Rodner Figueroa, the longtime Univision celebrity who was fired this week for racist comments about Michelle Obama during the program “El Gordo y La Flaca,” has written an open letter of apology to the first lady. “I offer my sincere apology for an unfortunate comment I made about a make-up artist’s depiction of you on Univision’s show ‘El Gordo y La Flaca’ yesterday,” starts Figueroa’s letter. “It was clearly in bad taste and misunderstood.”
In Wednesday’s edition of the program, Figueroa said, “You know, Michelle Obama looks like she’s from the cast of ‘Planet of the Apes,’ the movie.”
On its face, reprehensible. But Figueroa says in the letter that the video clip’s context “corroborates” his intention to mock not Michelle Obama herself but rather an “artist’s depiction” of her. “I accept full responsibility for this lack of judgement on my part, but I cannot accept being labeled a racist by Univision, for whom I have worked for 17 years, or to anyone who may have misinterpreted my comments,” writes Figueroa, who notes that he comes from a “multi-racial Hispanic family, with relatives, like my own father, who are Afro-Latino.” He also claims to be the first openly gay Hispanic TV host.
Lamenting that he hasn’t had a chance to tell his side of the story, Figueroa notes that he was fired by phone by Univision after the network received a complaint from Michelle Obama’s office: “I was notified verbally in a phone call by a Univision executive that, because of a complaint received from your office, my employment was being terminated,” writes Figueroa, known as the network’s “fashionista.”
A Univision executive tells the Erik Wemple Blog in a phone call that things didn’t go down that way. After the show concluded on Wednesday afternoon, Univision brass evaluated the situation and decided to terminate Figueroa, notifying him that night. The next day — Thursday — Univision issued a statement on its Web site calling the comments “completely reprehensible” and declaring that Figueroa had been fired. Also on Thursday, Univision notified the first lady’s office of what had happened, according to the Univision executive. “We actually informed the White House of the situation,” says the executive. “There was no communication from the White House.”
The Erik Wemple Blog is awaiting comment from Michelle Obama’s office.
As for Figueroa’s explanation for his remarks, the executive made clear that the network won’t be commenting beyond the statement.