In a 1984 promotional video for the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense, David Byrne appeared as both himself and a variety of interviewers, including men of color. Today, Byrne apologized on Twitter, insisting that “the past can be examined with honesty and accountability.”
Byrne, whose 2019 Broadway show American Utopia has been adapted as an HBO film by director Spike Lee and will debut in October, explained that he’d forgotten about the video until recently reminded by a journalist.
“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,” Byrne writes. “It’s like looking in a mirror and seeing someone else- you’re not, or were not, the person you thought you were.”
On Broadway, Byrne performed a stirring version of Janelle Monáe’s 2015 protest song “Hell You Talmbout,” in which he and his band members, recruited from around the world, recite a list of Black men and women killed by police. Each night, just before the song, Bynre noted that he sought and received Monáe’s blessing to perform it.
Here is the full text of Byrne’s tweet:
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.
The Stop Making Sense video:
And here is Byrne performing “Hell You Talmbout”: