Update: June 30, 9.15am
After backlash surrounding his depiction of several controversial characters, Lilley, who has stayed silent until now, has responded on his official Facebook and YouTube pages by posting a deleted scene from Jonah From Tonga, entitled Theresa Takalua. He posted the video without any context or caption, so his intention for posting is not quite clear.
On June 29, former Tongan schoolboy Filipe Mahe claimed that he was the subject of the 2004 documentary series and said that Lilley had based the character on him.
In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, he said he felt “embarrassed, full of hate, angry and exploited” after he first watched Summer Heights High.
Mahe had appeared in a 2004 ABC documentary called Our Boys, with the first episode centred around the teen, who was a “charismatic and cheeky Tongan schoolboy having a tough time because of his reading, writing and family difficulties at Sydney’s Canterbury Boys High.”
According to the now-33-year-old, Lilley came to his High School and sat in classes, all in preparation for his new mockumentary.
The similarities weighed far greater than the young man could have expected. Jonah, just like him, was cheeky, charismatic, could dance, had trouble reading and even asked his teacher if she “was on her period” who gave him a hard time. Something Mahe had done while Lilley was in the class.
“I knew from that episode Jonah was me,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald. “I’ve always thought it was racism to Tongans but never spoke out. I would have been labelled a ‘sook’ or ‘can’t handle the banter’ so I didn’t say anything.”
Jonah From Tonga (DELETED SCENE) – Theresa Takalua SUBSRCRIBE to the Official Chris Lilley YouTube
Family Guy Actor Steps Down After Show Is Accused of Racism
Update: June 29, 08.30am
Family Guy has become the latest series to be accused of racism amid the Black Lives Matter movement.
Mike Henry, a white actor who has played African American character Cleveland on the hit show for twenty years, has stepped down from the role after feeling pressure to do so.
Taking to his Twitter, Henry said: “It’s been an honor to play Cleveland on Family Guy for 20 years,[sic]” he wrote.
“I love this character, but persons of color should play characters of color. Therefore, I will be stepping down from the role. [sic]”
It’s been an honor to play Cleveland on Family Guy for 20 years. I love this character, but persons of color should play characters of color. Therefore, I will be stepping down from the role. pic.twitter.com/FmKasWITKT
— Mike Henry (@mikehenrybro) June 26, 2020
Henry, who has been with the show since its inception, also voiced a Latina maid named Consuela, as well as other minor characters.
In 2009, he also voiced Cleveland and his black stepson, Rallo Tubs, in the spin-off series The Cleveland Show until 2013.
Kristen Bell and Jenny Slate Give Up Biracial Cartoon Characters
Update: June 25, 11.00am
Actors Kristen Bell and Jenny Slate have stepped down from their roles on Central Park and Big Mouth respectively, in support of Black Lives Matter.
Bell took to Instagram announcing she will no longer voice Molly, a biracial character on the Apple+ series, saying that “this is a time to acknowledge our acts of complicity.”
“Playing the character of Molly on Central Park shows a lack of awareness of my pervasive privilege. Casting a mixed-race character with a white actress undermines the specificity of the mixed-race and Black American experience.”
“It was wrong and we, on the Central Park team, are pledging to make it right. I am happy to relinquish this role to someone who can give a much more accurate portrayal and I will commit to learning, growing and doing my part for equality and inclusion.”
View this post on Instagram
This is a time to acknowledge our acts of complicity. Here is one of mine. Playing the character of Molly on Central Park shows a lack of awareness of my pervasive privilege. Casting a mixed race character with a white actress undermines the specificity of the mixed race and Black American experience. It was wrong and we, on the Central Park team, are pledging to make it right. I am happy to relinquish this role to someone who can give a much more accurate portrayal and I will commit to learning, growing and doing my part for equality and inclusion.
Slate, who voiced Missy on the Netflix series Big Mouth, also shared a statement to her social platforms, explaining why she reasoned with herself that it was OK to play a biracial character.
“At the start of the show, I reasoned with myself that it was permissible for me to play ‘Missy’ because her mom is Jewish and White — as am I,” Slate wrote.
“But Missy is also Black, and Black characters on an animated show should be played by Black people.”
“In me playing ‘Missy,’ I was engaging in an act of erasure of Black people,” she said before adding, “Ending my portrayal of ‘Missy’ is one step in a life-long process of uncovering the racism in my actions.”
“Most importantly though, to anyone that I’ve hurt: I am so very sorry,” she wrote. “Black voices must be heard. Black Lives Matter.”
Big Mouth creators, Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett support Slate, who will still voice the character during the fourth season of the Netflix series.
“We made a mistake, took our privilege for granted, and we’re working hard to do better moving forward,” they said in a statement on Instagram.
“We are proud of the representation Missy has offered cerebral, sensitive women of colour, and we plan to continue that representation and further grow Missy’s character as we cast a new Black actor to play her.”
Tina Fey Removes Episodes of ’30 Rock’ With Racial Stereotypes From Streaming Services
Update: June 24, 9.00am
Tina Fey, the creator of sitcom 30 Rock, has reached out to streaming platforms to remove episodes of her show which contain blackface.
According to Deadline, Fey, who served as the show’s creator, executive producer and showrunner made the request with co-producer/showrunner Robert Carlock.
“As we strive to do the work and do better in regards to race in America, we believe that these episodes featuring actors in race-changing makeup are best taken out of circulation,” said Fey in a statement.
“I understand now that ‘intent; is not a free pass for white people to use these images. I apologize for the pain they have caused. Going forward, no comedy-loving kid needs to stumble on these tropes and be stung by their ugliness. I thank NBCUniversal for honouring this request.”
The outlet reports that four episodes have been removed, including season 3 episode 2 titled Believe In The Stars, season 5 episode 10 titled Christmas Attack Zone, Season 6 Episode 19, Live from Studio 6H and season 5 episode 4 The Live Show.
The removal comes after Netflix, among others, removed Chris Lilley content from its platforms due to its controversial characters.
Today’s Brooke Boney Speaks Out About Removal of Chris Lilley Content
Update: June 11, 10.00am
Today entertainment reporter Brooke Boney has weighed in on the response to remove Chris Lilley’s programs among others from streaming services.
Boney, who is Indigenous Australian, called the move a “slippery slope”.
“Obviously the characters are controversial, some are hurtful because they’re making fun of people of colour, let’s be honest,” she told hosts Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon
“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.”
Later, Boney addressed the audience. Read the full transcript below.
“I want to talk about the removal of some shows and movies on streaming services over the depiction of black people. There is a problem with the representation of people of colour on our screens. We know that. We also now know that blackface is inappropriate. There is no question about that either. But does going back through the archives and tearing down art that’s been made in the past really help us move forward?
“If I have children, I don’t want them to see that’s how they fit into the world but I would also like to show them how poorly our people were treated in the past. These things hurt because it feels like these people are punching down.
“But if we’re going to go back through history and start removing things that are inappropriate by modern standards, then we will need to get rid of all those movies by Harvey Weinstein or the music by Michael Jackson.
“If these companies want to create lasting change and not just virtue signal, they need to support new talent. They need to open doors that have been closed to people of colour before.
“If they truly want to make a difference in the way that we tell stories about who we are as a society, then we don’t do that by deleting things we’ve done in the past – we do it by making sure we don’t do it again in the future and being more inclusive and responsible with our storytelling. If you’re going to do change, make it meaningful.”
"If these companies truly want to create lasting change and not just virtue signal in a moment of turmoil, then they need to support new talent," @boneybrooke speaks out on streaming services removing content that contain racist depictions. #9Today pic.twitter.com/d232RCdDzt
— The Today Show (@TheTodayShow) June 10, 2020
Netflix Removes Four of Chris Lilley’s TV Shows Amid Black Lives Matter Movement
Update: June 11, 8.30am
The comedian is known for racially profiling characters in his shows including We Can Be Heroes, Summer Heights High, Angry Boys and Jonah From Tonga.
In 2006, Lilley portrayed a Chinese physics student, Ricky Wong, in We Can Be Heroes. The show earned the actor a Logie Award for Best New Talent.
His next series, Summer Heights High (2007), saw Lilley introduce the character of Jonah Takalua, a schoolboy from Tonga, in which Lilley appeared in brownface.
That year, he won Most Popular Actor and the series also won Most Outstanding Comedy Program.
Following the popularity of Jonah, the 45-year-old also produced a follow-up series, with the teen as a central character Jonah From Tonga in 2014.
The mockumentary series followed the rebellious 14-year-old Australian boy of Tongan descent, who is grieving the loss of his mother and is sentenced to juvenile detention.
In 2011, Lilley’s series Angry Boys, showcased the actor in blackface, when he portrayed S.Mouse.
Lilley has received backlash in the past for his controversial characters. In an interview with Vulture in 2011, he said that only “certain races” were an issue and he thought it was a “challenging, new, interesting idea”.
“Mostly I just thought it was a really funny character,” he said of S. Mouse.
“The funny thing is, I played a Chinese student in We Can Be Heroes, I played a Tongan boy in Summer Heights High, and I play a Japanese woman also in Angry Boys, but the only one that people talk about is S.Mouse.
“It’s kind of funny that there are only certain races that it’s an issue – yes, it’s that history with blackface – but, I don’t know.
“There’s no comparison. I think it’s a bit stupid that you would shut yourself off to being able to do that.”
In the US, Netflix added a BLM collection as its own genre and according to spokesperson to the LATimes, “the company has no plans to remove the Black Lives Matter genre tab”.
When you log onto Netflix today, you will see a carefully curated list of titles that only begin to tell the complex and layered stories about racial injustice and Blackness in America. https://t.co/dN6XQmsrGK pic.twitter.com/3CIrrno6mw
— Netflix (@netflix) June 10, 2020
“When you log onto Netflix today, you will see a carefully curated list of titles that only begin to tell the complex and layered stories about racial injustice and Blackness in America,” a Tweet from the service read.
“When we say ‘Black Lives Matter,’ we also mean ‘Black storytelling matters.’ With an understanding that our commitment to true, systemic change will take time – we’re starting by highlighting powerful and complex narratives about the Black experience.”
Lilley’s series’ are not the only ones to be pulled from streaming services amid the equal rights movement. Little Britain and Come Fly With Me have also been removed from several platforms along with The Mighty Boosh and The League of Gentleman and American streaming service HBO Max has temporarily removed Gone With the Wind over “racial depictions”.
Netflix and Lilley are yet to comment.