Cheer Influencer Apologizes for Blackface, Citing Initiation Ritual

USA News

  • Gabi Butler, the star of Netflix’s “Cheer,” is respoding to allegations of blackface.
  • Butler says she and Navarro teammates painted their faces black as part of an initiation ritual.
  • Butler said she’s not racist, and didn’t know what blackface was at the time.

Gabi Butler, a breakout star of Netflix’s beleaguered hit “Cheer,” is apologizing for a blackface photo that was shared earlier this month by an anonymous Twitter user.

Butler, 24, said she painted her face black as part of a cheering intiation ritual in 2018, and didn’t know what blackface was at the time. She said she’s not racist, and was seeking to set the record straight after a “false attempt to frame me as something I am not.” 

Roughly five years ago, prior to departing for their national competition in Daytona, Florida, Butler says veteran members of the elite Navorro College cheer squad — the subject of Netflix’s hit docuseries — told rookie teammates to dress in all-black clothing and paint their faces black for an initiation event at an off-campus gym. 

“Rookies not a inch of skin showing!” reads the screengrab of a group text invite shared by Butler. “Everything should be covered in black!”

In her lengthy Twitter apology, Butler said she complied with the request because she didn’t want to make waves with the vets, and she “had never even heard of blackface” at the time. Though some rookies wore black ski masks because they didn’t have face paint, Butler noted she wasn’t alone in participating.

“My rookie teammates, including a few who also happened to be people of color, were asked to do this, and we complied with the request,” Butler added, alongside photos of other Navarro cheerleaders wearing blackface. “I am sorry I need to pull my other teammates into this, but I have no choice but to speak the truth.”

One teammate, however, contradicted Butler’s version of events, as well as her decision to share photos of a Black teammate amid the controversy. 

“No, what we won’t do is throw the ‘other people of color’ under the bus,” wrote “Cheer” costar Ladarius Marshall. “The rest of the minorities spoke out against this, I personally talked to you and said that it was not a good idea. So no, we didn’t all feel the same. I forgave you for it but don’t sit on here and lie.”

Marshall claimed that the team’s coaches, Navarro’s president, the police, and even the school board were notified of wrongdoings at the time, but did nothing. Insider has reached out to Navarro for comment.

The controversy arrives roughly a month after Butler signed a contract to wrestle with the WWE. While she won’t be wrestling imminently, per People, she will attend WWE events and train at the org’s performance center in Orlando to immerse herself in the sport.

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