Velma Series Under Fire For Tasteless Joke About Debilitating Disease

Fans are angry over what they see as an insensitive joke about sickle cell.

By Michileen Martin | Updated

velma sickle cell

HBO Max‘s Velma is about as beloved by critics as an infected head wound, but now the series is apparently committing the crime of being offensive without bothering to be funny. Fans are furious over a joke from the Velma series premiere, accusing the show of making light of sickle cell disease. You can watch the scene in question in the tweet below, along with reading one of the many angry fans’ complaints.

After accidentally knocking Velma down, Fred (Glen Howerton) doesn’t recognize his classmate and says, “I have a disease where I can’t recognize people who aren’t hot.” He adds to Velma, “My doctor says it’s basically sickle cell for rich people.”

The Twitter user Memej says she suffers from sickle cell disease and that people who have the condition are “discriminated against in healthcare.” Memej and what appears to be a growing number of fans object to the Velma joke because “ignorant jokes like this make it that much harder for systemic changes to occur for better treatment of sickle cell patients.”

In their coverage of the story, Decider points out that this isn’t the first time TV series have been called out for making jokes about serious health conditions. Both The Good Fight and Peacock’s Saved by the Bell were harshly criticized for making jokes about actress and singer Selena Gomez‘s kidney transplant. Decider argues that Velma‘s sickle cell joke “wasn’t birthed in the same intentions” as the Gomez jokes, but that may be missing the point.

According to Sick Cells, along with many other sources, Memej is on point in her Velma post when she says that people who suffer from sickle cell disease experience discrimination. The disease is comprised of a group of red blood disorders, for which the only FDA-approved treatments are currently stem cell transplant or bone marrow transplant. The condition occurs disproportionately among Black Americans, and this fact is often used to falsely classify it as a “Black” disease.

Sick Cells writes that SCD’s misclassification as a “Black” disease often leads to “implicit biases within the medical community” which “lower the quality of care.” Seen through that lens, it becomes easier to see why the Velma joke was received so poorly by sickle cell advocates. The joke reinforces the idea that SCD is purely a Black disease by having Fred — the blond embodiment of whiteness on the show — call his brand of idiocy a version of sickle cell that applies purely to him and people like him.

scooby doo velma

Many of Memej’s followers — as well as other critics of Velma‘s sickle cell joke — comment that even divorced from any questions of being offensive, the joke simply wasn’t funny. It’s reminiscent of something The Daily Californian‘s Julie Lim wrote about the jokes that got Shane Gillis fired from Saturday Night Live in 2019:

“You can be offensive and funny, you can be not offensive and funny, but you can’t be offensive and not funny. That’s just offensive.”

-Julie Lim, The Daily Californian