The Uncomfortable Whiteness of “Kimmy Schmidt”

Like everyone else in the known-universe with a Netflix subscription I started (and finished all too quickly) watching “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” this weekend. And it is marvelous.

It’s got the same sort of quirky, sharp humor that the later seasons of “30 Rock” had (no surprise since it’s helmed mostly by the same crew), but it’s also able to break out of 30 Rockefeller Plaza and out into the real world. Tina Fey, you’ve done it again.

An example of the butt of the joke being the institution, not the person
An example of the butt of the joke being the institution, not the person

Which is a little what I’m worried about when it comes to the race jokes. As far as my (limited) understanding of Fey’s past writers rooms, she’s smart enough to hire a diverse writing staff, and that often shows in her comedy. The problem is, not all her actors match. In fact, like almost any other show on TV, “Kimmy Schmidt” is overwhelmingly white. And while for the most part the jokes land on the right people (even Kimmy and her fellow Mole Women former cult members are never the butt of the joke for their ignorance), there’s only so much you can do when most of your cast is as white as Empire Mayonnaise.

wolf6tvf-1-webTitus’ experiences being treated better in New York as a werewolf than a black man make for good satire because they come from him; they punch up, so to speak. But Jacqueline’s “twist” as a Native American who’s worked very hard to pass as a white woman seems dicey at best as she’s played by white woman. I’ve read that these decisions came from some Native American writers in the writers room, but given that the audience is only seeing them come from the mouth of a white woman, it could potentially do more harm than good.

Clearly, my opinion should be taken with a grain of salt, as I myself write from the place of whiteness. I also wouldn’t qualify myself as an astute enough study on the first round of viewings to decide where each and every joke makes its mark. But I think that if “Kimmy Schmidt” really wants to land this plan, it might want to look back to what its Grandmentor Jack Donaghy once said:

This was the biggest waste of time since NBC’s Diversity Writing program. That was a good idea but all our actors are so white.

Put your money where your mouth is, “Kimmy Schmidt.” By your powers and Netflix combined who knows what you could achieve.

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