E! network host Giuliana Rancic offered an extensive on-air apology Tuesday for a controversial, and some have argued racially charged, joke at the expense of 18-year-old biracial Disney star Zendaya.
The singer and actress sported her natural hair in dreadlocks on the Academy Awards’ red carpet on Sunday. While covering the fashion angle at the Oscars, Rancic quipped that Zendaya, “smells like patchouli oil … or weed.”
“I’d really like to address something that is weighing very heavy on my heart. I want to apologize for a comment that I made on last night’s ‘Fashion Police’ about Zendaya’s hair,” Rancic said. “Now, as you know, ‘Fashion Police’ is a show that pokes fun at celebrities in good spirit, but I do understand that something I said last night did cross the line. I just want everyone to know, I didn’t intend to hurt anybody, but I’ve learned it is not my intent that matters — it’s the result, and the result is that people are offended, including Zendaya, and that is not OK.”
The remark has sparked an enormous backlash and a condemnation from Zendaya herself, who penned a widely circulated social media post criticizing Rancic and others who stereotype women who wear dreadlocks.
“There is already harsh criticism of African-American hair in society without the help of ignorant people who choose to judge others based on the curl of their hair,” Zendaya tweeted on Monday. “My wearing my hair in locs on an Oscar red carpet was to showcase them in a positive light, to remind people of color that our hair is good enough.”
During her on-air mea culpa, Ranic acknowledged that the episode has been “a learning experience” for her.
“This incident has taught me to be a lot more aware of cliches and stereotypes, how much damage they can do. And that I am responsible, as we all are, to not perpetuate them further.”
Some critics, such as NBCBLK columnist Danielle Moodie-Mills, have pointed out the irony that non-black celebrities like Kendall Jenner have been hailed as “edgy” for wearing traditionally black hairstyles like cornrows and locs, while African-American women who wear their hair naturally are often subjected to cruel and unfounded insults.
“Today’s racism may not be of the Billy-club and Klan variety, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any less harmful,” wrote Moodie-Mills with respect to the controversy.
Prior to Rancic’s apology, her “Fashion Police” co-host Kelly Osbourne tweeted [sic] after the Oscars: “I DID NOT MAKE THE WEED COMENT. I DO NOT CONDONE RACISM SO AS A RSULT OF THIS IM SEREIOULSY QUESTIONONIG STAYING ON THE SHOW!”
She also said, “I’m giving everyone involved 24 hours to make it right or the world will hear how I really feel.”
Meanwhile, Zendaya has received an outpouring of support on social media from fans and her fellow celebrities, such as “Selma” director Ava DuVernay, who the “K.C. Undercover” star name-checked in her post defending dreadlocks.
DuVernay tweeted at her: “You’re beautiful, Queen. We bless the ignorant and wish them well. Onward. xo”