March 11, 2015

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt just a comedy?

I haven't watched The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt yet. But a posting about it in Facebook's Eradicating Offensive Native Mascotry group led to this debate:I think y'all have too much time on your hands to worry about racism in comedy. Seriously? You're taking comedy seriously? LOL!

...just curious how you felt when 1491s did full on Black face to illustrate the point about Red face...
Why would we take representations in comedy less seriously than elsewhere? It's media and it's pervasive. This is how most people learn about Indians: from what they see in movies and on TV.

This whole mascotry cause is devoted primarily to representations in sports. Is that a serious field? More serious than comedic TV?

I'd argue that they're both unimportant in the grand scheme of things. But they're both important to the issue of Native representations because of their influence.

Is a product package important? How about a fashion show? A college frat party? A Halloween costume? Give us some important examples of racism--as opposed to these "unimportant" examples.

P.S. I appreciate what the 1491s did because they were trying to make a point. Unlike comedies such as this one.

Trying to make a point? do you know this comedy is not trying to make a point?

Idk. What is appropriate comedy about Indians?

What is your solution?
I'm sure they were trying to make a point. Just as hipsters are trying to make a point about how "tribal" they are by wearing Plains headdresses. And how mascot lovers are trying to show how much they "honor and respect" Indians with their clown costumes.

As always, the issue isn't what they intended in their little minds. It's what results on the screen or at an event.What if there are Indian comedy writers for this show? Would it be ok?

How is the comedy hurtful? I have known people who have been in this country for decades, since the 1970's and who still do not speak a bit of English. I have known fair skinned Indians who have passed themselves off as White...actually I know a lot of people like that, especially the richer ones! I have seen Black, Asian, Latin, Native American men go coo coo for White ladies, and it certainly makes me smirk when I see that.
What's my solution? Better comedy.

Native writers would do better in general. But this show may have had a Native writer or two.

They don't get a pass just because they're Native. Same as the Natives who declare they love the "Redskins." It's the results that matter, not the intent.

My blog has 79 postings on "humor" going back 10 years. I'm not going to repeat them all in a tiny Facebook box. Read what I and others have written on the subject for years. Assume we've thought about the issues in depth.

Meanwhile, what's your solution for Jane Krakowski getting another acting role that should've gone to a Native? Are you okay with being invisible? People like me are offering critiques and solutions while you're accepting the status quo.

Comedy is tricky?Comedy is a tricky thing...different people find different things funny.

Which Native actor who looks White should have gotten the role? Suggestions please...

...and if you want to change the story line, what makes you think that your story line would be funny?

Better comedy, btw, is not a solution.

Rob...I am afraid you are stuck in the good ol George Bush mentality of us vs them...geez, lighten up, fella! Been hanging around Russell Means too much perhaps? LOL!
So far I've seen five criticisms of Jane Krakowski playing a Native. No one has said this storyline was funny.

Have you seen light-skinned Natives with dark-skinned parents? In particular, light-skinned Natives with eastern European features? Because that's the issue here--not merely light-skinned Natives.

What's the harm? You mean besides Krakowski taking a role from a Native actor? The harm is depicting, for perhaps the 10,000th time, that being Native is something a white person can do by putting on a costume and some jewelry. Krakowski is engaging in redface by pretending to be Native.

I'm a writer and I've proved I can write funny characters without engaging in redface. Which is a point you haven't addressed. Having white actor play a Native is the same thing we've complained about for decades. Did you miss these complaints? Because there are thousands if not millions of them in existence.

Another thing you're missing is that it takes no effort for a white actress to pass as white, so there's no comedy or drama there. If the actress were Irene Bedard or Kimberly Guerrero, as one critic suggested, she'd have to struggle to look white. The contrast between what she was trying to achieve and what she actually achieved might be funny.

I'm still waiting for your answer on which instances of racism we should criticize if not TV shows? Mascots? Product packages? Fashion shows? College frat parties? Halloween costumes? Go ahead and address each of these so we'll know what we should and shouldn't protest.

The only "us vs. them" here is Natives who want better representations vs. Hollywood which refuses to represent them better. I'll gladly take the Native side in that battle. You can stick with the "it's just comedy" Hollywood status quo that keeps Natives invisible in the media.


After the debate, a few final thoughts.

Obviously, as critics have said, Kimmy Schmidt was trying to explore the issue of Natives who want to and can pass for white. It's a legitimate topic--for some show, at least. But it raises questions.

One, what is it doing in this show? Critics have noted how Krakowski's character could be any ethnicity. She could be Greek, like creator Tina Fey, trying to fit into the non-Greek world. She could be Ukrainian, Brazilian, or Australian.

Remember how Crocodile Dundee had trouble fitting in in New York City? One doesn't need to engage in redface, brownface, or blackface to play a fish out of water. Even if someone has the same skin color as the majority, her language, culture, or religion can set her apart.

It seems the writers added this subplot because one or two of them are Native. That's not a great reason. The subplot doesn't flow naturally from the premise. As critics noted, it feels tacked on.

Two, it's true an actress such as Irene Bedard might look "too Native" to pass comfortably as white. Using someone like her might make the subplot difficult to pull off. Kimberly Guerrero doesn't look traditionally Native, I'd say, but some actresses do.

Okay, but there are thousands of Latina and multiracial actresses who have Native blood. As we've seen on countless shows, they can pass for many ethnicities. Many of them have experienced exactly the plight of Krakowski's character. In one context, they seem Hispanic, or whatever their predominant ethnicity is. In another, they seem white.

That's the kind of actress who should've gotten this role. Not the lily-white Krakowski. Krakowski was cast because she's white and she's Tina Fey's colleague. Not because she has any affinity for a "white Indian" role.

For more on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, see Jane Krakowski in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

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