When Wanda Sykes announced she was leaving her post as a consulting producer on the controversial “Roseanne” reboot after the series’ star, Roseanne Barr, likened Valerie Jarrett, a former Obama advisor to an ape–people everywhere rejoiced.
Sykes has enjoyed decades of success as a comedienne and is often held in the upper echelon of comedic glory. She is bold and unabashed. She often raises questions from her unique perspective of being a Black, queer, woman in a male-dominated field.
And that’s exactly why it was so shocking (and mainly disappointing) to know that a woman like Sykes — who often advocates for the voiceless — would align herself with the malignant nature of Roseanne Barr. Why would she want a seat at Barr’s table?
There were many who did challenge Sykes on the notion–who openly asked why she would work on Barr’s show.
Since the colossal fallout stemming from Barr’s racist tweet on Monday, ABC has cancelled the series in its mid-season after airing just nine episodes.
“Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show,” ABC Entertainment president Channing Dungey said Tuesday. Dungey, a Black woman, became the first African-American person to serve in the role when she took the position in 2016.
Money is the master in Hollywood and ABC’s cancelling of the show was a decision to avoid millions of dollars in advertising revenue pulled from the network.
But ABC’s statement offers no acknowledgment that Barr has actively participated in “abhorrent, repugnant” behavior in her public and private life for years. She called Susan Rice an ape in 2013, she dressed up as Hitler in photos and had no issue after she recently tweeted a racist conspiracy theory about George Soros.
Her turn from a progressive who used the first iteration of her show to tackle homophobia and elitism, into a far-right conservative who uses her social media to attack minorities and immigrants, is totally frightening. She is committed to her white nationalistic views by clinging to her white supremacy by any means.
In most of the reboots reviews, Barr was heralded as a comedic genius, and many swept her problematic history under the rug. A thought-provoking New York Times review by writer Roxane Gay, who, like Sykes is a member of the LGBTQ community, offered nuanced commentary on Barr’s problematic history.
But anything is possible in 2018, especially for a woman like Barr who was happily given a mainstream platform with a company that wants to silence activism (see “Black-ish” creator Kenya Burris’ fight with the network over his NFL protest episode) while propping up a bigot.
Yet “Roseanne” was a huge success for ABC and beat out most of its competitors in numbers.
And the fact that two Black women—Dungey and Sykes–were part of this practice, should give us pause. What we have to discern is that Black people can also be problematic. We’ve seen examples of Black actors working with controversial white directors (Jamie Foxx + Samuel Jackson + QuentinTarrantino). Black entertainers who take meetings with a president who openly hates them (KanyeWest, Jim Brown, Steve Harvey).
Sykes’ participation in the show speaks to that blindness which permeates certain entertainers of color who reach a level of influence. To create with a woman who, no doubt, sees her as an ape, is astounding. And even in comedy, where entertainers of color oftentimes take the pain of their experience and wrap it into a laugh for the audiences to enjoy, it’s difficult to understand why Sykes agreed to ignore the harm Barr has inflicted on so many.
Unless Sykes had a mastermind plan to blowup the show up from the inside, the question must be posed, “was the money worth it?”
From what can be ascertained, for a short period of time–yes.