What the Offensive Acts of Justin Bieber, Jonah Hill, and Pharrell Williams Really Mean
Three of pop culture's biggest celebrities dropped racial and homophobic slurs this week:
- Multiple videos leaked of Justin Bieber using racial slurs.
- Jonah Hill called a papparazzo an anti-gay slur.
- Pharrell was featured on the cover of Elle UK Magazine wearing a Native American headdress.
Should we label these celebs as racist or homophobic -- or did they just make excusable "mistakes"?
What were Justin Bieber's racist jokes about?
Two old videos of Justin Bieber leaked this week. One shows Bieber --whose mentor, let's not forget, is Usher -- singing racial slurs, using the N word while laughing and vowing to join the Klu Klux Klan, and the other shows him making a hideous racial joke. Here are both clips:
Now some context: Bieber was 15 years old at the time of the videos, and he's pointed to his young age as an explanation for his actions while apologizing.
"As a kid, I didn't understand the power of certain words and how they can hurt. I thought it was ok to repeat hurtful words and jokes, but didn't realize at the time that it wasn't funny and that in fact my actions were continuing the ignorance."
He also said the video was made as a joke, or a parody of a parody. (Not Funny, Justin. Please don't ever go into comedy.)
— saskia salongo (@SaskiaSalongo) June 4, 2014
The racist videos were kept a secret for years and even led to a court case between Team Bieber and the man who obtained them. Team Bieber called it blackmail:
— Bieber Fever (@News__Bieber) June 5, 2014
Whether or not it was blackmail, fans are very upset with Bieber.
— Danyelle Pouppirt (@DanyelleMarie) June 4, 2014
And people are even asking others to stop supporting him altogether with #boycottbieber:
— saskia salongo (@SaskiaSalongo) June 4, 2014
As part of his response, Bieber also Instagrammed a few passages from the Bible:
His actions bring up a few questions:
- Is youth or naiveté a good excuse for being racist? Is it OK to make those kinds of jokes when you're a teen?
- Is ignorance a good excuse for racism?
- Do stupid racist jokes mean more and have a stronger impact than they seem?
- How can celebrities like Justin Bieber make amends and help to address racism?
Is Jonah Hill's homophobic slur excusable?
Jonah Hill, the Academy Award-nominated star of movies like The Wolf of Wall Street, Moneyball, 22 Jump Street, and Superbad, also made waves for using a gay epithet towards a member of the paparrazi.
Hill called a male photographer a gay slur and said "suck my d***". Ugh.
Hill was clearly being followed around and provoked by the paparazzi taunting him, following him, and filming him -- possibly even trying to provoke a strong reaction? Hill's comment looks like an angry outburst in the heat of the moment. Still ...
A couple of fans aren't happy. One even questioned the subtle homophobic humor that takes place in his past films like The Sitter.
And 21 Jump Street:
'21 Jump Street,' With Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum: It is full of the usual boy-comedy stuff: homophobic humor... http://t.co/3vAZJ2lg
— filmmaker tips (@ketfilms) March 15, 2012
But mostly, people are giving Hill a break, especially since he has been openly supportive of the gay and lesbian community, and has been extremely apologetic.
jonah hill apologizes-I hope glbtqs will accept this apology, everyone can snap when provoked/targeted 4 humiliation: http://t.co/GgUvGUcuzH
— Roseanne Barr (@therealroseanne) June 3, 2014
Hill spoke directly to the camera on "The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon" apologizing and offering himself as an example of what not to do:
OK, Jonah. We hear you, but we've still got questions:
- Why would Hill, an advocate of the gay and lesbian community, choose to sling such a hurtful, loaded term? Why didn't he just walk away?
- Does it matter that he said it if he didn't mean it? What does it even mean to "mean it," anyway?
- Is it excusable to toss around hateful terms in the heat of the moment?
- Does Hill's outburst make it OK for anyone to use offensive terms like these when they are angry? Are there lines no one should cross no matter what?
Jonah Hill's apology over gay slur raises question: Why would even an ally let one fly? http://t.co/afYK75cTM2
— The Associated Press (@AP) June 5, 2014
For many members of the LGBTQ community who've been hatefully called that word before, the answer is yes, using derogatory terms (whether you "mean" them or not) does matter.
Why did Pharrell Williams pose in a Native American headdress?
And then there's Pharrell's magazine cover on this month's of Elle UK:
— Rowdy T Northlondon (@rowdytukgoon) June 5, 2014
The headdress is incredibly sacred for Native Americans. When a non-Native American flaunts a headdress as mere accessory, it's received as flippant, offensive, disrepectful and racist. It turns a meaningful part of Native culture into a costume.
— Moxie McMurder (@manderlay1940) June 5, 2014
So why'd Pharrell do it? The thing is, Pharrell was at a photoshoot being guided by stylists. There were a lot of people involved in creating the Elle UK cover. And the decision to wear the headdress was not made by himself.
— Angel Wood-Morton (@AngelMorton77) June 5, 2014
In response, fans are voicing their opposition to Pharrell's cover under the hashtag campaign #nothappy.
— Jacqueline Keeler (@jfkeeler) June 5, 2014
take off the Native American headdress & stop making ridiculously ignorant remarks about feminism Pharrell ya prick #NOThappy
— Harriet Williamson (@harriepw) June 5, 2014
I really hate when people say it could have been worse. Ya know, it could have been a lot better too! #nothappy
— Chelsey Kracht (@ChelseyKracht) June 5, 2014
Pharrell did apologize, very briefly:
“I respect and honor every kind of race, background and culture. ... I am genuinely sorry.”
- Who's more responsible for the offensive misuse of the headdress - Pharrell or the magazine?
- Is Pharrell's apology sufficient?
- Do casual acts of disrespect like this set the stage for even more offensive and hurtful behavior?
What do you think about this string of racist and homophobic acts? How should celebrities be held accountable when making discriminatory actions like this? Are these cases different from other similar cases involving celebrities and high-profile people like Alec Baldwin or Paula Deen or Donald Sterling?
Jenny Cain is a freelance writer from Orange County, California, and former banana slug, or UC Santa Cruz alum. She teaches classical and jazz piano to high school students and audits classes at UC Irvine. Inspired by Beyonce, Sheryl Sandberg, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and the Supreme Court’s 3 badass lady justices, she’d like to see the U.S. elect their first woman president. Like, yesterday.