Are People Actually Upset Over Julianne Hough’s Halloween Costume?

Julianne Hough

By now you may have heard about the backlash concerning actress Julianne Hough’s choice to dress up as Uzo Aduba’s character Crazy Eyes, on the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black. In case you were wondering why this caused such an uproar, it’s because the white actress Hough, wore dark makeup as part of her costume in order to appear more like the black actress Aduba. And yet if you’re still wondering why this turned into such a media and Twitter shit storm, well then you’re like me and of an opinion that goes something along the lines of dude, seriously?

Before I continue, let’s just get one thing out of the way. I am in fact, a white person. I’m not trying to pretend like I know what it is to be black in America and have to deal with a bunch of ignorant white nonsense on a regular basis but is this really one of those times? Like, honestly. I want to know. Because it seems like most of the people who are getting upset over Hough’s costume are white to begin with and it makes me want to say “chill out white people!” There’s plenty of actual racism going on in the world for you to freak out over and prove how not racist you are, but this probably isn’t your moment.

I mean, let’s break it down.

While blackface is often loosely defined as any white person wearing dark makeup in an effort to impersonate a black person, that’s not what blackface actually is. Blackface is specific to a time when white actors, after the Civil War, used greasepaint to exaggerate black features and then made fools of themselves on stage which ultimately ended up demeaning and objectifying black people. Now that shit is seriously offensive. However, a white woman getting what is essentially a heavy spray tan to more accurately portray her favorite character on an internet show isn’t even remotely the same thing. And to say that it is, seems like a trivialization of what blackface was in the first place.

And let’s say that at worst, Hough was naive or just plain unaware that some people would be turned off to her costume. Is this such a misstep that it warrants an onslaught of internet outrage? Just look at how distorted the whole thing has become. A contributor to The Huffington Post compared what Hough wore to the awful costumes of two Massachusetts white men. One of which painted his face black and went as a bleeding Treyvon Martin. The other, a gun wielding George Zimmerman. She finished her article by referencing Hough in a paragraph that ended with “Halloween is no excuse for hate.” Another reporter for the LA Times made the same comparison and even went so far as to accuse Hough of being part of a conspiracy that utilizes Halloween to express the deep-seated belief that white people are of intrinsically higher value than people of color and that by dressing in blackface, her true character was revealed. Are they fucking serious? I mean, I don’t know much about this Hough chick but she doesn’t exactly give off the evil genius vibe. From what I could see of the pictures, she just looked like someone who was excited to go to a party.

Now it comes as no surprise that bloggers would take what is for the most part, a pretty mundane situation and turn it into a “controversy” in order to drive traffic to their sites. Nor does it seem shocking that a few typically loud people on Twitter would make the most of an opportunity to have an opinion about anything. But is your average person, like in real life, who’s just going about their day, actually over about this? Because no one I’ve spoken to personally seems to think it’s that big of a deal.

On the flip side, if anyone wants to argue the point that maybe black people have dealt with enough throughout history. And because of that, maybe white people should extend the small courtesy of never coming anywhere near what might be considered offensive to them, then I can get down with that. But can we please not call a woman wearing a costume to a Halloween party something it’s not, a calculated plan to marginalize a minority, simply for the sake of being righteous? There’s plenty of for real fucked up shit out there without having to invent it because we’re bored.

  • Rob Morales

    She’s in orange face not black face. You have a group of people out there who are always looking for things to complain about….period. Only people on Mob Wives with bad tans should be complaining right now.

    • Gabriele

      Ha! Ha! Good point about the bad tans.

  • Lydia

    She looks more like Snookie from Jersey Shore to me. People aren’t happy unless they are mad about something.

  • Quinn Read

    I thought it was tacky — but then I think a great deal of celebrity behavior is tacky. I believe it’s good to send the message that wearing black face (or something approximating it) isn’t a good move. But, yeah, don’t we have bigger problems? After all, the Supreme Court invalidated a huge chunk of the Voting Rights Act this summer. Shame the Justices! Why waste so much energy on an easy celebrity target?

    • Kelly

      It’s funny, I wasn’t being cute at all when I asked the question in the title. I really was curious if Hough’s particular costume, NOT blackface, was offensive or was it just a way to stir controversy and drive traffic. This thing has been picked up by Gawker now and I think I have my answer. People are PISSED. So, I guess I learned something. Nothing wrong with that. Thanks for commenting.

      • Quinn

        I think it’s a good and thoughtful question! And I think you’re right that the blogging world is driving the way out of proportion response. Is it really this particular costume, or is it that she’s just an easy target that can be used to drive traffic? I come down somewhat in the middle. I personally thought it was in bad taste, but that it doesn’t deserve the crazy outrage.

      • Rochelle Migliore

        I don’t think people are so upset over the costume, it’s the symbolism of the whole thing. I think some of the reaction is overblown, that’s to be expected unfortunately. Her wearing that costume is at best completely ignorant, and it touches on something that’s very real for most folks of color.

        I agree with this line from the author that referenced your post, “She wanted, just for a night, to rat her hair and darken her skin, to slide into that orange jumpsuit and claim a part of that alien experience as her own, all while staying safely hidden behind the cultural power that allowed her to play at oppression that way.” There is a real and demonstrable difference in the opportunities and outcomes in the lives of people of color as opposed to white folks, and you can see it just about everywhere. The problem with costumes like this is people of privilege “playing” someone who isn’t. As soon as that person takes the costume off, they are able to live with the benefits that privilege gives them. When you are actually someone whose skin color doesn’t afford you that privilege, you can’t do anything about that hurdle. That’s not to say that hurdle can’t be overcome, it can. But we all want a society that doesn’t count skin color as a mark against us.

        Just like people are tired of hearing about racial inequities, more so are those on the short end of that stick.

        There’s a cumulative effect. Sorta like when you get a bad start to your day, and then it seems like everything is going wrong, then by the end of the day when one little thing goes wrong, you totally lose it. Day in and day out people are living with racial inequities, sometimes blatant racism, the history of racism, and dealing with the generational after effects. Then some stupid thing like this costume happens and it quickly snowballs. Yes, there are worse situations to deal with. But it just feels like it’s everywhere. Like an awful, endless game of whack-a-mole. There are a lot of emotions under the surface, not just for historical happenings, but for the real life, everyday implications.

        This reminds me of a great quote, “Until the lion learns to speak, the tales of hunting will be weak”. I can’t completely understand the experience of others, so I have to listen to those experiences by those who live them. If folks of color keep saying this behavior is offensive, why can’t that experience be listened to?

        I read some of the comments on your post on Thought Catalog, I think you were unfairly criticized for saying things you didn’t say. If someone doesn’t understand something, people that do understand serve everyone to contribute their experiences to help explain it. I think you got a lot of knee jerk, trigger happy reactions. I think people mistook your sincere questions for provocation. I hope you can read what’s behind some of those comments, because that’s where people’s truth is. I always look at situations via dogs. Reading some of the mean comments you got reminded me of a dog growling and snarling and trying to bite because they are scared or hurt.

        Honestly, it’s conversations like the one you’re having that we need to get rid of racism for good. I’m grateful for it, thank you Kelly :)

  • Sami

    Seriously! I’m with Quinn!! ^^

  • Terrell

    The outrage is blown out of proportion (in fact, it’s not worth being outraged over; it’s mostly embarrassing and stupid), but I do think it needs to be said publicly that this was not okay. I don’t believe Hough is racist and her costume itself is not offensive, but no white person should ever darken their skin to portray a black person. The clothes and hair are enough for us to get the general idea.

    Think about it, black people dress as famous white people for Halloween, but don’t feel the need to powder their face or lighten their complexions. When white people do it, you can’t help but think of the historical implications.

    @Gabriele: Yes, the character is portrayed as being “funny and extreme” but that’s because of her mental state, not the color of her skin.

    • Kelly

      I’m starting to feel the same way after all of the responses I got on Thought Catalog and Gawker. I still don’t believe that what she wore was blackface however if people really are this offended by anyone darkening their skin then I can respect the request that it not be done. I don’t think it should have been turned into quite the media extravaganza that it was but thus is the nature of the internet these days.

  • Rob Morales

    I wish this “outrage” extended to native Americans. You have Atlanta Braves fans chanting an Indian war chant and doing a chop, Washington Redskin fans dressing up as Natives yet where is the level of outrage for what was done and still being done to them on a daily basis. I guess they’re not sexy enough.

  • Anna

    My very first though was, “oh she’s dressing as her favorite funny OITNB character”.

    Actually I thought it was kind of funny. She put some powder on her face, who gives a shit? Why do we have to make everything serious, political, etc?

    I have seen much worse/offensive costumes on halloween.

  • Rochelle Migliore

    Where did you respond to her?

    • Kelly

      It’s the very bottom comment in the comments section beneath her post. Signed Rheel Daze. Thank you for your insight. It was beautifully worded and effectively explained. I have truly learned so much over the last 24 hours.

  • Gabriele

    The character, Crazy Eyes, in the show Orange is the New Black is funny and extreme. Perhaps that show and the actress herself should be criticized for making a black person funny and extreme (just saying…not agreeing). Also, the costume worn by Julianne is not that extreme. Where is the drama? I don’t get it? Why make a point of something that isn’t there?