As more and more media companies are facing backlash for controversial themes being explored in their narratives, The Office is the latest series to attempt to do right by audiences by removing a scene in which a character appears in blackface from its Season Nine holiday episode. While the contextual inclusion of such a depiction is meant to convey that it is an inappropriate move on the part of a character, creator Greg Daniels shared that it was "unacceptable" to exploit an offensive depiction to make a satirical point. The scene has since been removed from the episode on Netflix, and will also be edited on syndicated episodes of the series on various networks, in addition to being edited when it lands on streaming service Peacock next year.
“The Office is about a group of people trying to work together with mutual respect despite the inappropriate actions of their boss and assistant manager,” Daniels shared with TheWrap. “The show employed satire to expose unacceptable behavior and deliver a message of inclusion. Today we cut a shot of an actor wearing blackface that was used to criticize a specific racist European practice. Blackface is unacceptable and making the point so graphically is hurtful and wrong. I am sorry for the pain that caused.”
In the episode, entitled "Dwight's Christmas," Dwight (Rainn Wilson) is tasked with organizing the holiday festivities, which predictably results in him embracing the traditions of Belsnickel, a character from German folklore. When Oscar (Oscar Nunez) investigates the legend, he discovers that Belsnickel is often accompanied by "Black Peter," who is "a slave boy often portrayed in colorful pantaloons and blackface." Understandably, most of the Dunder Mifflin employees point out that this is offensive.
In the now-edited version of the scene, Dwight initially objects to Black Peter being offensive, though hearing complaints from his coworkers results in him taking out his phone and sending a text message. Later in the episode, we see Nate (Mark Proksch) in the remnants of blackface makeup that has mostly been washed off. The original version of the episode depicts Nate receiving the text message in blackface as Black Peter, only to turn around in the parking lot after learning that his outfit is inappropriate.
Earlier this month, NBC revealed that four episodes of 30 Rock would be pulled from streaming services due to uses of blackface. Episodes of Scrubs and Community have also been pulled or edited due to insensitive themes. The reactions from fans have been somewhat mixed, as audiences largely supported the decision, though noted that attempting to erase them from history was less effective than making them available yet admitting that they were inappropriate.
HBO Max launched earlier this year and made Gone With the Wind available, only for it to be pulled from the service due to its racially insensitive depictions. It has since been placed back on the service, though it is now prefaced with a disclaimer addressing the outdated references in hopes of contextualizing those controversial perceptions.
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