TV, TV Books