Monday, November 9, 2015

Kimmy Schmidt: Breaking Unbreakable Racial Barriers

The 2015 Netflix original comedy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, created by comedy juggernaut Tina Fey and starring big names like Jane Krakowski, was sure to make waves. The show starred religious cult escapee Kimmy Schmidt and struggling actor Titus Andromedon as flatmates trying to find their way in New York City. Sure enough, the critical response at its release was almost unanimously positive. Many praised its dark sense of humor and willingness to explore questionable topics.

One of the heavy topics that the show explores is race. Titus is a large, openly gay black man who frequently finds himself surrounded by controversy about either his race or his sexual orientation. One episode focused on the former, as Titus scored a role at a horror-themed restaurant as a werewolf. Upon leaving the restaurant, however, he discovers that he receives better treatment in his werewolf makeup than he ever did as a black man in New York City.

This is highlighted in purposefully ridiculous ways. Cabs, who presumably would never stop for regular Titus, stop for werewolf Titus without him even hailing them, and random strangers asking him to hold their baby. In this way, Unbreakable creates a satire of the distrust that society directs towards black people, and black men particularly. It uses hyperbole to make a very specific point about the lack of respect that black men have in this country. If dressing as a monster gets you less fear and distrust than simply being black, clearly something is very wrong.

Eventually, the makeup begins to wear off. Titus begins to look like himself again, and the world around him once again treats him badly. Throughout this ordeal, Titus never falls into the archetypal black man in cinema, filled with anger and aggression. Titus remains one of the softest and kindest characters in the whole series, and this episode juxtaposes those kind actions with the cruel actions of those around him.

Unbreakable manages to create an episode about racial stereotypes without falling into them itself. It does this by pointing out the ridiculousness of the stereotype, in this case that all black men are dangerous, by showing how untrue it is. Therefore, this show is fighting back against the stereotype and helping to construct a new cultural identity for black men in America.


  1. I remember watching this episode and I noticed some of the things you mentioned. I like how you said "If dressing as a monster gets you less fear and distrust than simply being black, clearly something is very wrong." It's a great analysis that really gets at how deep racism in America goes. It isn't just some easy problem we can solve, it is rooted deep in our history and I think you articulated that very well.

  2. I haven't seen any episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt but I think I'll watch it now. The scenario you described is funny in a way that mocks the subtle racial boundaries we see in real life and that's a kind of racial humor that I think I could enjoy free of guilt.

  3. I like how you worded everything, definitely an extremely strong argument. The thing that stuck out to me the most was when you mentioned how people are more trusting of a monster than of a black man. I've never seen (or heard of) any episodes of this show, but I think you've inspired me to do so later.

  4. Just like Jeremiah and Levi, I think you pulling out and explicitly saying that America (at least in this show) is more accepting towards actual monsters than black people. If I had watched the show myself, I'm not sure I would've made the connection on that level. I also thought your use of a GIF was kind of fun.

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