On May 25th George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died in police custody after being arrested for his alleged use of a counterfeit 20 dollar bill. The four officers used excessive force in clear violation of policy in spite of Floyd and onlookers calling for help. The incident reinforced the Black Lives Matter movement, calling attention to the treatment of people of colour by the majority. This call for social change brought scrutiny on how black characters are treated in movies and television, resulting in major changes in casting and censorship of existing media for better representation of people of colour.
The Simpsons, a pop culture juggernaut show that’s been on the air for three decades is no stranger to controversy. In the past, they came under fire for the character of Apu, a stereotypical Indian convenience store owner. This criticism of the character seems to miss the point because all of the show’s characters are stereotypes and caricatures. There is also the fact that aside from his outwardly stereotypical traits, Apu was presented as an enterprising and intelligent business owner, not the butt of jokes, but a part of them. This is especially true in contrast with Homer, who is a caricature of an indolent and ignorant, if loveable, middle class working American. Earlier this year, Apu’s voice actor, Hank Azaria stepped away from the character, not wanting to hurt people’s sentiments.
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, The Simpsons is now set to recast its black characters, including Policeman Lou, Carl Carlson and Dr Hibbert with black voice actors. A statement was released the show’s producers, “Moving forward, The Simpsons will no longer have white actors voice non-white characters.”
Shows With A Black Perspective
When it comes to presenting an African American perspective, there are shows that have risen to prominence in light of recent events. Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us gives audiences a raw look into the infamous Central Park Five Case. As for a witty and poignant take on racial dynamics on an upscale college campus, we have Dear White People. There’s even adaptations of black superheroes from DC comics such as Black Lightning.
Erasing Problematic Scenes
Several TV episodes and scenes featuring characters in blackface or other racially insensitive content have been removed in recent weeks as the entertainment industry confronts it’s handling of race. However, this removal of racially insensitive content may be seen as simply an attempt to erase the past, not acknowledge it. This censorship doesn’t mean that these insensitive scenes were never committed to film. There have been instances where shows have acknowledged problematic material. Even Tom and Jerry put disclaimers on episodes containing the maid character. Does the fact that the show contains elements of prejudice born of the prevalent attitudes of its time mean that it should be taken off the air? The existence of the Mammy stereotype character doesn’t mean mean that Tom and Jerry is not one of the most iconic works of animation in history. In some cases, acknowledging a problematic past and trying to do better may be a better alternative.