“It’s About Race! It’s About Being a Woman!” | Sarah King

One of the things I love most about the sitcom 30 Rock is that Tina Fey isn’t afraid to push boundaries to make a point. In the episode “Believe in the Stars,” Fey attacks two controversial topics head-on: gender and racial equality.

Let me give you a brief summary of this episode –  Jenna (a white woman) and Tracy (a black man) get into an argument about Jenna’s compensation as a voice actor in Tracy’s video game because she was paid less than his friends (who happen to be black males). This then leads to an argument over who is treated more unfairly in America, women or African-Americans. In true 30 Rock fashion, the two take this argument to the extreme by doing a “social experiment” in which Tracy dresses as a white woman and Jenna as a black man. Jenna tells Liz (Tina Fey’s character) that the goal of this experiment is simple: “We’re trying to prove who has it hardest in America – women or black men.”

tracy  jennaStills from 30 Rock, “Believe in the Stars” (Season 3, Episode 2, 2008.)

While the use of blackface (and maybe whiteface) has been and still is highly controversial, I think the way in which it is used in this episode works. I believe that the point isn’t to perpetuate stereotypes, but to bring awareness in a very explicit way to problems regarding equality – both racial and gender – which still exist today. One of my favorite lines is from the scene pictured above when Jack Donaghy (white man and CEO) says: “I’ll tell you who has it worst. White men. We make the unpopular difficult decisions, the tough choices. We land on the moon and Normandy Beach and yet they resent us…men like me have to step in and clean up messes like this.” Because this line is so ridiculous, the joke works because it exemplifies white male privilege.

Both gender and racial equality are two issues that are still very much alive today. Some may argue that using these issues in a comedic fashion may take away from the seriousness of them. I, however, think Tina Fey does an excellent job of using humor to bring awareness to social issues while not turning the issues themselves into a joke.

Christopher ZF’s article on The Stake talks about how Tina Fey approaches the problems of race, gender, and sexual orientation in both 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (two shows I highly recommend if you haven’t watched them already! They’re both on Netflix.)

-Sarah King

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4 Responses to “It’s About Race! It’s About Being a Woman!” | Sarah King

  1. mediaphiles says:

    I really enjoyed your post! I personally have not seen this episode, but it sounds like a really interesting one. I love that line about white male privilege. I think it’s great when sitcoms can take on controversial social conversations and contribute to a solution through comedy.- Valerie Medoff

  2. mediaphiles says:

    I love Tina Fey so this definitely makes me want to watch this show and episode. But most importantly, I think it’s important for sitcoms to tackle issues that are often overlooked or neglected, like this one did. -Jenna Romano

  3. marymdalton says:

    Excellent post! (Good comments, too!) I am embarrassed to say that I’ve not watched more than a few episodes of this series. As much as I have come to love Tina Fey, I have a high barrier to climb to be able to watch Alec Baldwin! He annoys me!!

  4. mediaphiles says:

    I enjoyed your post! I don’t watch this show, but from what I know about Tina Fey is that she will cross all lines to make a valid point!

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