Netflix Axes The Mighty Boosh And The League Of Gentlemen Over Blackface Scenes

Joshua RogersJoshua Rogers in Entertainment, Netflix, TV
Published 11.06.20

Blackface has always been a controversial issue, particularly in comedy, with many satirical shows and comedians using the age-old trope to poke fun at a marginalised minority.

Until recently, it’s been fairly widespread in television, but in the wake of the Black lives Matter movement more and more shows that feature blackface are being pulled as people wise up to the offence it causes.

Yesterday, Little Britain and Come Fly With Me were pulled from BBC iPlayer and Netflix over blackface, and now the latter of those services has decided to axe The Mighty Boosh and The League Of Gentlemen.

According to the Guardian, Netflix found certain characters in both shows ‘problematic’ as they were portrayed by white actors donning blackface. The personalities in question are Spirit of Jazz and Papa Lazarou, in The Mighty Boosh and League of Gentlemen respectively.

Papa Lazarou – described as a “blacked-up ringmaster who calls everybody Dave” – was inspired by an old landlord of the show’s creators, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. The character was accused of harking back to the “ugly legacy of minstrelsy” but Shearsmith has always denied the character was supposed to be a black man.

The Spirit of Jazz character is supposed to be the ghost of fictional jazz musician Howlin’ Jimmy Jefferson and was played by Noel Fielding in the series.

However, the move to pull the shows has sparked debate, with comedian Jack Carroll tweeting that ‘It’s an arbitrary gesture that means they don’t have to put any real work into combatting actual instances of racial discrimination and comedy history is getting smashed in the process.’

Perviously, Reece Shearsmith, who played Lazarou, insisted that his BBC Two character was not blackface.

Speaking to the Independent last year, he said: ‘It was not me doing a black man. ‘It was always this clown-like make-up and we just came up with what we thought was the scariest idea to have in a sort of Child Catcher-like way.’

Furthermore, Channel 4 has removed Bo Selecta! from its streaming service after the show’s creator, Leigh Francis, apologised for portraying black characters in the show.

The comedian played a number of black characters in the show, including Michael Jackson and Craig David, and following the killing of George Floyd killing and subsequent Black Lives Matter movement, he addressed the show’s controversial themes.

In the caption of his emotional Instagram video Francis wrote: “Following recent events, I’ve done a lot of talking and learning and I would like to put this out there. I want to apologise to anyone that was offended by Bo’selecta. I’m on a constant journey of knowledge and just wanted to say I’m deeply sorry. #blacklivesmatter.”

He continued in the video: “My name’s Leigh Francis, I play a character called Keith Lemon on television.

“It’s been a weird few days, I’ve sat and thought about things and what I could post to try and help things.

“Back in 2002 I did a show called Bo’ Selecta, I portrayed many black people. Back then I didn’t think anything about it, people didn’t say anything – I’m not going to blame other people.

“Been talking to some people, I didn’t realise how offensive it was back then.

“I just want to apologise, I just want to say sorry for any upset I caused whether I was Michael Jackson, Craig David, Trisha Goddard, all people I’m a big fan of. I guess we’re all on a learning journey.”

Whether this prompted Channel 4 to take action remains unknown, but a spokesperson for the service told The Sun: “We support Leigh in his decision to reflect on Bo’ Selecta! in light of recent events and we’ve agreed with him to remove the show from the All 4 archive.”

Somehow I don’t think this will be the last show pulled over this issue.

Images via BBC