21 celebrities and politicians who have been criticised for wearing blackface

Harry Harris/APComedians Eddie Cantor and George Jessel — joined here by New York Yankees star Lou Gehrig, right — performed in blackface in 1938.
  • Blackface is an offensive and racist practice that dates back to minstrel shows in the 1830s, which were used to mock African-Americans.
  • Some celebrities have been criticised for painting their faces darker to this day – usually for comedy sketches, Halloween costumes, or photoshoots.
  • Many politicians, most recently Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have admitted to wearing blackface when they were younger.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Megyn Kelly sparked controversy in 2018 when she defended wearing blackface on Halloween, claiming it was “OK when I was a kid, as long as you were dressing like a character.”

While others were quick to condemn her comments, including her own NBC News colleagues, the truth is that many public figures have been known to downplay or even participate in the racist practice.

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Here’s the racist history behind blackface

Here are 21 celebrities and politicians who have faced public backlash for wearing blackface.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau admitted to wearing brownface at an “Arabian Nights”-themed party in 2001.

Dave Chan/AFP/Getty Images / Wayback Machine/West Point Grey AcademyA spokeswoman said Trudeau attended the party ‘as a character from Aladdin.’

Time recently unearthed a yearbook photo of Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, wearing brownface when he was 29 years old.

Trudeau acknowledged that he wore the offensive costume, which also included a turban, to an “Arabian Nights”-themed gala at the private school where he was teaching in 2001. More photos subsequently obtained by Business Insider from the school’s yearbook suggest that Trudeau was the only attendee to have worn brownface at the event.

“I shouldn’t have done that. I should have known better and I didn’t. I’m really sorry,” he told reporters. “I didn’t consider it racist at the time, but now we know better.”

He also admitted to wearing blackface for a high school talent show to sing the Jamaican folk song, “Day-O,” popularised in in 1956 by Harry Belafonte, a black singer and civil rights activist. Time has since published a photo of the performance, which shows Trudeau wearing dark makeup and an afro wig.

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Video shows Justin Trudeau wearing blackface, the 3rd similar image published in less than 24 hours

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey apologised for wearing blackface as a college student in the ’60s.

Brynn Anderson/APIvey is also known for signing the nation’s strictest abortion ban into law.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (R) apologised for wearing blackface during a skit she performed as a student at Auburn University in the ’60s.

“I fully acknowledge – with genuine remorse – my participation in a skit like that back when I was a senior in college,” she said.

Ivey was forced to respond after audio resurfaced from a radio interview she and her then-fiancé, Ben LaRavia, gave in the ’60s.

“As I look at my fiancée across the room I can see her that night, she had on a pair of blue coveralls and she had put some black paint all over her face and we were acting out this skit called ‘cigar butts,'” LaRavia said in the interview, describing a comedy skit they had recently performed.

Sia was accused by Taylor Swift fans of wearing blackface.

Ollie Millington/Redferns / Graham Denholm/Getty ImagesSia performed with her face painted black in 2011, right, to blend into a dark backdrop.

After Sia voiced support for Taylor Swift’s nemesis, Scooter Braun, Swift fans quickly unearthed a photo of what appears to be Sia with black paint on her face – and immediately denounced the singer as a “racist,” saying the face paint was akin to blackface.

Shortly after Swift fans began accusing her of wearing blackface, Sia defended herself on Twitter.

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Sia doesn’t back down after being accused by Taylor Swift fans of wearing blackface

She explained the paint as a “precursor” to her now-iconic wigs, and said she only painted herself black to blend in with a dark backdrop that was part of her costume.

“The View’s” Joy Behar wore blackface to dress up as a “beautiful African woman” for Halloween.

Jenny Anderson/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images / ABCBehar co-hosts the ABC daytime talk show ‘The View.’

During a 2016 segment on ABC’s “The View,” Joy Behar proudly displayed an old photo of herself in blackface.

“It was a Halloween party. I went as a beautiful African woman,” she told her cohosts. “That’s my hair… I had makeup that was a little bit darker than my skin.”

Although cohost Raven-Symoné appeared to be uncomfortable with the admission, it didn’t get much attention until an editor from TheWrap shared the video in February. Behar hasn’t addressed the backlash.

Michael Ertel resigned as Florida’s secretary of state after photos surfaced of him in a “Katrina victim” costume.

Steve Cannon/APErtel, pictured here in 2013, resigned in January.

Michael Ertel, Florida’s former secretary of state, resigned just weeks into his post after photos of him wearing blackface surfaced online.

Ertel confirmed to The Tallahassee Democrat that he’s the person in the photos, which show him dressed as a “Katrina victim” for Halloween in 2005 – just two months after the Category 5 hurricane killed 1,800 people in Florida and Louisiana.

“I did something stupid 14 years ago, which presented someone from my past with an opportunity for revenge,” Ertel wrote in a Facebook post. “But the opportunity wasn’t just for them. Because, while public revenge may be sweet for them, my private redemption, new family and blessed life have been sweeter.”

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said he once painted his face with shoe polish as part of a Michael Jackson costume.

Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty ImagesDemocrat Ralph Northam was elected as governor of Virginia in 2017.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) was originally hit with blackface accusations in January, when it was revealed that his 1984 medical school yearbook page showed two men in racist costumes.

The photo, first published by conservative blog Big League Politics, features one person in blackface standing next to another person in a Ku Klux Klan-style robe and hood. It quickly went viral and prompted numerous calls for Northam’s resignation from Republicans and Democrats.

Despite originally issuing an apology, Northam later walked back these comments and denied appearing in the photo.

Read more:

A 3-month investigation couldn’t figure out whether Virginia’s governor was shown wearing blackface in a 1984 yearbook photo

Northam did disclose, however, that when he was 25, he darkened his face with shoe polish as part of a talent-show costume in which he moonwalked like Michael Jackson.

“I didn’t realise at the time that it was as offensive as I have since learned,” Northam said during a press conference.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring also admitted to wearing blackface during college.

Bill Clark/CQ Roll CallHerring is third in line for the governorship if Northam steps down.

After calling for Northam’s resignation, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring voluntarily admitted that he’s guilty of the same racist practice.

“In 1980, when I was a 19-year-old undergraduate in college, some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song,” Herring said in a statement. “It sounds ridiculous even now writing it. But because of our ignorance and glib attitudes – and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others – we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup.”

Herring, a Democrat, added that “the shame of that moment has haunted me for decades” and argued that his past conduct is “in no way reflective of the man I have become in the nearly 40 years since.”

Jimmy Kimmel wore blackface for an impression of NBA star Karl Malone.

Charley Gallay/Getty Images / Comedy CentralJimmy Kimmel has never addressed his decision to wear blackface.

Back in 2000, Jimmy Kimmel was the host of Comedy Central’s “The Man Show,” for which he appeared repeatedly as NBA star Karl Malone. Kimmel wore blackface and painted his body for the impression, which also mocked Malone’s speaking style.

The show has been criticised for being “proudly crass, racist, and transphobic” (as well as sexist: Kimmel described the premise of the show as “a joyous celebration of chauvinism”) – but this moment has gotten renewed attention after it was tweeted by Sean Hannity in 2018.

Kimmel replied with a joke about Hannity’s loyalty to Trump, but did not address the criticism of his wearing blackface.

“If we put ‘The Man Show’ on today in its identical form, it would be an even bigger hit than it was back then. I believe that very strongly,” Kimmel told Esquire in 2017. “Because there’s more back to lash against. … It would absolutely result in a s—storm, and there’s absolutely nothing better for ratings than a s—storm.”

Gigi Hadid came under fire for her darkened skin tone on the cover of Vogue Italia.

Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images / Vogue ItaliaShe later apologised, but also said her skin was digitally edited without her knowledge.

In 2018, Gigi Hadid received backlash after her skin was darkened on the cover of Vogue Italia – after she and the same magazine were criticised in 2015 for a similar appropriating practice.

Many pointed out that it would have been far easier and more inclusive to simply hire a woman of colour to model.

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Gigi Hadid looks unrecognizable on Vogue Italia’s latest cover – and some people are accusing both her and the magazine of blackface

Hadid later explained that she had no control over the creative direction or the post-shoot colour editing.

“Although I understand what Vogue Italia’s intentions were, it was not executed correctly, and the concerns that have been brought up are valid,” she wrote on social media. “Please know that things would have been different if my control of the situation was different.”

The photographer, Steven Klein, was also the subject of controversy in 2009 when he was accused of putting Dutch model Lara Stone in blackface for an editorial spread in Vogue Paris’ October issue.

Luann de Lesseps wore blackface and an Afro wig for a Diana Ross costume.

Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images / @countessluann/Instagram‘New hair, new me,’ she captioned the photo on Instagram.

The “Real Housewives of New York City” star dressed as Diana Ross for Halloween in 2017, donning both blackface and an oversized black Afro wig.

When her outfit was revealed on the show and on social media, viewers were quick to criticise her “disrespectful” decision, as costar Carole Radziwill noted in the episode.

“I think she’s tone-deaf when it comes to cultural stereotypes,” Radziwill said, as reported by People.

De Lesseps later responded to the criticism during an appearance on “Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen” and said she was “horrified” by the accusations.

“I never meant to hurt anybody’s feelings,” she said. “I love Diana Ross and I totally respect Diana Ross. It was really kind of a tribute to her, and it was Halloween.”

Kim Kardashian West faced backlash over promotional photos for her contour line.

@kimkardashian/TwitterCritics pointed out the difference in skin tones on Twitter.

Kim Kardashian West was accused of blackface when 2017 promotional images for KKW Beauty revealed that her skin had been darkened.

Kardashian West addressed the controversy during an episode of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

“We wanted them really moody; I was really tan,” she said. “I wanted to show the contour. The photos ended up being a little bit darker than I was. There were some people online saying I was doing blackface and the photos were inappropriate.”

Kardashian West later adjusted the images and replaced them on her website.

On “KUWTK,” the beauty mogul said the call-out culture can be “toxic” – but also admitted she “can get” why people were accusing her of blackface.

“When you’re running s—, you just literally have to own up to it and change it and fix it,” she said. “I fully understood what people were saying. … I would never ever, ever do a photo shoot like that and I would never disrespect anyone.”

Jason Aldean wore blackface and fake dreadlocks to dress up as rapper Lil Wayne.

Gabe Ginsberg/Nicholas Hunt/Getty ImagesJason Aldean (left) addressed his Halloween controversy 11 months later. Lil Wayne (right) has never publicly commented.

An photo of Jason Aldean appearing to be in blackface at a Halloween party went viral in 2015. A rep for the country singer quickly confirmed his identity in the photo and said he was dressed as Lil Wayne.

Aldean even defended his decision in an interview with Billboard,claiming he had “zero malicious intent.”

“In this day and age people are so sensitive that no matter what you do, somebody is going to make a big deal out of it,” he said. “I get that race is a touchy subject, but not everybody is that way. Media tends to make a big deal out of things.”

Kylie Jenner’s skin tone was transformed when she did a photo shoot with a black light.

Jesse Grant/Getty Images / @KylieJenner/InstagramShe was nearly unrecognizable in the photos.

Back in 2015, Kylie Jenner posted multiple photos from a shoot where her face was covered in metallic makeup and she posed under a black light. Because of the darkened effect, many people accused the then teen of wearing blackface.

“Making MAGiC w/ KYLiZZLE. PEEPS BE GETTING TURNT UP ON THIS SKIN SITCH. BLACK LIGHTS & NEON. Does no body know about lighting ??” Jenner had originally captioned one photo, tagging her makeup team. “What I wish I looked like all the time thank you.”

Later, after noticing the backlash, she changed the caption: “This is a black light and neon lights people lets all calm down.”

Some defended Jenner’s “grey” and “shiny skin,” noting that she looks more like an alien in the photos than a person of colour.

Actress, singer, and activist Zendaya wrote on Twitter that she had a similar initial reaction – but also pointed out that people should “stay aware of what image we project.”

Joni Mitchell revealed she posed as as a black man on her album cover for “Don Juans Reckless Daughter.”

GAB Archive/Redferns / Asylum RecordsJoni Mitchell released ‘Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter’ in 1977.

In a 2015 interview with New York magazine, Joni Mitchell revealed she had worn blackface and posed as a black man on the album cover for “Don Juans Reckless Daughter.”

“When I see black men sitting, I have a tendency to go – like I nod like I’m a brother. I really feel an affinity because I have experienced being a black guy on several occasions,” she said.

She added: “Did you ever see the cover of ‘Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter’? That’s me. The black guy in the front.”

Dov Hikind, a New York state lawmaker, had his face painted brown by a professional makeup artist for a party.

Richard Drew/APNew York state Assemblyman Dov Hikind in 2012.

CNN obtained a photo of New York state Assemblyman Dov Hikind wearing an Afro wig and blackface at a party in 2013.

Hikind said he was supposed to be “a black basketball player” when he defended his choice in an interview with the New York Times.

“Yes, I wore a costume on Purim [a Jewish holiday] and hosted a party,” he wrote on his blog. “Most of the people who attended also wore costumes. Everywhere that Purim was being celebrated, people wore costumes. It was Purim. People dress up.”

“I am intrigued that anyone who understands Purim – or for that matter understands me – would have a problem with this,” he continued. “This is political correctness to the absurd. There is not a prejudiced bone in my body.”

Julianne Hough wore blackface to portray Crazy Eyes from “Orange is the New Black.”

Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images / Splash NewsJulianne Hough photographed on Halloween.

For a 2013 Halloween party, Julianne Hough went as a popular “Orange Is the New Black” character who is portrayed by black actress Uzo Aduba. But in addition to the classic orange jumpsuit, she clearly wore blackface as part of the costume.

“It certainly was never my intention to be disrespectful or demeaning to anyone in any way,” the “Dancing with the Stars” champion said, shortly after she was photographed leaving the party. “I realise my costume hurt and offended people and I truly apologise.”

A source told Us Weekly that Isla Fisher intervened when she saw Hough’s outfit, though Fisher’s rep denied this.

Colton Haynes painted his face for a Kanye West costume.

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images / @ColtonHaynes/TwitterHe later deleted the tweet with this photo.

The “American Horror Story” actor wore blackface to dress up as Kanye West in 2011. The following year, he darkened his skin again for a Gandhi costume.

Haynes issued a video apology in 2013 for his past Halloween choices – and went on to don various intricate, yet vaguely creepy, costumes in the years to come.

Fred Armisen has been known to perform in “honeyface” on “Saturday Night Live.”

Jason Merritt/Getty Images / NBCFred Armisen’s mother is Venezuelan and his father is German and Korean.

Fred Armisen has been repeatedly criticised for his portrayal of Barack Obama on “Saturday Night Live.” When the impression made its debut in 2008, New York Magazine’s Intelligencer ran a headline that called it “honeyface,” based on Armisen’s explanation.

“There’s shading on my eyebrows and plastic behind my ears. And there’s a little bit of something called Honey, a honey colour, that is something I would wear when I play Prince,” he told the magazine.

“I know [blackface is] not very politically correct these days, but I think I will have to if I am to do Obama,” Armisen told the Sunday Telegraph before the episode aired.

Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune called the choice to cast Armisen as Obama “inexplicable.” The Guardian’s Hannah Pool wrote that his impression had clear “minstrel” implications.

Sarah Silverman wore blackface for a plot line on her Comedy Central show.

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images / Comedy Central‘I look like the beautiful Queen Latifah,’ her character says.

In a 2007 episode of “The Sarah Silverman Program” titled “Face Wars,” the comedian wants to “be black for the day” in order to better understand the struggles of being black in America.

The satirical episode follows Silverman’s character wearing obvious blackface, not realising that others can see it’s makeup, and playing into multiple stereotypes.

Silverman addressed the episode in 2015 during an appearance on “Watch What Happens Live.”

“Me and the waiter in the restaurant, played by Alex Désert, switch [races],” she explained, as reported by People. “I say it’s harder to be Jewish, and he says it’s harder to be black, and we switch for the day. And it’s really aggressively stupid, and we’re both idiots.”

“Now it’s forever there and it looks [like] it’s totally racist out of context, and I regret that,” Silverman continued. “But there’s nothing I can do about that.”

Read more:

Comedian Sarah Silverman says she was was fired from a new movie over a blackface photo from 2007

Jimmy Fallon also wore blackface on “Saturday Night Live.”

Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal / NBCHe has never publicly addressed the controversy.

In 2000, Jimmy Fallon wore blackface when playing Chris Rock in a sketch. Though he didn’t seem to get much backlash at the time, it has since been condemned by many fans and writers online.

Fallon attempted to revive his impression of Rock – sans blackface – at the Golden Globes in 2017, though it wasn’t received well.

During a comedy routine, Ted Danson painted his face to resemble an actor at a minstrel show.

Tommaso Boddi/FilmMagic / Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty ImagesNow 71, Danson stars on NBC’s ‘The Good Place.’

At the New York Friars Club Roast in 1993, Ted Danson donned exaggerated blackface during his opening monologue, which was reportedly saturated with the N-word.

The entire routine immediately drew backlash. The head of the New York Friars Club issued a public apology the next day. Even then-Mayor David Dinkins, who is black, said later that the jokes “were pretty vulgar and many were way, way over the line,” as reported by The New York Times.

Whoopi Goldberg, Danson’s then-girlfriend and the event’s guest of honour, defended him and said she had written most of the offensive jokes.

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