That Awkward Moment When Halloween Took An Offensive Turn

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.

trayvon-martin-offensive-costume

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)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=872830318 Dani Daigle

    So… the Trayvon Martin thing, I can understand as offensive. But to dress as a character from a show… and colour your skin darker to portray her, is racist? Really, people? So… a man dressing as a woman, or vice-versa… is this considered, sexist? Halloween is about portraying someone else for a day. If it means altering the colour of your skin to do so, I’m not sure why this is a problem… famous or not.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1215215231 Brian Juntunen

      That’s what I thought as well. It’s not racist. People are so sensitive now to everything. Who is even a real human being anymore?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=895420541 Leah Nicole Short

      because changing your skin color for halloween is tantamount to black face…just don’t do it, it’s not just a fun halloween costume, it has centuries of slavery and black face and racism tacked onto it…what is not to get? if we didn’t enslave black people in the past it wouldn’t be an issue, but we did so game over on it being a valid costume choice. black face is not acceptable, just like hipster kids wearing ss costumes and hitler outfits is not acceptable or fun….if the history of something such as slavery, black face and other real humans such as Trayvon includes; torture, slavery, death and treating someone like their life has less value because of their race, gender, or religion, it’s not cute or acceptable.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1368217515 Cally Sarnowski

        How is what she did black face? She covered more than just her face.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=535214230 Sanj Sanji Peru

          oh okay. our apologies. I guess since it’s her whole body, it’s okay. Seriously? Did you even read her response?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=535214230 Sanj Sanji Peru

        Thank you! You are awesome.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=9341350 Mallory Dee

        Well said. I am quite honestly shocked at how ignorant so many people are on here, it really just makes me sad.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1450170024 Amanda Elaine Choin

    You realize that 1830 is closer to 200 years ago than 100 right?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=23301338 Mary Traina

      She means blackface in the American theater started around 1830 and lasted for roughly 100 years before people realized it was in poor taste — not that it was 100 years ago from today.

      Also… dang! Time flies!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1057830016 Laura Peterson

      If she would’ve not done blackface, there probably wouldn’t be so much backlash. I think it would be a fun costume, I love Crazy Eyes, but yeah, painting herself black was probably a but much, we would have gotten the costume without it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=516624894 Limari Colón

    Why is dressing like “Crazy Eyes” offensive? I dressed as her and everyone thought it was an incredible/hilarious transformation. I still don’t get the offensive part…

    Trayvon Martin, I understand. “Crazy Eyes”, never will.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1277881410 Kaeli Davis

    the Trayvon Martin costume is COMPLETELY gross and horrible. Thank you for putting it into the perspective of a mourning family member. I tried explaining it that way to my asshole coworkers who though it was “clever”. But in my opinion Julienne didn’t do anything wrong. She wasn’t mocking someone’s race, she was dressing up as a character that she admired. She was mocking “Crazy Eyes” not a “Black Girl”. I don’t think it’s fair to categorize her with a couple of backwards kids dressing like Trayvon and Zimmerman.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1057830016 Laura Peterson

    If she would’ve not done blackface, there probably wouldn’t be so much backlash. I think it would be a fun costume, I love Crazy Eyes, but yeah, painting herself black was probably a but much, we would have gotten the costume without it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1105905157 Justin Sage

    Who cares. Moving on….

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=523099751 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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=12440199 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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=816074390 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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=630347262 Vu Minh Tu

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

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1042162318 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.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=535214230 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”.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1021808853 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.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1454922751 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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1261734203 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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1084148064 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.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=535214230 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…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1084148064 Jamie Leigh Patterson

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

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10139163 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…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1378080216 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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1809485 Sarah Rose Piccuirro

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

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1076778955 Sharon Rose Sweeney

      Thank you!!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1140150086 Jessica Nevins Kurtzman

      YES!!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=501076667 Amanda Dawn
    • 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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=689311277 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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1445859629 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.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=9341350 Mallory Dee

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

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=523099751 René Esterhuizen

      Artice Garland, I very much agree.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=16830406 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.

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