Chris Lilley still hasn’t realized his comedic shtick is old and played out.
Netflix recently teamed up with the Australian comedian for Lunatics, a show that follows six eccentrics on their day to day lives, all played by Lilley.
Chris has a pretty controversial past as comedian — think Blackface, yellow face, the works. It’s been years since his last television show (which was shut down), so you’d think he would have learned his lesson. Think again.
It wasn’t long before the character Jana Melhoopen-Jonks came on screen, a lesbian pet psychic. There Chris was, tanned skin, wearing an Afro wig, and donning a South African accent.
The internet went nuts, condemning Lilley for his use of blackface once again after being called out on it in the past. Others claimed that Jana was supposed to be a Rachel Dolezal type. Regardless, it got people talking.
The show’s producer Laura Waters claimed that he wasn’t in blackface,
“Chris Lilley is not portraying a woman of color. When the series is released you will see that Jana is a white woman with huge 70s style curly hair.”
Ma’am, that “70s style curly hair” is a damn Afro. Plus, Chris’ character is considerably darker than he actually is. But you still want viewers to believe that Jana is white?
Of course, Chris’ antics didn’t stop there.
Two of the characters, Keith and Joyce, clearly suffer from mental illnesses. Becky, a college freshman has an undisclosed illness that caused her thighs to be oversized and stand at 7’3″ and Quentin is a stereotypical dudebro who says f****t one too many times. But, anything for a laugh.
As for Jana, we get a flashback scene of her on a farm with her (white) parents in Zimbabwe. There, she’s white, everyone can breathe a sigh of relief. Was this bit added after the public outcry? You can clearly tell that Lilley’s skin was darkened for the character. What was the purpose of him doing that? Why didn’t he address the controversy the minute people called him out?
This isn’t Chris’ first taste of criticism.
His 2014 show, Jonah From Tonga was pulled from Maori TV for stereotyping Polynesians. In Angry Boys (2011), he wore yellowface and blackface as Japanese mother Jen and African American rapper S. Mouse. He even recorded a song called “Squashed N**ga”, in which he said the n-word fifteen times.
What’s worse is that Chris knows that his work is offensive and racist but he hasn’t apologized for it. He just doesn’t care. He said so himself in a cringe-worthy interview with Vulture in 2014.
“The idea is that I play multiple characters. That’s what I’ve always done. Part of what I like to do is to push the boundaries and try new things. When I came up with the idea of the boys’ heroes on the wall, I thought, Well, they’re going to be into hip-hop. They’re going to want a rapper to come to their party, so I have to play a black guy. And I just thought, It’s going to provoke people, it’s going to be headlined…I think it’s a bit stupid that you would shut yourself off to being able to do that.”
No, Chris, you didn’t have to play a black guy, you chose to. Take ownership of that.
Chris and the showrunners of Lunatics might claim that Jana is white, but at the end of the day, the racial ambiguity of Jana is staring us right in the face. You can’t tell me that Lilley didn’t do this on purpose. He’s known for using black, brown and yellow face, we shouldn’t have expected anything different from him.
With his track record, Netflix shouldn’t have even given Lilley the time of day, but we keep giving problematic people a platform. Thankfully, the show hasn’t gotten that much buzz — at least, not in the states. It shows we’re growing as a society. That we’re finally realizing that making fun of someone’s race or disability isn’t funny.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Chris, who says that he will continue to create what he calls “clever” characters.
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Alysia Stevenson is a twenty-seven New York City transplant currently living in Florida with her boyfriend and three furbabies. When she’s not writing, you can find her watching beauty tutorials on Youtube or Parks and Rec for the millionth time.