'Make it meaningful': Today show host critical of Netflix's axing of Aussie shows

Brooke Rolfe
News Reporter

Today show reporter Brooke Boney has questioned Netflix’s decision to pull programs from its streaming service that have depicted people of colour as “bottom rung of the ladder”.

Boney, an Indigenous Australian and entertainment reporter for Nine’s Today show, argued on Thursday it would be wrong to remove shows containing racist undertones if the streaming service was not committed to making long-term change.

By taking down programs in response to widespread civil uproar over the death of black man George Floyd at the hands of police, she said it risked being nothing more than token “virtue signalling”.

Four comedy programs from Australia’s Chris Lilley are among the latest to have been pulled from Netflix in New Zealand and Australia over its depiction of people of colour and use of blackface and brownface makeup.

Summer Heights High and Jonah From Tonga have been pulled from Netflix. Chris Lilley portrays Jonah Takalua in both. Source: YouTube/Chris Lilley

Summer Heights High, Angry Boys, We Can Be Heroes and Jonah From Tonga, which all were initially aired on ABC, have been removed.

“Does going back through the archives and tearing down art that has been made in the past really move forward?” Boney asked.

“If I have children, I don’t want them to see and to think that that is how they fit into the world. But I’d also like to be able to show them how poorly our people were thought of and treated in the past.

“These things hurt because it feels like these people, they’re punching down, it’s easy for them to make fun of people who are on the bottom rung of the ladder in society.”

If companies remove material that by modern standards are considered inappropriate, they should also be pulling movies by disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein and music by Michael Jackson, Boney said.

“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. They need to open doors that have been closed to people of colour before,” she said.

“If you’re going to do change, make it meaningful.”

Chris Lilley uses brownface to portray Jonah Takalua in two of his programs. Source: YouTube/Chris Lilley

In his shows, Lilley portrays black rapper S.mouse in Angry Boys and uses brownface in his Jonah character on Summer Heights High as well as its spin off, Jonah from Tonga.

Lilley, whose shows Lunatics and Ja’mi Private School Girl remain on the streaming service, also plays a Chinese physics student in We Can Be Heroes.

The four programs were pulled from Netflix a day after the service took down British comedies Little Britain and Come Fly With Me from its UK platform.

Brooke Boney criticised companies removing old content considered inappropriate by modern standards. Source: Nine/The Today Show

Little Britain and Gone With The Wind cut

Little Britain, starring David Walliams and Matt Lucas, received recent criticism for its use of blackface in some sketches and portrayal of black women by white men.

In Come Fly With Me Lucas wore dark make-up to play Jamaican woman Precious and ground crew employee Taaj, who was of Pakistani descent.

Lucas has since said he has regrets about Little Britain, describing the comedy as "cruel".

He told The Big Issue: "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."

Matt Lucas portraying Vicky Pollard in Little Britain, which has been removed from Netflix. Source: AAP

Award winning 1939 film Gone with the Wind, which is set in Atlanta during and after the Civil War, has also been removed from US streaming service HBO Max.

Sydney radio shock jock Ray Hadley was another to criticise the move by Netflix.

“The world has definitely gone mad and it’s got nothing to do with the virus,” he said on Thursday.

“It’s the politically correct taking over everything! If satire dies and comedy dies won’t we be a miserable lot of bastards.”

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