South Park and Kanye West have a long history, but the latest trailer for South Park: The Fractured But Whole takes things to a new level: mocking West’s late mother, Donda West
The trailer recalls an episode from the show’s 13th season in 2009. In the episode, “Fishsticks,” West is painted as a gay fish who heads off to sea to live the life he’s always wanted. In the new trailer for The Fractured But Whole, West returns in his fish form and unites with Seaman in an attempt to get his mother into heaven.
Donda West rides a unicorn through a blue sky, trying to reach the golden gates of heaven, similarly to how she is portrayed in Kanye West’s own game, Only One. This isn’t the first time that South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker have poked fun at Only One. At E3 2016, the same convention at which West debuted a trailer for Only One, Parker and Stone took time during an appearance at Ubisoft’s press briefing to mock West’s game.
Matt and Trey talking about Kanye's game pic.twitter.com/88zToxPLdC— Rob (@Precyse) June 16, 2016
The difference between Parker and Stone’s concept for their own take on West’s game and the scene from today’s trailer is the depiction of Donda West. In the trailer, West’s mother is portrayed as a black fish with large red lips, accentuated eyelashes and gold earrings. The imagery evokes racist stereotypes that have a long, sordid history in America, most notably in minstrel performers wearing blackface.
An infamous example of this stereotype in a game’s art is the original Pokémon Blue, Red and Yellow games. Jynx, a bipedal, humanoid Pokémon, is known for her purple skin, but it wasn’t always purple. In official artwork that Nintendo released in 1996, Jynx had a black face, long blond hair and big lips — a racially insensitive stereotype associated with black women. It wasn’t until a special episode of the popular Pokémon anime aired in December 1999, “Holiday Hi-Jynx,” that the stereotypical design was called out. Scholar Carole B. Weatherford penned an essay in 2000 titled “Politically Incorrect Pokémon” that explored the racist designs.
“The character Jynx, Pokémon #124, has decidedly human features: jet-black skin, huge pink lips, gaping eyes, a straight blonde mane and a full figure, complete with cleavage and wiggly hips,” Weatherford wrote. “Put another way, Jynx resembles an overweight drag queen incarnation of Little Black Sambo, a racist stereotype from a children's book long ago purged from libraries.”
It wasn’t until the international release of Pokémon Gold and Silver that Game Freak, the developer behind the Pokémon games, decided to revise Jynx’s skin, going from black to purple.
The accentuated eyelashes and gold earrings West’s mother is given in The Fractured But Whole trailer are part of another stereotype that black writers and activists have called out for being racially insensitive. In an article for NPR, Eric Deggans put the spotlight on Cookie from Fox’s Empire to address a concern with how the character is depicted.
“For some, Cookie is the embodiment of all the stereotypes black women face on TV,” Deggans wrote. “Dressed flamboyantly with floor-length furs, color-coded nails and eyelashes big as manhole covers, she’s quick to anger and ready to throw down at a moment’s notice.”
The depiction of West’s mother puts a spotlight on all of these stereotypes — and turns her portrayal into part of the joke.
Parker and Stone are no strangers to controversy; the South Park creators have built an entire empire on it. In 2006, after an infamous episode about Tom Cruise and Scientology resulted in Chef voice actor Isaac Hayes quitting, Parker and Stone issued a dismissive, joking response about the situation. It wasn’t until 2011 that the duo admitted they didn’t take any pride in their edgy show running afoul.
“When someone goes, ‘Oh, this group is really pissed off at what you said,’ there’s not a piece of my body that goes, ‘Sweet!’,” Parker told The Hollywood Reporter. “That means I did it wrong. I’m just trying to make people laugh.”
That hasn’t stopped Parker and Stone from taking on celebrities like West, who’s a constant target for South Park. Even the video in the above tweet ends with Parker and Stone laughing at West’s original comments about Only One when he announced it during a fashion show in February 2016.
Considering the timing of Parker and Stone’s onstage joke about West’s game, which had its premiere four months before E3, it’s no surprise that a scene like this appears in South Park: The Fractured But Whole. The issue is not with mocking West’s trailer for Only One — which also received the wrath of countless other writers — but the one-step-too-far-joke that paints West’s late mother as nothing more than a stereotype to laugh at.
Polygon has reached out to Ubisoft for comment on the trailer.