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As networks and streaming services re-evaluate their programming across the board in light of recent protests nationwide, Netflix and the BBC have pulled a television comedy from streaming due to sketches that contained blackface. Little Britain and its follow-up, Come Fly With Me, were formerly available on the platforms and Britbox, but that's no longer the case.
As far as the specific offenses, Little Britain featured at least one black character that was portrayed by a white actor in makeup. David Walliams played Desiree DeVere, a large black woman seen alongside a character played by Matt Lucas, Bubbles DeVere. In Come Fly With Me, Lucas did blackface to portray a cafe worker by the name of Precious Little in a sketch.
Blackface has been an essence of Hollywood that's been deemed controversial for decades, and certainly as long as when both shows had their initial runs. As Deadline noted, there had been past discussions between the comedians and Netflix about reviving the show, though Matt Lucas expressed to Big Issue back in 2017 that any revival now would be different from the original product specifically for those reasons:
If I could go back and do Little Britain again, I wouldn’t make those jokes about transvestites. I wouldn’t play black characters. Basically, I wouldn’t make that show now. It would upset people. We made a more cruel kind of comedy than I’d do now. Society has moved on a lot since then, and my own views have evolved. There was no bad intent there – the only thing you could accuse us of was greed. We just wanted to show off about what a diverse bunch of people we could play. Now I think it’s lazy for white people to get a laugh just by playing black characters. My aim is to entertain, I don’t have any other agenda. And as I’ve got older, I’ve become more empathetic, I care more about hurting people.
There were whispers of a Little Britain return or spinoff in early 2020 (via Radio Times), though one could imagine those plans may be tabled in light of current events. Perhaps Lucas' past statements may mean this project comes to life one day, provided he's genuine in his belief that another collaboration between him and David Walliams wouldn't feature representations that demean or offend minorities. That remains to be seen and, in the meantime, the comedians' sketch comedy series are off streaming until further notice.
Matt Lucas and David Walliams are the latest celebrities forced to confront problematic roles of their past, as The Tonight Show's Jimmy Fallon recently apologized for his own blackface representation from his past days on Saturday Night Live. Fallon apologized for the representation, which was done in order for Fallon to more closely resemble actor and comedian Chris Rock.
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