‘Not depicted as an ape’: Australian watchdog says Serena Williams cartoon not racist

‘Not depicted as an ape’: Australian watchdog says Serena Williams cartoon not racist
The Australian Press Council has ruled that a controversial cartoon depicting tennis star Serena Williams during her infamous meltdown at the 2018 US Open final did not breach media standards and was “non-racist.”

The cartoon showed Williams jumping up and down with clenched fists alongside a smashed racquet, in reference to the furious bust-up that marred the American star's Flushing Meadows defeat to Japan’s Naomi Osaka back in September.

Also on rt.com 'Liar & thief': Serena Williams launches shocking tirade at umpire in US Open final defeat

The 23-time Grand Slam winner had lashed out at chair umpire Carlos Ramos, branding him “a thief” and “a liar” after he issued her with code violations and threatening that he would never officiate at her matches again.

The caricature of the incident published by Australia's Herald Sun newspaper caused a media storm and drew accusations of racism and sexism - as well as a huge backlash against cartoonist Mark Knight. 

READ MORE: Australian cartoonist Mark Knight’s Twitter account disappears amid Serena Williams 'racism' storm

Complaints received by the Australian Press Council, the country's media watchdog, included that Williams had been pictured in an ape-like pose “with large lips, a broad flat nose, a wild afro-styled ponytail hairstyle different to that worn by Ms Williams during the match.”

Sections of the US media, including the Washington Times, were among the most vocal critics, emphasizing that Williams’ opponent Osaka, who is of Japanese-Haitian descent, had been depicted as white with blonde hair.

The Washington Post slammed the cartoon as similar to the "dehumanizing Jim Crow caricatures so common in the 19th and 20th centuries."

Also on rt.com ‘Jim Crow memorabilia’: Australian cartoonist attacked for 'racist' Serena Williams caricature

Herald Sun cartoonist Knight staunchly denied the allegations of racism, stressing that he drew Williams “as she is, as an African-American woman” without any racist undertones.

The newspaper itself said that the cartoon “was not intended to depict negatively any race or gender and was drawn in a style that the cartoonist has drawn over several decades.”

A ruling published Monday by the Australian Press Council has now stated that the caricature was “non-racist,” and used satire and exaggeration to show William’s on-court tantrum.

It acknowledged, however, that some readers may have found the publication “offensive.”

The Council considers that the cartoon uses exaggeration and absurdity to make its point but 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. Nonetheless, the Council acknowledges that some readers found the cartoon offensive,” a statement said.

READ MORE: 'No one can become the next Serena': World No. 1 Osaka on former foe Williams

The fact that the ruling comes around six months after the initial backlash will perhaps serve as scant consolation for cartoonist Knight after the barrage of anger directed his way.