April 17, 2021

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Mark-Paul Gosselaar says this cringeworthy ‘Saved by the Bell’ episode ‘would never get made’ now

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Mark-Paul Gosselaar is reflecting on a racially insensitive “Saved by the Bell” episode that “would never get made” now.

During Wednesday’s episode of his “Zack to the Future” podcast, the former child star said he “cringed” while rewatching a 1990 episode called “Running Zack,” where his character Zack Morris dressed as a stereotypical Native American for an ancestry project.

“I cringed seeing myself portraying a white dude being Zack Morris, who is like the all-American, blond-haired white dude in an Indian Native American headdress,” said Gosselaar, who was joined by Native American actor and comedian Tatanka Means.

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The cast of "Saved By The Bell," from bottom clockwise: Lark Voorhies, Tiffany Theissen, Dustin Diamond, Mario Lopez, Elizabeth Berkley and Mark Paul Gosselaar.

During the controversial episode, Gosselaar’s Morris blows off his ancestry project and has Samuel “Screech” Powers (Dustin Diamond) mock Native American heritage with distasteful grunts and ill advised war paint. After his teacher threatens to bench Morris from a track meet, Morris consults with Chief Henry for a second presentation. 

Much like the first, however, Gosselaar’s Morris portrayed a “racist caricature” wearing war paint and a headdress, co-host and “Saved by the Bell” writer Dashiell Driscoll said during Wednesday’s podcast.

Although Gosselaar said this particular episode “has caused me anxiety,” the actor said he has little memory of afilming the controversial scene. 

“I don’t remember putting on the headdress,” Gosselaar recalled. “I don’t remember putting face paint on. I don’t remember standing in that awkward way that I was standing where my arms are folded and like a very stereotypical way.”

During the episode, Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley) also offered to buy Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies) a soda to make up for the guilt she felt for her ancestors being slave owners. (Remember Kendall Jenner’s tone-deaf Pepsi commercial?)

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Gosselaar said “this episode would never get made in current times, and rightly so,” as society becomes more educated on content that perpetuates harmful stereotypes.

“There are protocols in place to and filters that, you know, like a director, standards and practices,” Gosselaar said. “We’re much more sensitive now, for good reason, that those things would not happen today.” 

“Saved by the Bell” revival debuted on Peacock in late November, offering Berkley (Jessie) and Mario Lopez (A.C.) as regular cast members, with appearances by Gosselaar (Zack), Tiffani Thiessen (Kelly) and Voorhies (Lisa). 

Contributing: Erin Jensen

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