We all have problematic faves. Jennifer Lawrence, or “JLaw,” as tabloids have dubbed her, is a critically acclaimed actress who is the youngest to be nominated for four Academy Awards. In addition to being a favorite within the academy and amongst others working in her profession, Lawrence has won over much of the U.S. — and the rest of the world — with her “quirky” and seemingly down-to-earth personality. At awards shows, instead of talking excitedly about designers and gushing about other celebrities, Lawrence is often quoted talking about how hungry she is or how much she wants pizza. This behavior has made Lawrence a fast favorite amongst young girls, especially those who followed her work through The Hunger Games film series; and people, like me, who appreciated Lawrence for the body-positive love for food she exhibited, empowering her young followers to eat what they like.
In a recent appearance on the British talk show, The Graham Norton Show, Lawrence recently unveiled herself to be another problematic fave. The clip from this appearance is attached below, although closed captioning was not available. In the clip, JLaw talks about a time when she was shooting for one of The Hunger Games films in Hawaii and was wearing nothing but a wetsuit. The place they were filming at has large rocks, which are spiritually significant to the native Hawaiians, who view these stones as their ancestors. These rocks are sacred, and as such, people are not supposed to expose their genitalia to them. Lawrence said she used one of the rocks to scratch her butt while she wore the wetsuit. She disclosed that she scratched so vigorously against one boulder that she dislodged it, sending the stone flying down the mountain, wiping out a sound equipment set-up and nearly impaling a film crew member; and resulting in the native Hawaiians viewing it as a sign of a curse. Lawrence disclosed all of this while laughing, and wrapped up the story saying, “I’m your curse. I wedged it loose with my ass.”
White people disrespecting indigenous culture, land, spirituality, and identity is nothing new — it’s the literal basis of this nation’s founding. This disrespect is evident in the recent actions happening out at Standing Rock in North Dakota over the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, in disrespectful Halloween costumes, in the use of traditional headdresses at music festivals by non-native people, and even in our team names, such as the National Football League’s Kansas City “Chiefs” and Major League Baseball’s Cleveland “Indians.” However, the fact that this blatant disrespect is still the norm does not excuse it; especially not by someone with such a powerful platform as Jennifer Lawrence, a highly successful actress with especially great influence over young folks everywhere.
Although the clip from the show has been widely shared for its “comedic value,” it has been shared even more largely with disappointment and disdain. Lawrence and her fans have since tried to defend the storytelling, which happened a few years back and was initially shared in 2013 on the American talk show, Live With Kelly and Michael, by stating that JLaw didn’t know that the stones were sacred at the time. Even if this is the truth, it still doesn’t let her off the hook. Lawrence still took this experience and story as an opportunity to joke about the entire thing, rather than apologize for her ignorance and actually put forth any effort to become more educated so that similar situations could be avoided going into the future. The biggest problem with JLaw’s story is that it was rooted in ethnocentrism. She spoke about the rocks and the native Hawaiians’ beliefs in a way that implied savagery and stupidity, a painful common theme in the treatment of Native Americans and Hawaiians throughout this country’s history.
After this clip went viral, calling Lawrence out for this story, the actress issued an apology:
When she was called out, Lawrence cried “self-deprecation” — that she never meant offense, disrespect, or ethnocentrism and only meant to make fun of herself; but ethnocentric offense and disrespect is exactly what she did. It is evident through her Facebook-issued apology that Lawrence needs a lesson in “intent versus impact,” as well as how to be respectful of indigenous cultures, traditions, spirituality and history. Jennifer Lawrence needs to be held accountable for her actions, behavior, and half-hearted attempt at an apology. Thankfully, when celebrities fail to hold themselves accountable, we can always count on the internet for help on calling people out:
It’s also important to note that both of the other guests were also white, wealthy & powerful celebrities who failed to speak out against Lawrence’s story. Although many internet users have suggested that Chris Pratt, seated to Lawrence’s direct left in the clip, seemed uncomfortable or disapproving of her tale; the blame, although belonging predominantly to Lawrence, also falls on Pratt and Jamie Oliver, the famous chef who is seated next to the acting pair in this clip. They also should have spoken out against Lawrence’s blatant ethnocentrism; and for failing to do so, they should issue apologies, too.
We sincerely hope that Jennifer Lawrence will use her power, wealth, strong platform, and white privilege to educate herself and others about the injustices that occur against native peoples today and historically, the dangers and effects of ethnocentrism, and how to be a white ally. Just because you can count on the internet to call you out when you’re wrong doesn’t mean a lazy apology is excusable. Do your research, get woke, and don’t be a lazy apologist or ally.Hold yourselves accountable when you make mistakes — and hold others accountable, too. Growth comes from conflict and discomfort, so lean in.