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Comedian Jimmy Kimmel apologises for 1990s blackface impressions

Jimmy Kimmel apologised today for his 1990s blackface impressions of NBA player Karl Malone and other Black celebrities but said his delay in addressing the subject came in part to avoid handing a victory to his foes.

Jimmy Kimmel. Source: Associated Press

"I apologise to those who were genuinely hurt or offended by the makeup I wore or the words I spoke," the ABC late-night star said in a statement.

It's part of the entertainment world's continuing reckoning triggered by the protests against police treatment of Black Americans. Yesterday, four episodes of the comedy 30 Rock were pulled from circulation because they featured characters performing in blackface.

Kimmel's impersonation of Malone, which he started on radio and then brought to television on Comedy Central, was frequently criticised by Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity, among others.

Kimmel said he had long been reluctant to address the subject, "as I knew doing so would be celebrated as a victory by those who equate apologies with weakness and cheer for leaders who use prejudice to divide us.

"That delay was a mistake," he said.

The show 30 Rock aired on NBC from 2006 to 2013, but episodes are still being shown in television syndication and on streaming services including Hulu, Amazon Prime, iTunes and Peacock.

Show creator Tina Fey, who also starred as Liz Lemon in the series about the backstage world of a television show, said in a note to distributors that "I understand now that 'intent' is not a free pass for white people to use these images".