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Comedian Chris Lilley Faces Criticism For Appearing To Wear Blackface In New Netflix Series

Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images; @sncrlynotsorry/Twitter

It should be really simple, but somehow, in the year 2019, we still have problems with blackface.

I mean, racism is still a massive, ongoing problem in this country, and we need to work through it. But how have we not been able to take the basic first step of “stop doing blackface”?

Australian actor and comedian Chris Lilley has a new show on Netflix called Lunatics, and one of his characters does blackface.

Lilley is known for his provocative sense of humor, but his series Jonah from Tonga was canceled for its lack of race sensitivity. You’d figure he’d have learned his lesson by now.

There is a little more nuance to his new character, however. On Lunatics, Chris plays six different characters, one of whom is Jana, a “lesbian pet psychic to the stars” from South Africa.

Her look is meant to evoke Rachel Dolezal and other ‘transracial’ stereotypes. Which, sure, a satirical look at that could be funny. It could even be helpful.

But is Lilley really the person to do it?

No. No he is not.

I’m not saying Lilley is entirely without talent. He is capable of hilarious characters and brilliant satire. His popularity in the 2000s wasn’t a fluke. He was genuinely funny.

But he lacks finesse and a sense of self-reflection. A white man trying to bring a satirical message about a white woman pretending to be black is several layers too deep to get anything useful from the performance.

His message is muddied and further distances itself with the increased racial tension in recent times.

It really seems like Chris hasn’t grown beyond brownface or donning a skirt to make his points.

Jana being a transracial character falls in line with production leaks from last year, but after the trailer broke, producer Laura Walters was quick to distance themselves from the performance.

Walters said,

“Correcting some confusion – in the new show Lunatics, Chris Lilley is not portraying a woman of colour.”

“When the series is released you will see that Jana is a white woman with huge 70s style curly hair.”

Which, sure, you could maybe see that. But considering his history, the leaks and just seeing the character, you’d have a hard time believing it.

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Written by Ben Acosta

Ben Acosta is an Arizona-based fiction author and freelance writer. In his free time, he critiques media and acts in local stage productions.