Talking Heads frontman David Byrne has acknowledged and apologized for donning black- and brownface in a 1984 promotional video.
The video, for the 1984 Stop Making Sense concert film, appears in at least one of its Blu-ray releases and features Byrne, 68, portraying different characters interviewing himself.
“Recently a journalist pointed out something I did in a promo video skit in 1984 for the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense,” he tweeted. “In the piece I appear as a number of different characters interviewing myself, and some of the characters portrayed are people of color.”
“To watch myself in the various characters, including Black- and brownface, I acknowledge it was a major mistake in judgment that showed a lack of real understanding,” he wrote. “It’s like looking in a mirror and seeing someone else – you’re not, or were not, the person you thought you were.”
Byrne joins a slew of other celebrities and longtime comedians who have reckoned with past blackface performances in recent months as protests over the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna launched broader calls for social justice and accountability. In June, the Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon apologized for donning blackface in a 2000 Saturday Night Live sketch during which he played comedian Chris Rock.
“There is no excuse for this,” Fallon wrote on Twitter. “I am very sorry for making this unquestionably offensive decision and thank all of you for holding me accountable.”
Fellow late-night host Jimmy Kimmel also apologized for portraying numerous black celebrities in the past. “I apologize to those who were genuinely hurt or offended by the makeup I wore or the words I spoke,” Kimmel said in a statement. And comedian Tina Fey requested NBC pull four episodes of her show 30 Rock which portrayed characters in blackface, adding in a letter she apologized for “pain they have caused. Going forward, no comedy-loving kid needs to stumble on these tropes and be stung by their ugliness.”
“We have huge blind spots about ourselves- well, I certainly do,” Byrne wrote on Twitter. “I’d like to think I am beyond making mistakes like this, but clearly at the time I was not.” Byrne referenced the closing line of his 2018 Broadway musical American Utopia – “I need to change too” – and added “I believe I have changed since then.”
The TV adaptation of American Utopia, directed by Spike Lee, premieres at the virtual Toronto Film Festival this month and will launch on HBO in October.
“One hopes that folks have the grace and understanding to allow that someone like me, anyone really, can grow and change,” he concluded, “and that the past can be examined with honesty and accountability.”