Universal Orlando sued for costumed character making racist gestures

Posted | Contributed by Jeff

Two families are suing Universal Orlando after separate incidents during which an actor playing the “Despicable Me” movie character Gru made a racist hand gesture while posing for photos and video with biracial children.

Read more from WKMG/Orlando.

Richard Bannister said:

The thumbs-up gesture *is* problematic in some parts of the world:

Our Skype chat includes a thumbs up and I try never to use it with anyone who isn't American. I wonder how its use in Facebook, etc., has changed customs elsewhere.

Jeff said:

It isn't just two families coming forward here. It's not a coincidence.

That is the part that I am missing as the article mentioned two families. Are there more than that?

This does go to a question I think about everyone once in a while about the origination of things. Who decided the middle finger was an insult? Whey not the pinky finger? What is (pick your swear word) a swear word. If I say, "sit you" in an angry tone it probably would imply the same as the four letter word.

Interestingly, Disney does some pretty significant training for cast members, specifically for the characters but for others as well, about taking photos. I recall being taught to make sure both hands were visible to the camera so I couldn't be accused of touching someone inappropriately, for instance. I suspect this Universal knucklehead got some similar training but just thought he was being funny and wouldn't get caught.

I also wonder how many people have a "real" photo with me in some album somewhere...occasionally reminiscing about their vacation to Disneyworld and that skipper who told all the bad jokes. There were lots of photos.

Bakeman31092's avatar

Jeff said:

Two things feel icky about this topic. The first is the willingness of people to completely ignore intent.

Intent is just about all I care about in these situations. Yes, it can be annoying when words or gestures get crosses off the list of things you are allowed to casually do or say because they have now been deemed offensive by some group, but what really matters is what you meant by what you said or did, and what that reveals about you as a person. If someone gives the OK sign and it's reasonable to assume they simply meant it as "okay," then there's nothing to discuss; moving on. But if there is reason to believe that they meant it as something else, then they should be judged accordingly.

I feel the same way about white people saying the N-word. Should we ever say it? Honestly, no we shouldn't. But when it does get uttered by a white person, I'm not inclined to immediately brand that person a racist and call for their cancellation. What if it's in an academic setting, or they're engaged in a discussion about the word itself? If they choose to say it rather than saying "the N-word" then in that case the most they're guilty of is racial insensitivity and perhaps a lack of awareness. What about white actors that are portraying a racist character, where the script calls for them to use the N-word?

Context and intent always matter to some degree.

Fun's avatar

Bakeman31092 said:

Context and intent always matter to some degree.

And we've accepted in our society that the person who is offended gets to decide what degree that is.

Last edited by Fun,
eightdotthree's avatar

I think the last year has proven that “society” can’t decide on anything.

Vater's avatar

My wife was called "honey" somewhat condescendingly the other night by a dude giving a sales pitch. She can't stand being called that by a guy (unless it's me), and because women in this country have historically been oppressed by men since forever (hell, they didn't have the right to vote until some 50 years after African Americans), she is going to sue that guy's company for $30k for harassment and emotional damages (I'm pushing for six figures, we have a lot of home improvements we'd like to do).

I empathize with people when it's called for. My (automatically invalid) opinion is that some dips*** photobombing your daughter's photo with an offensive hand gesture doesn't justify legal action, and sends a wonderful message to your young daughter that it's perfectly ok to seek monetary compensation if someone hurts your feelings (months after the actual incident, no less). It's not that I don't have empathy, I just can't get behind the idea that it's perfectly justifiable to sue a company because someone working there may have been racist and was fired for it. I get that it must have been alarming going through your vacation photos months later and seeing this (assuming it was actually intended to be racist, again we don't have any more evidence than two pictures and a cell phone video), but toss the picture and be done with it. Or complain to Universal that they may have a racist employee, offer the evidence and let them deal with it (they did).

If Gru fondled your kid, sure, sue away. This guy was fired back in October which should've been the end of the story.

Jeff's avatar

It's not justifiable to you. The go-to reaction to lawsuits on this site is that it's always about a money grab attempt. I don't think it's fair to assume that. I can't possibly tell you what it's like to have to train your child to be extra compliant and careful in a traffic stop because of the color of his skin. In that context, you know, I'm willing to listen and give someone a whole lot of latitude of what constitutes reasonable or justifiable, because there's no universe where I ever have to contend with these issues.

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

Vater's avatar

You're comparing a hypothetic traffic stop to a photo op in a theme park (that occurred 7 months prior to anyone noticing).

I really do try to get into the habit of not judging others, but stories like this make it tough. My wife's doctor was completely (and somewhat arrogantly) dismissive about her request to get tested for cancer when she felt an abnormality that was giving her pain. You're too young to be worried about that, we were told. Six months later she was diagnosed with cancer. Cancer that could've been treated months prior, and potentially with less invasive procedures depending on how much it had progressed since then. We didn't sue, although it certainly crossed our minds. I'm sure we would have had she not made a full recovery, but we didn't.

A dude made a hand gesture. That's what I can't get my head around. I don't care what I can or can't relate to, this is legal action over a hand gesture.

A dude made a hand gesture which has a common, innocent meaning, and which happens to be appropriate to the way the character the dude happens to be portraying commonly gestures with his distinctive long fingers. Watch the film; Gru is very expressive with his hands.

If you prefer to consider the hand gesture to be offensive, then may I suggest another exercise: Take a moment and describe Gru in one word. Now...given Universal's preference to be "edgy" with the humor in the parks...could this be written off as Gru demonstrating that he is, in fact,... well...you know...

Finally, a call back to Richard Bannister--

The thumbs-up gesture *is* problematic in some parts of the world

Knowing that to be the case, but not knowing the details, I have long wondered if that was the reason several amusement parks in Central Pennsylvania don't use the thumbs-up gesture in the conventional ("My Zone of Awareness is clear!") manner, substituting instead...the OK gesture.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

    /X\        _      *** Respect rides. They do not respect you. ***
/XXX\ /X\ /X\_ _ /X\__ _ _ _____

I quit using the thumbs up gesture when it became offensive to me. And that was the day I realized it was one of the only things that Donald Trump knew how to do.
When I was visiting Dollywood this spring I found myself talking to a maintenance guy in Wildwood Grove about a ride’s possibility of reopening. The conversation turned to that vast area of cleared land up the hill and he explained to me that the “Kung Flu” (yuk yuk yuk) had come along to spoil the plans. My head snapped around and it just came out. “Sir, don’t be racist”. He says “Well, yuk yuk, that’s what I call it” and I said “And that sounds racist. And do you know who besides me wouldn’t be having this? Dolly. Dolly Parton.” Well, his buddy turned and walked away, eyebrows raised, and left this guy sputtering. I left him too, adding “Have a nice day”.
I could have raised a big stink about it but my hope was that our interaction showed him the error of his ways, and if nothing else he’ll think twice about his choice of words, at least when talking with a guest. (By the way, Gru is still walking around Orlando being a racist…)

Jeff's avatar

Vater said:

You're comparing a hypothetic traffic stop to a photo op in a theme park (that occurred 7 months prior to anyone noticing).

I am doing no such thing. I'm trying to offer you context about why to someone else, what you perceive as no big deal may be a very big deal to someone who has endured a lifetime of inequality for no reason other than the color of their skin. Then add in that the slight was directed at your child. Now consider that everything you do, you have to change your behavior for who you are, for the melanin content of your skin. It affects everything in your life, not just at the traffic stop, but in your ability to get a job, an education, access to healthcare, a hundred things that have been objectively measured for which you are at a disadvantage. This dickhead in a costume piles on. There's no universe where I could know what that's like, and so as I said, I'm willing to give someone a little breathing room for why they're angry.

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Phrazy

LostKause's avatar

My experience with this symbol is not everyone's experience. Now that that is out of the way...

The right side up "ok" hand gesture has become mysteriously popular over the last decade. All kinds of people can be seen using it when giving speeches. Many news anchors use it too. It's like they snap it towards the audience when trying to emphasize certain words. I searched and searched for it's meaning over the years.

I noticed a lot of celebrities using it in photos. The conspiracy theory is that the use of this symbol is tied to satanism or the illuminating. It supposedly mimics 666. These photos were tied to a certain photographer, so I do not give this conspiracy theory much Merritt.

The newscasters and politicians using it was said to be a white power dog whistle. I don't know how much merit this has either, because I've seen it used by potential racists and potential anti-racists alike.

Then a young man I know started playing the game in which is he can get you to look at this symbol, low and upside down, he gets to punch you. He played it a lot. When I asked him if it was racist, he laughed at me. Knowing him, it was a ridiculous question, because he is a very outspoken anti-racist.

I am very anti-racist too, and as much as I want to point at someone I don't like who uses the symbol to call them a racist, my honesty prevents it, because I see on-racist people using the symbol too.

I'm torn to the point that I don't want to jump to any conclusions when it comes to the "ok" hand gesture. I'm not going to let my anti-racist biases influence what I think I might know about it.

But as always, YMMV. I won't get triggered by this kind of conversation as long as people agree that racism should never be tolerated.

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