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Fired Univisión Host: Remark Comparing Michelle Obama to Apes was ‘Misinterpreted’

Emmy award-winning Univisión host Rodner Figueroa claimed in an apology letter released today that remarks made on the gossip program El Gordo y La Flaca in which he compared First Lady Michelle Obama to a character in Planet of the Apes were “misinterpreted.”

Figueroa was fired from the network in the immediate aftermath of his comment, which Univisión called “completely reprehensible.”

In a letter to First Lady Obama published in full by People en Español, Figueroa claims the comments were “misinterpreted” and that he was not referring to the First Lady herself when making the Planet of the Apes remark, but to an illustration of the First Lady he found comically failing to resemble Obama. “I want to clarify that I am not racist and that in no way was my comment directed at you, but at an illustration by the aforementioned artist [a make-up artist featured on El Gordo y La Flaca], which left a lot to be desired,” he writes. “The full clip with context proves this.”

Figueroa writes that he feels “ashamed” and “ask[s] for forgiveness,” calling his remarks nonetheless “inexcusable.” He goes on to assert his progressive bona fides:

I come from a bi-racial Latino family, with relatives, like my father, of the Afro-Latino race. I am the first openly gay host on Hispanic television and I have been an activist for causes in favor of minorities who, like me, have been discriminated against. I openly voted twice for your husband, Barack Obama, because I consider him a great man who respects minorities, like me, in this country.

In the full clip of the segment from El Gordo y la Flaca, Figueroa begins by introducing Paolo Vallesteros, “an actor and host of a Filipino talent show… he is a makeup artist and has become a phenomenon on social media because he does his own make-up to turn into celebrities. With that kind of a face, how can he look like, for example, Kim Kardashian?” After showing Vallesteros “transformed” into Kim Kardashian, he shows images of Vallesteros as Michelle Obama.

The exchange then occurs as follows:

Figueroa: Look at the transformation into Michelle Obama– how impressive! Look at her. Look. You all know Michelle Obama looks like a member of the cast of Planet of the Apes, the movie. It’s true.

[Host Raúl] De Molina: What are you talking about? She’s a very beautiful woman, I think.

Figueroa: It’s not about whether she’s attractive. You remember in the movie– what is the problem, Raul?

De Molina: I think Michelle Obama is a very beautiful woman.

Figueroa: But look, it’s a characterization of her, what I am referring to.

[Host Lily] Estefan: Like, the gesture she is making with her lips.

Figueroa: Look! Julia Roberts!

The image then changes to Vallesteros made up to look like Julia Roberts.

Figueroa’s letter to First Lady Obama, translated in full, below:

Esteemed First Lady Michelle Obama,

I offer you my most sincere apology for a comment I made about a rendering a make-up artist made of you on the Univisión entertainment program El Gordo y La Flaca yesterday, and that was very badly misinterpreted.

I feel ashamed, I ask for forgiveness, because there is no excuse for a professional like me to make that sort of comment that can be interpreted as offensive and racist in such volatile times that our nation is living. I take responsibility for this lack of judgment on my part, but I cannot accept being labeled racist by anyone and being fired for being such, and to be so publicly humiliated by Univisión after 17 years at that corporation.

I come from a bi-racial Latino family, with relatives, like my father, of the Afro-Latino race. I am the first openly gay host on Hispanic television and I have been an activist for causes in favor of minorities who, like me, have been discriminated against. I openly voted twice for your husband, Barack Obama, because I consider him a great man who respects minorities, like me, in this country.

I worked on two Univisión programs where I commented on the looks of many celebrities, including royalty and Latina First Ladies, and I have never offended anyone because of the color of their skin, sexual orientation, or nationality. I am a decent person, but at the end of the day a human being and I make errors like these. And, given how disgraceful and out of line my comment was interpreted, I do not deserve to be labeled racist, and I have to defend myself out of respect and love for my family, my father, and my community.

I was verbally notified that due to a complaint from your office, I was dismissed [from my job], and due to a lack of information on behalf of Univisión executives, I was condemned on social media, trying to destroy my career in an unjust way, without [Univisión] having even notified me officially in writing and without an investigation that could have allowed a clarification of the situation.

Once again, I offer a humble apology for the misunderstanding and I assume responsibility.

Very respectfully,

Rodner Figueroa

Video of his segment on El Gordo y La Flaca, via Argentina outlet Infobae, can be seen here.

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