David Byrne has issued an apology for impersonating people of color, including wearing brownface and blackface, in a 1984 promotional video for the Talking Heads’ iconic concert film “Stop Making Sense.” In the clip, which was intended to be humorous, Byrne interviews himself in a split-screen scene, portraying multiple different (and ridiculous) reporters whom he answers, while wearing his “Big Suit” from the film, in an almost robotic monotone.
Byrne addressed the matter in a series of tweets on Tuesday. “To watch myself in the various characters, including black and brown face, I acknowledge it was a major mistake in judgement that showed a lack of real understanding,” he wrote. “It’s like looking in a mirror and seeing someone else — you’re not, or were not, the person you thought you were.”
His full thread appears below:
Recently a journalist pointed out something I did in a promo video skit in 1984 for the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense. In the piece I appear as a number of different characters interviewing myself, and some of the characters portrayed are people of color.
I’d just about forgotten about this skit and I’m grateful that it has been brought to my attention.
To watch myself in the various characters, including black and brown face, I acknowledge it was a major mistake in judgement that showed a lack of real understanding. It’s like looking in a mirror and seeing someone else — you’re not, or were not, the person you thought you were.
We have huge blind spots about ourselves — well, I certainly do. I’d like to think I am beyond making mistakes like this, but clearly at the time I was not. Like I say at the end of our Broadway show American Utopia “I need to change too”..and I believe I have changed since then.
One hopes that folks have the grace and understanding to allow that someone like me, anyone really, can grow and change, and that the past can be examined with honesty and accountability.
Spike Lee’s film of Byrne’s recent career-spanning Broadway concert, “American Utopia” — which includes a cover of Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout” which lists the names of dozens of black people murdered by law enforcement in America — premieres on HBO in October.