The controversial racist cartoon of Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka that was published in an Australian newspaper last year following Williams’ outburst at the U.S. Open Final did not breach media standards, the Australian Press Council ruled on Monday.
According to the AFP, the Australian Press Council received complaints that the cartoon’s depiction of Williams “may cause it to be an offensive and sexist representation of a woman and a prejudicial stereotype of African-American people generally.”
The council said there were concerns about Williams being shown with “large lips, a broad flat nose, a wild afro-styled ponytail hairstyle different to that worn by Ms. Williams during the match and positioned in an ape-like pose.” However, per the report, it determined that the Melbourne Herald-Sun — which published the cartoon — was only intending to present Williams’ behavior as “childish by showing her spitting a pacifier out while she jumps up and down.”
“The Council considers that the cartoon uses exaggeration and absurdity to make its point,” the council said, via the AFP. “It accepts the publisher’s claim that it does not depict Ms. Williams as an ape, rather showing her as ‘spitting the dummy,’ a non-racist caricature familiar to most Australian readers. ”
Despite the fact that many readers around the world found the cartoon offensive, the council said that because of significant public interest and the high-profile nature of the event, it did not find that the Herald-Sun “failed to take reasonable steps to avoid causing substantial offense, distress or prejudice without sufficient justification in the public interest.”
The controversial cartoon in question
The cartoon, drawn by Herald-Sun cartoonist Mark Knight, was published days after Williams fell to Osaka in the U.S. Open final.
Williams erupted at the officials during that match after multiple violations and being accused of cheating. She also called out the double standard for conduct among women’s players compared to men’s players in the infamous outburst at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York.
Just days later, Knight published his cartoon and proudly shared it on Twitter.
Knight insisted after that the cartoon, which is clearly racist, had nothing to do with race. He simply drew Williams as a “powerful figure, which she is, she’s strongly built.”
“There’s nothing inaccurate in the cartoon, but I’m sorry it’s being taken by social media and distorted so much,” Knight said in September. “The cartoon is about Serena, it was about her poor behavior. It had nothing to do with race.”
The backlash from the cartoon was almost instant, and came from many corners of the globe. Knight said both he and his family received multiple threats, and he deleted his Twitter account soon after it was published, too.
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