Nightclub responds to complaints after blackface controversy

Fame Nightclub Winnipeg responded Monday afternoon to complaints after a photo of a woman in blackface surfaced on the nightclub's website recently.

Woman in blackface at Fame Nightclub Halloween party sparks debate in Winnipeg queer community

A photo of a woman in blackface has sparked a fierce debate in Winnipeg's queer community. 2:10
People in the LGBTTQ* community are upset after someone wore blackface makeup to one of Fame Nightclub Winnipeg's Halloween parties. (Fame Nightclub Winnipeg)
Fame Nightclub Winnipeg responded Monday afternoon to complaints after a photo of a woman in blackface surfaced on the nightclub's website recently.

"We understand that there is concern regarding a Bob Marley costume from Halloween that was posted on Fame's photo album," reads a written statement sent to CBC Manitoba from a Fame spokesperson.

"We immediately took action and removed the photo as we value our patrons opinions. That was at 10:30 a.m. Saturday morning."

According to Fame staff, despite removing the photo from its website, the photo was circulated on social media Saturday afternoon.

One comment that Fame says accompanied the photo on Facebook read "[Fame Nightclub is] racist, run by white supremists [sic], unsafe and pretended to support the community."

That comment was reported and soon deleted by Facebook officials.

Fame then contacted Facebook and asked them to remove the photo from the pages of those continuing to circulate it. They received the following response: 

"We reviewed the photo you reported for harassment and found it doesn't violate our Community Standards."

Photo sparks debate in queer community

Members of several LGBTQ groupsincluding Queerview, the Dyke March, and Queer People of Colourmet Sunday to determine how best to address the incident.

Although the club promptly removed the photo, the group also wants an apology.

"I was upset that this had happened at Fame — somewhere which is supposed to be safe for queer people," said Sane Dube.

"It was really surprising because I know every year leading up to Halloween you'll see so many campaigns about what is appropriate to wear to Halloween, what is not appropriate to wear to Halloween, why it is not appropriate ... so it was really shocking that this was something that was on Fame's website."

Queer People of Colour formed in May. The group's goal is to educate people about the challenges queer people of different ethnicities face. 

On Sunday they came together to discuss ways to make Winnipeg clubs more safe and inclusive for LGBTQ people of different ethnicities.
Sane Dube (left) and Joan Johnson (right).

"Being queer you already have your own issues that you are confronting the world with," said Dube. "Being a queer person of colour you also are dealing with issues of racism."

The group questions whether Fame should have allowed a person in blackface to enter the club. 

'History of blackface steeped in racism'

"The history of blackface is steeped in racism," said Joan Johnson, who describes herself as a queer black woman. "It was to mimic or act out stereotypes of black people."

Johnson wrote the club when she saw the picture. She told them blackface is not a costume. "I was quite offended to see that the club would actually take the picture, actually post it to public media." 

Johnson said the club responded immediately but described the response as "lacking."

"You took the picture, you posted it, this person was in your club for the night and it's not OK. And where is the accountability of the business and the club?" Johnson asked. "How is this a safe space for someone like me?"

The group says it would like to have a dialogue with Fame to discuss the issue and ask it to reconsider its door policy at costume-themed events.

Johnson said an apology from Fame would help. 

"I was looking for some sort of acknowledgement to the fact that this is racist. Acknowledgement that, 'Yes, we made a mistake because we are human. We feel deeply sorry that this has happened and that this has gone out. And that better judgment should have been used.'"

On its Facebook page Fame states that 990 people attended the Halloween event and "not one patron voiced concern over this being offensive."