“Is this racist?”
That's not exactly the sentiment a director wants to hear on set after weeks of planning for a complicated production, but that’s exactly what happens in the newest episode of RocketJump: The Show, Hulu’s series following the YouTube-based production company as it make its most ambitious short projects ever. What's unique is how RocketJump handles the situation in this episode.
Racism in the YouTube space is far from new. Creators are often called out after the fact for racist portrayals and jokes. While the community has been quick to rally around sexism and sexual-assault issues that still plague its members, some people, like YouTuber Franchesca Ramsey, have argued that the same community often ignores or downplays issues of race. For example, YouTuber Shane Dawson has a history of “ghetto” characters, often performed in blackface, and has tweeted and deleted controversial opinions about television shows featuring Black and Asian characters. Despite this, Dawson remains one of the platform’s most popular stars.
Creators called out for racism in their videos usually apologize on social media. Sometimes they remove the offending videos. Sometimes they stand by them. Regardless, the damage is done, and the content has already circulated to their fans, with the potential to live on in re-uploads. What’s different about theRocketJump episode is what happens after they realize that they’ve inadvertently created something racist.
In the show, the creators stop themselves and document that choice and the following decisions. During the production process, a costuming choice meant to show a group of abductees who have escaped experimentation on an island went from a scrubs-meets-cyborg aesthetic to something resembling Native and Polynesian cultures.
Midway through filming, Anthony Burch, the show’s head writer, questions the intentions of the costume he's wearing, but it’s not until they look at the footage a week later that the crew decides to reshoot and change course. What follows is a frank discussion among the RocketJump crew about intention, racism, and people’s blind spots.
“I have started diversity initiatives for the video-game culture, and after six hours in that [costume], only then did I go, ‘wait a minute,’” Burch says in the episode.
In the end, RocketJump reshoots the scene with adjusted costumes, ties up some plot holes, and produces a satirical look at vloggers' quest for subscribers through ridiculous circumstances. For the team, it was important to step back and show not only the resolution but also the process.
"I hope this episode can show that no matter how many decisions stack up on one another, or how late in the process you are, you always have to step back and look at the final product with fresh eyes," said director Ben Waller. “It's important to ask, ‘What am I saying with this film?’ The ability to put yourself in the shoes of someone who has a completely different experience than you is vital to filmmaking, and ultimately contributes to the strongest product possible.”
RocketJump creator Freddie Wong put the responsibility of filmmakers more bluntly.
"These days I've noticed people tend to decry others for being too ‘politically correct,’ confusing the hot-button issue du jour with ‘basic human empathy,’" Wong said. “I think it all boils down to a very basic and fundamental human responsibility to not be assholes to each other.”
RocketJump: The Show airs Wednesdays on Hulu.