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Netflix Australia has pulled several Chris Lilley shows, as platforms around the world axe content featuring blackface and other racist stereotypes

James Hennessy
·3-min read
  • Netflix has removed four shows by comedian Chris Lilley from its Australian platform: “Angry Boys,” “Summer Heights High,” “We Can Be Heroes” and “Jonah From Tonga".

  • The shows have faced strident criticism over the years due to Lilley's performances in blackface and brownface.

  • The move comes as a number of entertainment companies around the world pull content featuring racist stereotypes, amid global Black Lives Matter protests.

  • Visit Business Insider Australia's homepage for more stories.

Netflix has dropped four shows by comedian Chris Lilley from its Australian library, including "Angry Boys" and "Summer Heights High", as multiple streaming services around the world reckon with content on their platforms amid global Black Lives Matter protests.

The four shows which have been removed are “Angry Boys,” “Summer Heights High,” “We Can Be Heroes” and “Jonah From Tonga.” – all of which were originally produced by Princess Pictures for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Lilley's latest show, "Lunatics", which is a Netflix Original, remains on the service.

The shows, despite being originally commissioned by the ABC, are not currently available for streaming on the broadcaster's online platform iview.

Lilley's shows have long faced scrutiny, largely due to the comedian's habit of performing as characters of other races, including Tongan schoolboy Jonah Takalua and African American rapper S.mouse. Lilley performs as these characters in blackface and brownface.

The move has divided audiences, with supporters considering it a long-overdue move for a series of shows which have faced strident criticism for their racial depictions for years, and critics lambasting it as either censorious or unlikely to provoke material change.

Lilley faced particularly intense criticism in 2017, when he reposted an old clip from "Angry Boys" featuring a satirical music video named "Squashed N***a". The clip was reposted days after a controversial verdict was handed down over the death of Aboriginal teenager Elijah Doughty in Western Australia.

"Today" entertainment reporter Brooke Boney, a Gamilaroi woman, said the removal of problematic content could be a "slippery slope".

“Obviously the characters are controversial, some are hurtful because they’re making fun of people of colour, let’s be honest,” Boney said. “People of colour aren’t represented enough on screen and you’ve got people who are white making fun of that, that’s obviously unhelpful and not nice. But I think when we start removing content and when we start tearing things down it’s a very slippery slope.”

A worldwide shift among entertainment companies

Netflix's move comes amid a reckoning for entertainment companies around the world, which have responded to Black Lives Matter protests by examining content on their platforms featuring racial stereotypes and blackface performances.

HBO Max announced this week it had temporarily pulled the 1939 movie “Gone With the Wind” from its service because of “racist depictions.”

“‘Gone With The Wind’ is a product of its time and depicts some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that have, unfortunately, been commonplace in American society," a spokesperson said. "These racist depictions were wrong then and are wrong today, and we felt that to keep this title up without an explanation and a denouncement of those depictions would be irresponsible.”

Similarly, sketch comedy show "Little Britain", which first aired in 2003 on the BBC, was removed from all UK streaming platforms due to concerns about the use of blackface by its two stars, David Walliams and Matt Lucas.

Netflix also axed sketch comedy shows "The Mighty Boosh" and "The League of Gentlemen" from its platform, both of which featured white actors in blackface to play certain characters.

The period of change amid Black Lives Matter protests extends beyond scripted shows which rely on racial stereotypes. Reality show "Cops", which has run in some form since 1989, was cancelled by the Paramount Network.

"We don't have any current or future plans for it to return," a Paramount Network spokesperson said in a statement.