That Awkward Moment When Halloween Took An Offensive TurnKaren Belz

I must have missed the memo that Halloween was meant to be even more inappropriate than the common day “sexy M&M” this year. Unfortunately, a lot of people seemed to mix spooky and scary with completely inappropriate, and – yes, racist.

Julianne Hough made headlines recently as she dressed as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren from Orange Is The New Black – a character that is so lively and defined that there’s so much beyond her skin color. Yet Julianne used makeup to darken her skin for a better portrayal. Thankfully, she realized the error of her ways, and published an apology shortly after the outrage began.

“I am a huge fan of the show Orange is the New black, actress Uzo Aduba, and the character she has created,” Julianne Hough tweeted. “It certainly was never my intention to be disrespectful or demeaning to anyone in any way. I realize my costume hurt and offended people and I truly apologize.”

While Julianne’s poor decision was based on adoration of an amazing actress and character, others decided to don blackface in truly horrific ways. For some reason, a popular costume this year turned out to be Trayvon Martin.

Let’s pause here for a second. Just imagine that you’re Trayvon’s Mom, still mourning the tragic and early loss of her son. Imagine trying to recover from the insane media coverage and attention from that one terrible night where a Neighborhood Watch guard got a bit too gun-happy. Then imagine people making a mockery of it – and thinking their idea of a blood-soaked hoodie, blackface, and perhaps a bag of Skittles is not only innovative, but funny.

Before I continue, let me talk about the history of blackface. Blackface was an important performance tradition in the American theater for roughly 100 years beginning around 1830 – and typically the white actors who donned blackface portrayed characters that were stereotyped. Our world has (thankfully) dropped the practice tremendously. After all, often times actors had to be in blackface because they didn’t have black talent to take the role – and the talented black community didn’t even have the ability to do so. It was a practice that’s a reminder of rough times. As you know, we’ve come a long way since the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Personally, when it’s used today, it makes me feel like people can only see the color of someone’s skin instead of who they really are.

The same could be said in reverse. In 2004, Shawn and Marlon Wayans decided to put on whiteface for buddy cop comedy White Chicks, and the movie received extremely poor reviews from numerous critics. Rotten Tomatoes gives it an aggregate rating of only 15% based on 121 reviews, and Richard Roeper put the film at #1 on his 2004 list of the year’s worst films, amongst claims of unconvincing prosthetics and racism. White people in blackface isn’t funny or amusing, and black people in white makeup isn’t funny either. It’s cheap, insulting, and gives many the feeling that we’re making backwards progress with seeing people as people.

Going back to Trayvon for a moment: I’m sure all of you have unfortunately lost someone you love in your life. Chances are, it didn’t make national news. I’m sure that if someone dressed up like your deceased loved one at a party, it wouldn’t be funny. It’d probably be downright painful. And if you plaster your “creative” ideas all over social media sites, you risk offending a group much larger than the people who decided to attend your gathering. Here’s the picture that has everyone in an uproar.


According to the Smoking Gun, the men in the Martin and Zimmerman costumes are residents of Florida, where the Zimmerman case took place. Both are in their early to mid 20’s. The female in the photo, identified as Caitlin “Kt” Cimeno, was the one who proudly posted it on Facebook with the caption of “Happy Halloween from Zimmerman & trayvon”. Rumor has it that the outrage costed her a job. The Trayvon impersonator, William Filene, was arrested in June for felony auto theft, so he’s probably a really great guy.

The fact that Filene’s rap sheet became public, and Cimeno is facing extreme scrutiny that’ll obviously have a huge impact on her future, is because they were extremely offensive.

So, let this be a warning to you: Choose your Halloween costume wisely, and realize that making a mockery of a race, tragedy, disease, or all of the above won’t make you edgy – it’ll probably just end up making you lose friends, as well as a ton of respect.

Image Credits: NYDailyNews (featured) Huffington Post (Halloween)

  • Megan Teague Babin

    I honestly don’t understand the big deal on Hough’s costume. I don’t see racism in any part of her costume, all I see is her portraying a character from a really awesome show. To be honest, this character is one of my favorites because she’s so crazy it’s funny…Get over the racism crap already, we are all the same…the color of our skin shouldn’t be an issue any more..

  • Cait Bladt

    I think what people aren’t understanding about Hough’s costume is that even though it is not what many people think of as “black face” —because yeah the makeup is a bit more of a bronze—she is still alluding to that history. Black face was just one part of white culture systematically reducing black people to nothing more than their skin color and a collection of awful stereotypes.

    And it’s not something that died out with slavery. If you want to feel real squirmy, check out the 1942 movie “Holiday Inn” where Bing Crosby and Virginia Dale celebrate Lincoln’s Birthday by slapping on black makeup and performing a minstrel show. Yeah, 1942 was a long time ago. But it was not ancient history. It hasn’t been forgotten.

    Along with it’s hateful and long history, black face is offensive because it dilutes a person down to nothing more than their skin color. People on this message board have been saying that this would mean that men dressing as women are sexist or vice versa. I would like to argue that if a man spent a great deal of time shaping and crafting a pair of breasts, because that’s what he thinks is really going to sell his costume, I’d be offended. It’s simplifying a person, a person with many characteristics and quirks and interesting attributes that are no doubt why anyone would dress up as them, down to one part of themselves—boobs. Black skin.

    Any time anyone is reduced to one part of their being, it is inappropriate. And when you add on hundreds of years of hurt and the history of racism that black face comes with—it’s downright unacceptable. Reducing people—specifically women, more specifically black women—to one distinguishing physical characteristic is degrading and upsettingly prevalent. Just check out Miley Cyrus’ VMA’s performance where she used a group of black women has little more than props. Please please read this article “Solidarity is For Miley Cyrus: The Racial Implications of her VMA Performance” ( to get a better grasp on the issue. It’s beautifully and passionately written and explains the issue far better than I can.

    Finally, Julianne Hough’s makeup offended people. It offended a lot of people. Darkening your skin to look black offends people. A lot of what people wear on Halloween, is really offensive. I can own up to it—one year I dressed as a Native American: short dress of the Pocahontas variety, paint on my face, that deal. I learned later that the Native American community has made it pretty clear that that is offensive. That by dressing like that, I was reducing a thriving, endangered culture to a stereotype. You know what, I JUST DIDN’T DRESS LIKE THAT AGAIN. Learning that something is offensive to a group of people does not mean you should fight against it, argue with people online. IT MEANS YOU FIND A DIFFERENT HALLOWEEN COSTUME. If you can’t find a way to look like Oprah without donning black face, DON’T BE OPRAH. Accepting and appreciating that your costume or outfit or language is offensive to people is not backing down, it’s not letting “political correctness” trump your right to self-expression, it’s being a considerate, caring human being.

  • Aoife Kyle Munro

    I have to say I don’t think Julianne Hough did anything wrong here, she was dressing up as one of her favourite characters, who happened to be black. I think everyone is blowing this out of proportion and needs to just chill out. The instance of Trayvon costumes are another matter though, those are crass and quite insensitive but that’s just because of what happened, not because Trayvon was black. I also think the author is wrongfully judgemental of the people in the picture at the bottom, insinuating William Filene isn’t a “really great guy” just because he has a charge against him has no bearing what so ever on this article and I don’t really see why you felt the need to mention it. I can only assume it was to make yourself feel like a better person.

    Overall I can see where you’re coming from, and I do realise why people might find things like this offensive, but I think a lot of your argument was void. Had you led with the Trayvon costumes (which seem to highlight an ACTUAL issue) rather than the OITNB one then I would have understood your view a little better.

  • Allison Stewart

    I don’t think that Blackface is appropriate as a costume, especially after my crazy cousin went as a black lady for Halloween one year in Australia. He should have not been allowed by his parents to wear that, as it was highly offensive and creepy as all heck.
    The Trayvonn costume is downright disrespectful and mean, and anyone who thinks it’s funny is a jerk. I don’t think it’s appropriate to make light of someone being murdered.
    Now, the Crazy Eyes costume was pretty awesome. She did a great job, and I hope that the actor who portrays that character is honored that someone thinks so highly of her character. I hope she realizes that it was meant to be a cool costume, not a racist joke.
    If a black woman dressed up as Julianne Hough, would that be racist?
    Am I racist because I dressed up as Snooki for Halloween? Because I darkened the crap outta myself to get to her shade of leather tan. I also darkened my hair too.
    I personally have seen more offensive costumes, like the Human centipede, Hitler, Terrorists, Unibombers, and Miley Cirus.
    I can agree that Halloween is getting a little out of hand. There is a fine line between creativity and crass.
    I’m looking forward to dressing up tomorrow. Not sure as what yet, but maybe I’ll go as the lead from Orange is the New Black. Since I can;t do crazy eyes as well as Julianne did!

  • Megan Anne Covert

    Let’s face it… that was hardly “blackface.” It was more Jersey Shore guido face that Julianne Hough had on that night. And I don’t know what everyone has their panties in a bunch about. It’s not like she was MOCKING anyone. Was she dressing up as her to MOCK her successful character in a successful show or is this a case of “imitation is the most sincere form of flattery?” I think everyone is just so hypersensitive and needs a proverbial “chill pill.” I mean, no one got on “tan mom” for donning “blackface” and I think she was at least ten shades darker than this.

    My end point is – – simmer down now, y’all!

  • Laura Mesquita

    Okay. I agree with everything you say 100%, but I have to point out that the problem with White Chicks is that African American men in white make up portraying white women as stupid and shallow “chicks” is more of a sexism issue than a racism one. There’s no history linking “white face” with some horrible past where Black people dehumanized them, so the comparison you make weakens your point a bit. I do understand your general sentiment about how using race is cheap and dehumanizing in general, but the comparison just cannot be drawn, unfortunately. Great piece otherwise!

    • Cait Bladt

      ^^nailed it.

  • Whitney Lawson

    Hmm.. I didn’t find White Chicks to be offensive at all. More like hilarious. I have no problem with people donning white or black face. I don’t think she did it in poor taste. But then again I really don’t think it’s worth taking seriously. It’s a Halloween costume, not a political statement. I’m more offended by people costumed in next to no clothing.

  • Artice Garland

    Its only awkward because you make it awkward. This silly debate is making me rethink having this page on my feed and I really have to know if ZD is as socially flexible as her “friends” seem to be. I get wanting to be on the righteous side of any scandal, but, please, don’t make scandal where it doesn’t need to exist. If anything, you and others posting here remind me of the sad fact that dark skinned humans will always be considered “colored” in your myopic, scandal loving, little minds.

    Once, I dressed up as an native american for a play. I made myself a period costume complete with makeup. It wasn’t to dishonor anyone, but rather to represent a person to the best of my ability. OMG! Stop the presses! Someone dressed up as someone who looked and spoke different from themselves! That’s racism!

    So, this got me thinking. What is acceptable? Someone mentioned dressing up as President Obama. Simply wearing a suit and slicking back my hair probably wouldn’t sell the disguise. Maybe wearing a latex mask might help but then I’d be a white person wearing dark skin. Uh oh! Can’t do that. Guess that means dressing up as opera handing out cars is in poor taste as well. Hey, here’s a thought. How about if I decide to hit the tanning salon every day for a month before Halloween so that I can have a deep, bronze, tan. Would that be insensitive as well? Do you think Snookie or the Karkar’s might go cry in a corner because someone was making fun of white girls with really bad tans? Not sure.

    Where do we draw the line? Seems to me that if any costume has the potential to negatively impact any group of people who are either currently being or have been oppressed, we should have the same level of outcry. Witches. I a couple hundred years ago, poor women were burned alive for absolutely nothing. Witch costumes are insensitive. Stuffing a pillow under your belly to pretend to be pregnant or overweight is insensitive. Dressing up like Bruce Lee or a ninja is insensitive to Asians. They don’t all know martial arts, ya know.. Dressing up like a gondola driver is offensive to Italians. Dressing up as a priest/preacher/nun/rabbi/cleric/imam is insensitive to Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Dressing up as a soldier is offensive to people who lost loved ones in wars as it stirs painful memories. Dressing up as a cheerleader offends people who see cheerleading as sexploitation. I can continue but its clear that this is sarcasm. You and the rest of the “she should have known better” crowd are missing the most important thing of all. Intent.

    If a person dresses as something or someone for the purpose of offending others, that’s one thing. If they dress up as another to honor or show their appreciation, that’s totally different. How about applauding the girl for portraying her favorite person on the show. What if she hadn’t put on the brown makeup but had done her hair and carried herself in a similar fashion to Crazy Eyes? Wouldn’t you still be complaining about her for ‘acting black’? You bet your ignorant ass you would. So, see, there’s no winning here. You see people as a color and a commodity that can be exploited to make yourself feel better and for that, I pity you.

    • René Esterhuizen

      Artice Garland, I very much agree.

    • Mallory Dee

      “I fear for anyone caught between what they know, and what they don’t yet know that they don’t know”

  • Kristie Marquette

    Really? what is the big deal? The character she chose to dress as is black, so she darkened her skin! Find something worthy to complain about people.

  • Sarah Rose Piccuirro

    Costed? I’m sorry that’s all I can think of right now.

    • Karen Belz

      Yep – it was the wrong word choice. I’m sure everyone has made similar mistakes before. I contacted the editors, and had it changed. Hopefully we can move on from it, and focus more on the topic at hand.

    • Amanda Dawn
    • Jessica Nevins Kurtzman


    • Sharon Rose Sweeney

      Thank you!!!

  • Kathryn Lentini

    People are always going to disagree about this. Another thing that will keep races divided. WE ARE ALL HUMAN! Who cares what we look like. We should embrace one another for that. We should recognize our differences and yet not care that we are different.

  • Julieta Lewis

    Thank you for this insightful and well-informed article about the issue of “black face.” While I don’t think the costume was overtly offensive, I do think it is important to acknowledge the history and what a costume like this says about where we are as a country. I personally love Julianne Hough. Will this costume make me stop liking her? Definitely not, but it is all to easy to dismiss the act of a white person darkening their skin as some sort of joke or costume. Being black is not a joke, or a costume, or a mix of the two.
    Should it be cause for a huge backlash. Probably not.
    But I have seen countless black people dress as white characters for Halloween and I have never seen them whiten their skin. Yet, it seems most times a white person goes as a black character, they make a point of adding race to the costume. Why is this?
    Just food for thought…

  • Jamie Leigh Patterson

    Oh and check your grammar…this site is going downhill fast.

  • Jamie Leigh Patterson

    It’snot okay to dress as Trayvon, but it’s okay to dress as Kurt Cobain and make your head look blasted out and carry around a shot gun? You think Kurt doesn’t have people who mourn him too and have to see people like that? But those people don’t say anything cause they know they don’t mean harm to anyone. And Trayvon’s mom would have NEVER seen this if sites like you didn’t post it virally. Plus, Julianne’s costume is not racist and is NOT blackface. Google blackface. Do your frickin research. Blackface looks nothing like this.

    • Sanj Sanji Peru

      Yes…you seem to be a credible source who is qualified to determine what is and isn’t blackface. Oh, and check your mentality; screaming “BLAME THE VICTIM!” doesn’t shift the blame from the party responsible only solidifies the guilty verdict.

      I KNOW I’m not a credible source on blackface either but that doesn’t mean I’m not sensitive to how racially denigrating and dehumanizing the historical meaning and context of it is…

  • Roshini Kotecha

    I am black and I feel that Hough’s choice to colour her face in black was both inappropriate and hurtful and was definitely not helping her Romney credentials. I think the problem is, the colour of the actresses skin is not instrumental to the character she plays, and therefore Hough’s hair, clothes and her name tag were more than enough to identify her as the character and the decision to colour her face in black, was sort of emohasising the fact the character is black, therefore seeming like Hough sees the coour of her skin before the character. So for example someone white would just be a character, but someone black would be black AND a character. Plus combined with the awful history of blackface, it was just an ignorant decision to make. Not sure if I worded that very well, but I hope you get the gist of wht I’m saying. Plus I think the police officer who shot treyvor was a quite abit more than just ‘gun happy’- it sort if feels like youre trying to make it less awful then it was.

  • Christine Bolton

    The Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman costumes are most definitely in poor taste! However Julianne Hough dressing up as “Crazy Eyes” from Orange is the New Black, is a different story.
    Hough herself stated that she is a big fan of not just the show, but the actress as well. She is not being racist. Also, I wonder if there would be the same kind of outrage if an african american celebrity dressed up in white face.
    Seems totally ridiculous to me.

    • Sanj Sanji Peru

      Yes it probably would be. In fact, there are, literally, hundreds if not THOUSANDS of people of colour who dress up as white characters and actors/actresses EVERY SINGLE HALLOWEEN; and (in the same breath) there are, literally, hundreds if not THOUSANDS of people of colour who don’t feel the need to “enhance”(read: make an idiot of themselves) their costumes by donning “white face”. So, the need for whites to do this EVERY SINGLE HALLOWEEN is a trite tradition.

      Also, show me the as many examples of “whiteface” during halloween as you can of black face and I shall be convinced of your “logic”.

      • Grace-blueberry Lopez

        Seriously? The Joker, Harley Quinn, Jack from the nightmare before christmas etc.. If you try and say these are different, they aren’t because these are also just fictional characters.

        • Bre Short

          Uhh…I don’t think those really count. Jack is a skull….and bones are usually pictured as “white.” And even the joker, played by a white man, painted his face white. It’s part of the character.

  • Vu Minh Tu

    This reminds me of the criticism of Robert Downey Jr’s character in Tropic Thunder.

  • Aerin Sizelove

    Why she apologized for dressing up as crazy eyes is beyond me. It’s a great costume, the people writing about it are the only ones who seem racist to me.

  • Lisa Hesse

    If a non-Black person dresses up as President Obama for Halloween, is that racist? Is it more or less racist if he or she uses a mask instead of make-up?

    The difference between blackface and this Crazy Eyes costume is that blackface was used to make derogatory statements about Black people in general. This costume was a physical portrayal of one specific (fictional) Black person.

    And no, the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman group costume is not okay, no matter the races of anyone involved.

  • René Esterhuizen

    I see no problem with the OITNB costume…if I’m going to be an iconic fictional character with red/black/blonde hair…I’m going to put on a wig to try to look like the character as much as possible. The first picture doesn’t show pitchblack soot/shoe polish looking color applied to the face; no racial characteristics seem to be grotesquely exaggerated.

    The Trayvon costume is just horrible, though. To depict a tragedy as a funny costume is unbelievably insensitive…that goes even without smearing your face pitch black.

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