Activists locally join protest of UPN show 'Pfeiffer' makes light of slavery, critics say

October 02, 1998|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

Several Baltimore community groups and a city councilman have joined the growing nationwide campaign against United Paramount Network's new sitcom "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer," which they say pokes fun at a traumatic African-American experience: slavery.

About 15 people from area groups held a 30-minute protest yesterday outside UPN's network affiliate in North Baltimore and announced plans for a telephone assault on the show's advertisers the morning after the show premieres locally on Channel 24.

"Slavery is not funny," said Michael Johnson, who organized the protest. "Our protest is purely about advertising."

Across the country, people have expressed concern about the political satire, which is set in the Lincoln White House and centers on Pfeiffer, the president's African-American butler and trusted adviser.

The network initially pulled the pilot amid concerns about its handling of slavery. But Patti McTeague, UPN's vice president of media relations, said yesterday that the episode has been rescheduled.

Johnson said 10 phone banks will open at 10 a.m. Tuesday, including one at his Heritage Black Film Museum on North Avenue. If the show airs the next week, Johnson said, his group will include all the network's advertisers in the protest.

Jeff Weiss, station manager at WUTB, the UPN affiliate, met with the protesters yesterday and said he'd forward their concerns to the network. He said an attack on advertisers not connected to the show seemed unfair.

"I respect their right to do this," Weiss said. "But, it seems far-reaching to go after all the advertisers."

Weiss said that because WUTB is owned and operated by the network, he must air the show.

In a statement yesterday, the network denied that the show is racially insensitive and makes light of a painful period in African-American history.

But Evelyn Becoats, a protester from Unity for Action, said her recent visit to West Africa reinforced the need to address slavery in a serious manner.

"It's not a subject to be considered humorous," Becoats said. "We can't allow anyone to make fun of our holocaust."

City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. discussed the show at Monday night's council meeting. He said it was important to teach children that nothing about slavery is funny.

Mitchell said he plans to introduce a resolution Monday stating that the council does not approve of a program showing a slave having fun. He said he received support at the meeting Monday and from callers this week.

The Los Angeles City Council passed a motion this week condemning the show.

Pub Date: 10/02/98

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