Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence has addressed the recent removal of three episodes featuring blackface from the streaming platform Hulu, discussing the topic on a podcast alongside series stars Donald Faison and Zach Braff.
The two actors, who host the Scrubs rewatch podcast Fake Doctors, Real Friends, invited Lawrence onto the podcast to address the recent controversy. Sarah Chalke, whose character appeared in blackface, also featured on the episode.
Lawrence said he took “responsibility” for the decision to feature blackface.
Addressing online abuse directed to the show’s stars, he said, “I did see some things directed at Donald and Zach and Sarah. And everybody should know that the reason the word showrunner exists in television is that you’re the gatekeeper, and anything that get allowed on a show you have to ultimately take responsibility for.”
He later admitted that he felt at the time that the show had a “free pass” to include blackface because the show was so diverse.
“We almost thought that we had, in a bad way, a ‘free pass’ to not have those thoughts,” he said. “Because we were so proud of ourselves for doing a very diverse show, in front and behind the camera.”
“At the time I delineated in my mind between the traditional ‘blackface’,” Braff said. “When we were doing this I never equated it. I was like, ‘Oh it’s a fantasy where I’m trying to be my best friend.'”
“Any joke was passable as a joke as long as it was meant to make people laugh,” Faison added.
The medical sitcom featured three episodes that included blackface. They contain scenes where JD (Zach Braff) and Turk (Donald Faison) attend a party in blackface and whiteface, while in another episode, Elliot (Sarah Chalke) is seen wearing blackface during a fantasy sequence.
Series creator Bill Lawrence tweeted days before the official removal of the episodes, revealing he was in the process of having them removed.
He also apologised to a fan who tweeted him to say that she now found “the black/brown face… really disturbing,” adding that she was disappointed that “this was even part of one of my favourite shows”.
Lawrence said that he was “truly sorry,” and that he felt a combination of shame, stupidity, and embarrassment.
Truly sorry. Feel a combo of shame/stupidity/embarrassed.
— Bill Lawrence (@VDOOZER) June 26, 2020
In recent weeks, there have been a number of shows removed for blackface from various streaming platforms. Some have seen certain episodes pulled while whole seasons of others have been taken down.