The Most Offensive Moments Of 2015

It was a year of controversy in the world of entertainment. Yes, we witnessed the usual onslaught of gossip-fueled BS and petty feuds. But many of the biggest conflicts that cropped up in Hollywood (and everywhere else) dealt with some heady topics, including race.

We saw backlash against celebrities accused of casual racism and cultural appropriation. We saw stars fiercely defending their sexual, gender, cultural, and racial identities. And we saw leaders in entertainment make mistakes. Some learned from them. Unfortunately, others did not. Here’s a look at the most memorable — and consequential — controversies from 2015.
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Photo: Jim Smeal/BEI/REX Shutterstock.
Giuliana Rancic Vs. Zendaya's Hair

During the Fashion Police post-Oscar red carpet rundown in February, E! host Giuliana Rancic said that model, singer, and former Disney star Zendaya’s dreadlocks made her look like she smelled of "patchouli" and "weed."

The world didn't take the comments lightly, and the incident instantly blew up in Rancic's face.
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Photo: Via @Zendaya.
Zendaya's Response

The star, then 18, hit back fast and fierce with an eloquent response via posted on Instagram: "There is already harsh criticism of African-American hair in society without the help of ignorant people who choose to judge others based on the curl of their hair. My wearing my hair in locs on an Oscar red carpet was to showcase them in a positive light, to remind people of color that our hair is good enough." She listed a number of respected Black figures who sport dreads. Kerry Washington, Solange Knowles, Khloé Kardashian, and Viola Davis praised the teen for her candor and grace.
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Rancic Ate Crow On The Air

A chastised Rancic issued an apology, first on Twitter and then again during Fashion Police. "I learned a lot," she said. But the storm didn't end there. Kelly Osbourne, a friend of Zendaya's, got into a nasty fight with Rancic and quit the show.
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Photo: Via @kyliejenner.
Celebrities & Cultural Appropriation

First, Kylie Jenner took heat in February for sporting dreadlocks. White celebs like Cara Delevingne have been seen sporting cornrows left and right. This year, Miley Cyrus was public offender No. 1. She seems to have adopted dreadlocks as her signature look. And it's almost become common practice for pop stars to misuse elements of Black, Japanese, and Native-American cultures, like fashion, beauty, and dance. (See: Katy Perry's music videos.)
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Amandla Stenberg's Response

In April, 16-year-old Hunger Games actress (and college professor in the making) Amandla Stenberg spelled out the issue in an impassioned video on Tumblr, titled “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows,” which went viral. "Appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalizations or stereotypes where it originated, but is deemed as high-fashion, cool, or funny when the privileged take it for themselves,” she said. Giving an example, she continued, “Hip-hop stems from a Black struggle, it stems from jazz and blues, styles of music which African-Americans created to retain humanity in the face of adversity." At the end, she asks poignantly, "What would America be like if we loved Black people as much as we loved Black culture?” (Zendaya also weighed in this summer.)
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Photo: Rob Latour/REX Shutterstock.
But Not Everyone Heeded The Advice...

Kylie Jenner showed off cornrows on Instagram this summer — prompting Sternberg to call her out personally. Then sister Kendall Jenner thought she’d try the “trend” too. And yep, Miley Cyrus is still wearing dreadlocks like it's her job.

In October, Nicki Minaj did her best to spell out her issue with Cyrus in a New York Times interview, which we're hoping that both the "Wrecking Ball" singer and the Jenners read. "If you want to enjoy our culture and our lifestyle, bond with us, dance with us, have fun with us, twerk with us, rap with us, then you should also want to know what affects us, what is bothering us, what we feel is unfair to us."
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Photo: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.
Casts Got Whitewashed

The practice of casting white actors in non-white roles has been going on as long as Hollywood has been making movies. And this year, Emma Stone played a quarter-Asian, quarter-Hawaiian woman named Allison Ng in Cameron Crowe’s massive summer bomb Aloha. The movie was set in Hawaii, but featured virtually no speaking roles for Pacific Islanders.

Meanwhile, Rooney Mara portrayed Native-American Tiger Lily in Pan (which also bombed!). And just last month, director Alex Proyas took heat for casting caucasian men as Egyptians in Gods of Egypt.
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Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros.
The Public's Response

Rooney Mara’s casting in Pan spurred a viral petition asking Warner Bros. to stop casting white actors as people of color. “Telling children their role models must all be white is unacceptable,” it reads. News outlets, including this one, Vulture, and Entertainment Weekly, expressed equal outrage at Stone’s casting in Aloha. Twitter, meanwhile, fueled the controversy over Gods of Egypt. Even Bette Midler got in there!
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Photo: Jim Smeal/BEI/REX Shutterstock.
The Mea Culpas

Emma Stone and Cameron Crowe do seem contrite. “I’ve learned on a macro level about the insane history of whitewashing in Hollywood and how prevalent the problem truly is,” Stone told the Australian press this summer. “It’s ignited a conversation that’s very important.”

Crowe posted a letter on his blog defending his choice, but also apologizing. “I have heard your words and your disappointment, and I offer you a heart-felt apology to all who felt this was an odd or misguided casting choice,” he said. The Almost Famous director also said that he is “anxious” to help tell “stories with more racial diversity, more truth in representation.” If his commitment is the real thing, then we’re looking forward to it too, Cameron.
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Photo: Courtesy of Lionsgate.
More Mea Culpas

After Pan hit theaters this fall, Mara said she “felt really bad about it,” and wasn’t surprised that people were upset. Director Joe Wright turned down a chance to apologize when asked about the petition: “I can understand how it appears from the outside perspective. But when people see the film, they get it.” Uh, false.

Director Proyas issued an apology for Gods of Egypt’s decidedly pale cast, acknowledging that “our casting choices should have been more diverse.” And the studio behind the film, Lionsgate, stepped up to make a formal apology: “In this instance we failed to live up to our own standards of sensitivity and diversity, for which we sincerely apologize.”
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Whitesplaining, Part 1

If you don't already know, whitesplaining is to Black people what mansplaining is to women. When a white person tries to explain something they have no firsthand experience of knowledge of — like, oh you know, racism — to a person of color, that is whitesplaining.

Viola Davis made history when she took home the Emmy for Best Actress In A Drama in September — not just with her win, but with her moving acceptance speech. “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity,” she said. “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”

While the rest of the world cried tears of joy, General Hospital actress Nancy Lee Grahn (who is white) took to Twitter to inform Davis that she was, A) remembering her life incorrectly; and B) speaking out of turn. Grahn said Davis has “never been discriminated against” and that her win “doesn’t fix racial injustice.” Furthermore, Grahn informed us, “Emmys not venue 4 racial opportunity.”
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Photo (L): Rob Latour/Variety/REX Shutterstock.
Photo (R): Jim Smeal/BEI/REX Shutterstock.
The Public's Response

People were universally indignant. Twitter started roasting Grahn within minutes for being untalented and jealous. One user tweeted, "how dare you speak for her & her life experiences to say she's never been discriminated against?" Another said, "Mediocre white woman gets mad at a talented Black Woman's excellence and wants to deny her of her accolade."

People also didn't buy Grahn's attempt at damage control, when she claimed that she just wanted Davis to speak for all women. "Lesson 1456 in White Feminism (TM): attack a Blk Woman. Get called out. Claim to be the victim," wrote one user.

Several media outlets recapped the embarrassment the next day.

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Photo: Courtesy of The Daily News.
Grahn's Winding Road To An Apology

After the tidal wave hit her on Twitter, Grahn first defended herself, then half-apologized, and then finally expressed actual remorse. "I apologize for my earlier tweets and now realize I need to check my own privilege," she wrote. "My intention was not to take this historic and important moment from Viola Davis or other women of color but I realize that my intention doesn't matter here because that is what I ended up doing,” she said. “I learned a lot tonight.” She also took the time to individually reply to many of the tweets she received. Lesson learned?
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Whitesplaining, Part 2

During an episode of Matt Damon's reality competition series, Project Greenlight, film producer Effie Brown suggested that diversity should be a consideration in choosing the show's finalists from a very white pool.

Damon interrupted Brown — the only woman of color in the room — to tell her, “When we talk about diversity, you do it in the casting of the film, not the casting of the show.” As in, it doesn’t matter if everyone behind the cameras is Caucasian, as long as there are a few non-white faces in the cast. As in, “I’m a white man, so let me tell you how diversity in Hollywood works, Black lady.”

It seems almost too good to be true that Brown's producing credits include the biting 2014 satire Dear White People.
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Photo: Via Twitter.
The Public Outcry

Damon got grilled on social media for his condescension, and soon the meme "Damonsplaining" made the rounds. The press also hit the actor hard for his tone-deaf comments.
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Photo: REX Shutterstock.
Damon's Response

Damon issued a non-apology through his publicist, saying his words were part of a bigger conversation about diversity in Hollywood and on the show. “I am sorry that they offended some people, but, at the very least, I am happy that they started a conversation about diversity in Hollywood.” In other words: Sorry you’re upset. But also, you’re welcome.

By Brown's account, she and Damon are still not on good terms — though Damon has yet to reach out and apologize.

The conflict did indeed contribute to the ongoing conversation about what could have been the real topic at hand: the lack of Black people in positions of power in Hollywood. The industry still has a long, long way to go.
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Taylor Swift Romanticized Colonialism

The video for "Wildest Dreams" wants to tell a beautiful love story. Great. Unfortunately, that beauty is marred by a sanitized and prettified depiction of white colonialism in Africa. The media was outraged. Perhaps NPR said it best: "We are shocked to think that in 2015, Taylor Swift, her record label, and her video production group would think it was okay to film a video that presents a glamorous version of the white colonial fantasy of Africa... Colonialism was neither romantic nor beautiful. It was exploitative and brutal." The other obvious major issue with the video is the fact that, despite taking place in Africa, there appear to be no actual Africans (or people of African descent) in it, save for some extras.
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Photo: Jeff Kravitz/MTV/Getty Images.
The Director Defended Himself

Taylor has kept mum on the controversy, but director Joseph Kahn responded to the backlash in a statement to NPR. He did not, however, apologize. "This is not a video about colonialism but a love story on the set of a period film crew in Africa, 1950," he said. "The video is based on classic Hollywood romances like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, as well as classic movies like The African Queen [and] Out of Africa."

Kahn also had an explanation as to why Africans aren't represented in the video. "The reality is not only were there people of color in the video, but the key creatives who worked on this video are people of color." He added, "It would have been historically inaccurate to load the crew with more Black actors, as the video would have been accused of rewriting history."

Okay, then.
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