Fashion Police face dreadlock deadlock

By Quinton J. Hobson

Zendaya’s hairstyle was slagged on E! in what may have been a contrived controversy.
Zendaya’s hairstyle was slagged on E! in what may have been a contrived controversy.

Now when it comes to making lewd, controversial statements about people in the entertainment industry, the E! talkshow Fashion Police is no stranger. However, the program, formerly hosted by late comedian Joan Rivers, just may have taken it a little too far this time when one of the show’s regular panelists made an allegedly racially contrived comment about a young starlet’s dreadlocks.

Airing since fall 2010 and just recently entering its fourth season, Fashion Police is a TV series in which a group of four panelists – the current lineup features a comedian, a journalist, a singer and a stylist – discuss the best and worst outfits celebrities have donned over the past week.

Panelists and journalist Giuliana Rancic sparked widespread controversy during last week’s Oscars edition of Fashion Police when she made a joke about actress Zendaya’s choice of attire for the 87th Academy Awards, specifically in regards to her dreadlocks.

Rancic quipped, in what one could only assume was supposed to have been good humor at the time, “I feel like (Zendaya) smells like patchouli oil … or weed!”

Almost immediately, Rancic’s “joke” was greeted with strong media backlash and accusations of racism regarding her alleged assumption that the Black community, specifically people with dreadlocks, smells like marijuana.  Rancic, who has a bachelor’s degree in journalism, eventually publicly apologized to Zendaya for her comments.

Zendaya, a former teen idol best known for starring in the Disney sitcom Shake it Up!, accepted Rancic’s apology but not before publicly voicing her disappointment in the television personality’s statement. Actress and comedian Whoopi Goldberg, well-known for her signature locks, also voiced her disapproval of Rancic’s joke on the morning talkshow The View, stating that Fashion Police has declined in quality and humour since Rivers’ demise.

Despite Rancic’s apologies, the situation appears to have only worsened within the last few days when singer Kelly Osbourne, a fellow Fashion Police panelist, alluded to the fact that Rancic’s joke was actually carefully planned and pre-conceived, in spite of Osbourne’s own protests.

To the audience watching at home, the panelists appear to be bouncing witty one-liners and insults off each other live just as several streaming pictures of celebrities dressed to the nines – or not – roll by, to the uproarious applause of a live studio audience (who, by the way, we never see). What we aren’t shown is the countless editing, filming and re-taking that occur behind the scenes so the show’s producers can show us exactly what they want us to see.

A Fashion Police employee revealed that Rancic said her comment about Zendaya’s hair three times before the directors heard a version of it with which they were satisfied and ultimately aired. However, Fashion Police’s writers completely disown any accusations that they are to blame for the distasteful joke, giving all responsibility to Rancic amidst rumours that her long-running tenure on the show is in jeopardy.

The issue here appears to not be the method in which the show is taped but the fact that Black culture and stereotyping is still used as a method of entertainment simply for a laugh.

As for Zendaya, who is biracial of African-American and European descent, the actress is currently avoiding answering questions as to why she would even support a show like Fashion Police in the first place by appearing on it as a guest panelist three times prior to the controversy.