Nothing ushers in Halloween quite like a celebrity wearing — or, this year, defending — an offensive costume.
Megyn Kelly already came under fire for justifying blackface on “Today." But three-time Olympic gold medalist snowboarder Shaun White donned the year’s first offensive costume, by dressing up as “Simple Jack,” a character from the 2008 comedy “Tropic Thunder.” Simple Jack has an intellectual disability.
Soeren Palumbo, the co-founder of the Special Olympics’s “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign, addressed the costume, telling HuffPost that “disability is not a joke nor should it be a punchline.”
White then offered the tried-and-true “whoopsie” apology on Instagram: “I owe everyone in the Special Olympics community an apology for my poor choice of Halloween costume the other night. It was a last minute decision. It was the wrong one. The Special Olympics were right to call me out on it. They do great work supporting so many tremendous athletes and I am sorry for being insensitive. Lesson learned.”
So, Megyn and Shaun: How could have this been avoided?
The rules are pretty simple. There are only, like, basically three: Don’t dress as the dead version of an actual dead person; avoid cultural and offensive stereotypes; and for the love of everything, don’t slather your white face in black or brown paint.
Yet every year these rules are flagrantly ignored by someone in our celebrity culture — which is bizarre when you think about it. How is it possible that at no point during the locating of blackface paint, the purchasing of blackface paint, the applying of blackface paint and the actual wearing of the blackface paint, the celebrities stop and say to themselves, “You know what, this is probably not the best idea and maybe I should just dress up as a pumpkin or something instead"?
Luckily for the rest of us, these celebs have given us several examples through the years of how not to dress for Halloween. Here are a few of the lessons learned.
If you’re going to dress as a dead celebrity, how about you don’t reference the method of death with your costume?
This one might seem pretty obvious, but if someone dies in a hospital and you want to dress up as that person, maybe don’t wear a hospital gown. That principle was apparently lost on a few celebrities over the years.
Comedian and general provocateur Bill Maher was one of them. In 2006, he decided to dress as Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter. Only problem was that Irwin was killed by a stingray months earlier — and Maher decided to incorporate this detail into his costume. The (grown, adult) man walked around with a fake stinger sticking out from a bloody wound in his chest.
He then doubled down on his choice on his show, where he angrily refused to apologize and instead blamed Irwin for dying.
“Stop hassling me about my Halloween costume,” he said. “People who really love animals understand if you get killed by one, chances are you were doing something to it you shouldn’t have been.”
“America’s Next Top Model” winner Adrianne Curry did something similar in 2009, when she dressed up like Amy Winehouse — the singer who died at 27 years old from alcohol poisoning and struggled with drug addiction throughout her life.
Curry didn’t just don a wig to mimic Winehouse’s distinct coiffure. She strapped a belt around her arm and carried a fake syringe, pausing to pretend to shoot heroin. Perhaps the worst part is that Winehouse was still alive and struggling with addiction when Curry played dress-up.
Don’t be a Nazi, especially if you’re a prince of an Allied country.
Prince Harry inexplicably did the complete opposite of this in 2005, when he dressed as a Nazi for a costume party. A photo of him holding a drink with a big, red swastika armband wrapped around his biceps quickly spread throughout the Internet and prompted outrage.
It wasn’t even Halloween.
Harry eventually issued a statement that he was “very sorry if I caused any offense or embarrassment to anyone.”
“It was a poor choice of costume and I apologize,” he added.
Don’t be Nazis, y’all. It’s not a poor choice of costume; it’s a willfully provocative outfit that conjures hate and anti-Semitism. So don’t do it.
How about we leave other cultures alone?
Here are some good Halloween costumes: ghosts, vampires, zombies, Frankenstein.
Here are some bad Halloween costumes: anything that takes another person’s entire cultural identity and reduces it into something you bought for $50 from some bargain website.
Here are a few more examples:
Hillary Duff dressed up like a pilgrim for Halloween in 2016. That would have been fine — bland and unimaginative, but fine — but her then-boyfriend Jason Walsh dressed as a Native American, feathered headdress and all.
Given the history of violence against Native Americans, the costume was already offensive. But it’s timing was particularly egregious. As HuffPost reported, the costume was “particularly tone deaf given the current situation in North Dakota, where thousands of Native Americans and their supporters have been protesting the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. Pipeline opponents, who started demonstrating in January, say the proposed route threatens to contaminate the community’s water source and destroy sacred grounds.”
Duff later apologized, tweeting that she was “SO sorry to people I offended with my costume. It was not properly thought through and I am truly, from the bottom of my [heart emoji] sorry.”
Model Heidi Klum made a similar faux pas in 2008 when she dressed as the Hindu goddess Kali, which prompted immediate outrage.
“Goddess Kali is highly revered in Hinduism and she is meant to be worshiped in temples and not to be used in clubs for publicity stunts,” Indian American community leader Rajan Zed told the Times of India. “Hindus welcome Hollywood and other entertainment industries to immerse themselves in Hinduism, but they should take it seriously and respectfully and not just use the religion for decorating or to advance their own selfish agenda.”
And then there’s that time Chris Brown dressed up as a terrorist. The less said about that, the better.
Yes, Megyn Kelly, blackface is incredibly offensive, and no one should ever do it.
Oh, but wait, can I wear blackface if _______________________?
NO. THE ANSWER IS ALWAYS NO. DON’T WEAR BLACKFACE. It’s extraordinarily simple to not do things. We all don’t do things every day. Yet, throughout the years, celebrities insist on wearing blackface — even though all of them are adults and have publicists and agents and presumably friends.
“Dancing With the Stars” alum Julianne Hough thought it would be okay to darken her skin to portray Uzo Aduba’s “Orange Is the New Black” character Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren in 2013. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t!
Country star Jason Aldean decided it’d be cool to wear blackface to portray Lil Wayne in 2016. It also wasn’t!
And when he was called out for it, he told Billboard: “In this day and age people are so sensitive that no matter what you do, somebody is going to make a big deal out of it. Me doing that had zero malicious intent . . . I get that race is a touchy subject, but not everybody is that way. Media tends to make a big deal out of things. If that was disrespectful to anyone, I by all means apologize. That was never my intention. It never crossed my mind.”
Similarly, “American Horror Story” actor Colton Haynes wore blackface to portray Kanye West in 2011. People weren’t happy, but Haynes didn’t seem to care because he then wore brownface the very next year to dress up as Mahatma Gandhi. It took him yet another year to apologize.
And “Real Housewives of New York City” star Luann de Lesseps was accused of wearing blackface to be Diana Ross last year — a claim she denies (“I had bronzer on,” she said). The controversial costume choice was recently back in the news after Kelly defended the decision on her final “Today” show appearance.
In conclusion, don’t wear any of these costumes! Or any other ones that are like these! Happy Halloween!