'A major mistake': David Byrne apologizes for wearing blackface in 1984 Talking Heads promo video
'I thought I was this sort of enlightened guy, as we all do,' said Byrne in a new q interview
Musician, artist and former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne is apologizing after a 1984 promo video that features him wearing blackface has resurfaced.
In an apology posted to social media, Byrne said a journalist brought the video skit, which was a promo for the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, to his attention.
In the video, Byrne appears as a number of different characters interviewing himself, and some of the characters he portrays have dark skin.
'A major mistake': David Byrne apologizes for wearing blackface in 1984 Talking Heads promo video <a href="https://t.co/MK65C0zta4">https://t.co/MK65C0zta4</a> <a href="https://t.co/q6h2bnTl8K">pic.twitter.com/q6h2bnTl8K</a>—@cbcradioq
"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."
For decades, Byrne has spoken out about racial injustice, including on his recent tour and Broadway show American Utopia.
"I thought I was this sort of enlightened guy, as we all do. I thought I was this enlightened guy who always did the right thing and always was considerate and aware," said Byrne in a new interview with q host Tom Power.
"And then you realize, I wasn't that that person that I thought I was. I'm probably not who I think I am now either. I probably still have work to do."
Byrne emphasized that he believes he didn't mock or stereotype Black or Brown people in the skit, and differentiated it from America's long history of minstrel shows. Still, he said, the two are connected, and he recognizes that playing a person of colour was wrong.
"In our present situation, especially in this country, where there is a lot of inequality, race is obviously very much in the forefront. It's a major issue. There's still incredible bigotry and discrimination," he said.
"Until everybody really is equal, it's just wrong to kind of adopt the look of somebody else who is not equal to you, who doesn't have the same opportunities in life."
In the interview, Byrne said he raised the issue with collaborator Spike Lee, who made a film about a modern minstrel TV show called Bamboozled.
Byrne didn't want to speak on the director's behalf, but he said Lee was "very supportive."
"His sense, as has been from some other friends that I reached out to, has been 'Thank you for doing this,'" recounted Byrne. "Yes, we will change. Thank God we can change. Thank God that we're not always the same person that we once were."
And that change, he emphasizes, is an ongoing process — one that not only looks to the future, but also reconsiders the past.
One hopes that folks 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.- David Byrne
"Like I say at the end of our Broadway show American Utopia 'I need to change too," he wrote in his social media post.
"One hopes that folks 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."
Written by Jennifer Van Evra. Produced by Vanessa Nigro.