David Byrne addresses use of blackface and brownface in resurfaced 1984 skit: ‘It was a major mistake in judgement’

‘It’s like looking in a mirror and seeing someone else’

Louis Chilton
Wednesday 02 September 2020 08:00
David Byrne wears blackface in resurfaced promo skit for 'Stop Making Sense' in 1984

David Byrne has addressed his historical use of blackface and brownface, describing it as a “major mistake in judgement”.

The former Talking Heads frontman was filmed impersonating non-white people in a promotional video for the concert film Stop Making Sense in 1984.

The clip has recently resurfaced and was shared widely on social media, prompting a response from the avant-garde singer-songwriter.

David Byrne walks the runway at The Blue Jacket Fashion Show at Pier 59 Studios on 5 February, 2020

In a string of tweets on Tuesday (1 September), Byrne expressed regret for the offensive sketch, writing: “I’d just about forgotten about this skit and I’m grateful that it has been brought to my attention.

“To watch myself in the various characters, including black and brown face, I acknowledge it was a major mistake in judgment that showed a lack of real understanding. It’s like looking in a mirror and seeing someone else – you’re not, or were not, the person you thought you were.”

Byrne’s statement comes amid a wave of similar blackface controversies across the entertainment industry, involving comedians such as Jimmy Kimmel, Ant and Dec, and Little Britain creators Matt Lucas and David Walliams.

Little Britain was one of several series to be removed from streaming services amid the public re-evaluation, with the use of blackface cited as a reason.

In his Twitter apology, Byrne added: “We have huge blind spots about ourselves – well, I certainly do.”

“I’d like to think I am beyond making mistakes like this, but clearly at the time I was not. Like I say at the end of our Broadway show American Utopia: ‘I need to change too’..and I believe I have changed since then.”

The artist concluded by saying he hoped people ”have the grace and understanding to allow that someone like me, anyone really, can grow and change” and that “the past can be examined with honesty and accountability”.

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