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Will Jimmy Fallon's racial awakening following blackface controversy lead to true change on The Tonight Show?

  • Fallon tells The New York Times that he had to respond in his own voice after his past use of blackface 20 years ago Saturday Night Live blew up on Twitter on May 26. “I can’t let a corporation give me a planned statement to say,” he says. “I can’t ask a publicist to give me a planned statement.” Since Fallon was off that week, The Tonight Show host took extra care in crafting an on-air apology amid the police brutality protests for his return on Monday, June 1, writing down six pages of his own thoughts -- while rejecting input from his writers and producers -- with his wife Nancy Juvonen helping shape and organize the material. “We whittled it down to what the hardest things, the utmost honest things were,” says Fallon. “I didn’t really give it to anyone on my team. I said, I’m just going to do something. I have it written out and I’m not going to tell you what it is. And you’ll see it when I hand over the footage for the edit.” As The Times' Dave Itzkoff, who visited Fallon's house shortly before the blackface controversy and spoke to him afterwards, explains: "Topics like the killings of black Americans by police officers are horrifying, and they are perhaps unsuited to a host who is simultaneously trying to account for a past transgression that perpetuated a longstanding racist practice that continues to reverberate in entertainment, education and politics. The recent efforts of The Tonight Show and other late-night programs to address these subjects have once again called attention to how predominantly white and male this genre remains. While Fallon doesn’t want to make a show that is even slightly polarizing, he did not want to sit this moment out, either." Fallon devoted The Tonight Show last week to black guests, starting with NAACP president Derrick Johnson and including Kamala Harris, W. Kamau Bell and Wyatt Cenac. Whether the events of last week will permanently change Fallon remains to be seen. As the NAACP's Johnson put it: “Moving forward, individuals like Jimmy Fallon with a larger than life following should be vocal and visible when it comes to addressing the systemic issues that plague this country; from police brutality against Black people to institutional racism. For there to be a cultural shift, we need voices like his to acknowledge that the problem exists, engage in dialogue about how to fix the problem, and then actively contribute to the solution.”

    TOPICS: Jimmy Fallon, NBC, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, George Floyd, Nancy Juvonen, Blackface, Black Lives Matter, Late Night