After having most of his shows wiped from Netflix, controversial comedian Chris Lilley has had a number of his projects return to the limelight via Foxtel’s streaming service Binge. Several of the returning shows feature the comedian in blackface, brownface and yellowface.
If you were around Aussie media from the 2000s to the 2010s, you would’ve come across Lilley’s work. One in particular that sticks out to me like a sore thumb is Summer Heights High, which featured one of the comedian’s most problematic characters, Jonah Takalua. A Tongan character created and portrayed by Liley that was reportedly inspired by Filipe Mahe, a real Tongan student who starred in the 2004 ABC docuseries Our Boys, which followed him and his struggles with family issues and learning difficulties.
You see, in 2020, a large catalogue of Lilley’s work, including Summer Heights High, was shared on Netflix. A lot of those projects featured extremely problematic characters such as Jonah, S.Mouse — a character that featured the comedian in blackface — and Jen Okazaki — a character where Lilley dressed in yellowface.
Netflix’s choice to bring Summer Heights High to the platform also prompted Mahe to speak out about the character of Jonah through an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, where he told the publication he felt “absolutely embarrassed, full of hate, angry and exploited” after watching the mockumentary series.
At the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, Netflix quietly pulled a number of his shows — projects that featured blackface — from the platform.
Now, in 2023, Binge has chosen to bring back all the shows that were removed.
“This week, Binge made several shows by Chris Lilley available on the platform. Binge aims to provide entertainment for all tastes, and as an on-demand streaming service, viewers have the choice to watch the content they want,” a spokesperson for the streaming service told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Speaking to UNILAD earlier this year, Lilley dismissed claims he was “cancelled” by Netflix, describing the speculation of his projects being pulled as a “fake take”.
When asked about his previous work, Lilley said he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I definitely would not change a thing. I’m so proud of all my work, and I almost wish I could push the boundaries further,” he said, per the publication.
Reflecting on my teen years, I can absolutely recall all the Chris Lilley jokes that were thrown around in high school.
As a woman of colour who grew up in Western Sydney in a high school that had a large portion of Pasifika students, there were moments where even teachers would pull jokes from Lilley’s work in an attempt to relate to my fellow peers. And even though cancel culture was barely a thing back then, we all knew that wasn’t okay.
With Binge bringing the Chris Collection into its platform, I am hoping people can see how ridiculous the content is rather than using it as a vessel to relate to minorities — which was how Lilley’s work was used when I was young.
I am also hoping that this message of Chris Lilley’s collection being revived on Binge doesn’t empower racists to think that blackface, brownface and/or yellowface is okay in the name of comedy and entertainment. Because it’s fucking not.
Image source: Getty Images / Mark Metcalfe