Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence has addressed the show’s depictions of blackface, just days after multiple episodes were pulled from Hulu at his request.
During Monday’s installment of the Scrubs podcast Fake Doctors, Real Friends, Lawrence took sole responsibility for the series’ use of blackface and apologized to stars Zach Braff, Donald Faison and Sarah Chalke for putting them in an uncomfortable position. (One episode featured J.D. wearing blackface at a party, and another featured J.D. and Elliot in blackface, made up to look like Turk in a pair of fantasy sequences.)
“The reason why that word ‘showrunner’ exists in television is because you’re the gatekeeper, and anything that gets allowed on a show you ultimately have to take responsibility for,” Lawrence said. “So, first off, super sorry that any of you guys had to deal with any stuff because… even though we’re all friends and it was a super creative and reciprocal environment, you guys still, at the end of the day, did and were receptive to doing whatever stuff we told you [to do].”
At no point did Lawrence attempt to justify Scrubs‘ use of blackface. “It starts with ignorance,” he said. “We almost thought that we had… a free pass to not have those thoughts [about the history of blackface] back then because we were so f—king proud of ourselves for doing a very diverse show, in front of and behind the camera. [We had a] great black-and-white friendship that exists as a real black-and-white friendship, a great interracial couple… It was almost a block of arrogance where we were like, ‘We’re so good at what we’re portraying and doing and showing that we could never venture into muddy waters.’ And even now, with that same ignorance, we never really connected the two of those things until now. You do the reading, and it’s not any different.”
He also shot down an invalid counterargument about the show’s occasional use of whiteface. “There’s a big ‘both sides-ism’ thing,” he said. “I’m getting tons of… ‘Well, you’re gonna pull that episode where Donald plays Cal Turk and is a white guy and an insurance agent, right?’ And I’m like, ‘No, I’m not,’ because as a white guy, that is not based in any systemic racism for me, or history, or any negativity… I find that kind of argument to be so counterproductive and ridiculous.”
During the 42-minute discussion, Lawrence also suggested that the episodes depicting blackface will “probably” return to Hulu after he has the chance to remove the offensive material. “Twitter is like, ‘Why did you pull the whole episodes?’ Why didn’t you just edit those moments out and put them back on?’ And I said to one person, ‘It’s a pandemic. I don’t really have an editing facility up right now.’ I’ll probably do that, but the first thing I wanted to do was get them off TV because it bummed me out personally,” he said. “It just made me feel sh–ty.”
Press PLAY on the podcast below to hear the full conversation between Lawrence, Braff, Chalke and Faison.
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