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Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau Apologizes For Brownface Costume


Well, another politician and another blackface scandal - only this time it is in Canada and it involves the country's prime minister. That's right. Justin Trudeau, the baby-faced Liberal Party leader and prime minister since 2015, admitted last night to dressing up for an Arabian Nights themed party in a costume that involved him darkening his face neck and hands with makeup. After Time magazine published this photo, Prime Minister Trudeau apologized.


PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: It was something that I didn't think was racist at the time, but now I recognize it was something racist to do. And I am deeply sorry.

GREENE: We have with us the reporter who broke the story Anna Purna Kambhampaty of Time magazine. She's in our studios in New York City.

Thanks for joining us.

ANNA PURNA KAMBHAMPATY: Yes, thanks for having me.

GREENE: Since this is a radio show and many of our listeners might not have seen this photo that you've published yet, can you describe it for us?

KAMBHAMPATY: Yeah, sure. So it's on a yearbook page that has several photos from the gala and everyone is pretty much wearing, or most people, are wearing some kind of appropriate costume. But the photo of Trudeau especially stands out because he's the only one blatantly who darkened his skin using face paint.

GREENE: And this was at a party some time ago before he got into politics when he was teaching in a school, right?

KAMBHAMPATY: Yeah, this is correct. This is when he was a school teacher.

GREENE: How did you get the photo? I mean, you're not based in Canada, right?

KAMBHAMPATY: No, so I had heard about it as a source of gossip in Vancouver community and, you know, contacted a source to see the photo and was sent the yearbook. And - yeah.

GREENE: So the Vancouver community, people were talking about it there. Is this like alumni of the school or who is - where was this gossip happening?

KAMBHAMPATY: You know, people who had formerly worked there, parents, former parents. It wasn't widely talked about, but a few people were talking about it, yeah.

GREENE: OK, so you confirm its existence with some people. You have your hands on it. You and the magazine decide to publish it. What did Trudeau's campaign say when you reached out to them?

KAMBHAMPATY: Right. So initially they said we need to take a look at the photograph. And after being sent a version of the photograph, they pretty much immediately confirmed that it was him. We tried speaking to the prime minister's office directly. We'd left several voicemails and phone calls but never heard back from them. So we decided to go to the campaign.

GREENE: OK, so then you have Prime Minister Trudeau who we should say is fighting for his reelection right now. He addresses this controversy on his campaign plane. Talk about that and talk about what the reaction has been in Canada since you broke this.

KAMBHAMPATY: Right. So the reaction's been pretty strong. A lot of Canadian politicians and interest groups are talking about it, calling upon him for an apology. And so far he's been pretty honest. And he's admitted to a past event that mirrors this, as well.

GREENE: There was another event in which he was wearing blackface makeup.

KAMBHAMPATY: Yes, so during his address on the airplane, he admitted that he had worn blackface during high school during a performance where he was imitating Harry Belafonte.

GREENE: This is - you've just begun your career at Time magazine. Is this right? It's quite a story to start with.

KAMBHAMPATY: (Laughter) Yes, that's true. I started quite recently.

GREENE: All right, Time magazine reporter Anna Purna Kambhampaty. Thanks so much for joining us this morning.

KAMBHAMPATY: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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