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Tina Fey Cops-Out Opts-Out of Dealing with Internet Criticism

Grrrrl, I love you, but we need to have a chat.

tina fey

Everybody’s got social blind spots. People who, on any other occasion seem totally progressive and down with all sorts of social justice will suddenly get weirdly defensive when it’s their turn to be called out. It’s happened to me. I’m sure it’s happened to you. Unless you are a poor, disabled, queer, atheist or non-Christian trans woman of color, you enjoy some privilege or other, and it will eventually be your turn to acknowledge a blind spot you might not have realized you had.  This time, that person is Tina Fey.

In an interview with Net-A-Porter, Fey was promoting her new movie, Sisters, which I’m really excited to see. The interview is pretty much what you’d expect, and Fey seems as cool as you’d expect. Until the interviewer brings up Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; in particular, the backlash received over an insensitive casting choice (Jane Krakowski) and storyline dealing with Native Americans (Krakowski playing a Native American character who could pass for white). Here’s what Fey had to say:

Steer clear of the internet and you’ll live forever. We did an [Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt] episode and the internet was in a whirlwind, calling it ‘racist,’ but my new goal is not to explain jokes. I feel like we put so much effort into writing and crafting everything, they need to speak for themselves. There’s a real culture of demanding apologies, and I’m opting out of that.

This is particularly surprising, considering that Fey is an outspoken feminist whose made much of her career calling out sexism in media. So, only those with large, public platforms get to call other creators out on mistakes? Or, does Fey think gender equality is the only fight that matters? Because I feel like she wouldn’t have said something like this had people on the internet, I don’t know, called out a sexist joke made by a male comedian.

This is why intersectional feminism is so important, because there are times when feminism seems like a movement made up of white ladies trying to help other white ladies while paying zero attention to people of color, or other marginalized communities.

As Caroline Framke over at Vox put it:

I understand that it’s frustrating to feel like you have to carefully consider everything you say and do, lest someone call you out online. But the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt plot Fey is referring to really has nothing to do with that. As she said, it was a precalculated storyline. The jokes did speak for themselves; they just didn’t say anything worthwhile. […]

Anonymous comments can bring out the worst in people, and cultural debates can inspire endless back and forth where no one budges an inch. But these aspects of internet culture aren’t enough to justify creative people writing it off entirely. And it’s important to recognize the distinction between holding someone accountable for veering into racist and/or sexist territory and berating her just for the sake of it.

Tina, I love you, but we need to have a chat. Sometimes the joke isn’t worth it. What’s more important? Giving Jane Krakowski what you deem a “fun bit?” Or treating an already marginalized group of people with some respect? I’d like to think you think the latter. That is all these people “demanding apologies” are trying to point out. The same way you’d expect a male comedian to re-evaluate an offensive joke about women, people expect you to at least try not to make race the punchline.

The only thing that made Krakowski’s storyline “funny” was that it was a white actress playing a Native character. If you would’ve cast an actual Native American actress who could pass for white (because yes, that is a real thing that exists), there would’ve been some authenticity there, and it could have been a real exploration of what it feels like to straddle two worlds. Krakowski could’ve had another role entirely. Or, you didn’t have to do the storyline at all and Jacqueline could’ve just been Jacqueline. Either way, that aspect of that character as it stands now is problematic, and you should recognize that. And no, you can’t just write it off, because you have a Native American on staff and two Native American actors who were willing to play her parents. Just as a male showrunner couldn’t write off a sexist joke on a sitcom just because he has one woman on his writing team who said it was okay.

This isn’t “overly-sensitive” people coming down on your joke party. This is frustration and disappointment that comes from a very real place. If you pay attention to that place, and genuinely listen to the people who exist there – even if they aren’t in the industry, and are mere plebes on the Internet – it can only benefit your writing and humor. Please don’t “opt-out” of that.

(Image via David Shankbone/Flickr)

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