Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida has fired an actor whom they say made a “racist” hand gesture in a photo with a visiting family.
The actor, who played one of the park’s costume characters — Gru, from the Despicable Me films — allegedly made the hand gesture in a series of photos taken with a multi-racial, autistic child and her family.
Fox News reports that the family posed for photos with the actor as part of a costumed character meet and greet at one of Universal’s hotels, the Loews Royal Pacific Resort. During the shoot, the actor placed his hand on the 7-year-old child’s shoulder, making an upside-down “OK” symbol. The family didn’t see the actor make the gesture at the time, but spotted it in a series of digital photos and in a 30-second video, which they say shows the actor actually curling his fingers into the “OK” gesture while posing with their kids.
The parents claim the “OK” symbol is associated with “white supremacy” and that the actor was making a statement about the family’s race. As the Daily Wire’s Ashe Schow reported last week, leading watchdog groups have now completely ceded the once-harmless gesture to white supremacist and racist groups, and everyone from the Anti-Defamation League to the Southern Poverty Law Center now claims the hand signal is code for white supremacy.
The family complained to Universal, which responded, it seems, by firing the actor.
“We just wanted to take them to see the Minions,” Tiffiney Zinger, the child’s mother, told USA Today. “Do something special for our family. And this person ruined that special warm feeling.”
“It’s more than the ‘OK’ sign,” Richard Zinger, the child’s father, added. “A lot of people don’t understand what that sign means.”
“I’ve been emotionally distraught about it. I’m still pretty upset that someone felt they needed to do this to children,” Tiffiney Zinger said. “It can cause emotional stress on my child and her development.”
The pair say that they reached out to Universal to report the incident but didn’t hear back immediately. They checked with the park again, at which point Universal offered them some financial compensation and free tickets. The family told USA Today that they retained a lawyer once they heard directly from Universal, though they did not comment on whether they plan to sue the theme park.
They do say that they want to “cause change.”
The park released a statement to USA Today confirming that they’ve parted ways with the offending employee and that they are in ongoing discussions with the family.
“We never want our guests to experience what this family did. This is not acceptable and we are sorry — and we are taking steps to make sure nothing like this happens again,” Universal Studios said in their comments. “We can’t discuss specifics about this incident, but we can confirm that the actor no longer works here. We remain in contact with the family and will work with them privately to make this right.”
There is clearly some controversy over whether the upside-down “OK” hand gesture really does represent white supremacy. As Schow reported last week, “the OK hand gesture and its link to white nationalism began as a hoax cooked up by users of the website 4chan, who falsely linked it to white supremacy.” Eventually, groups like the ADL and SPLC claim, white supremacists simply adopted the signal, making it officially a code for racism.
Social media users regularly point out that the “OK” gesture is also part of a juvenile “circle game,” where players try to trick others into seeing them make the hand signal in photos and in real life. The SPLC recently claimed that the “circle game” is also racist, and that the only people who play it are white supremacists seeking to covertly spread their message of hate.
“It’s a game for them to slip their hate symbols in contexts that don’t belong,” a spokeswoman for the SPLC told USA Today in the context of the Universal Studios report.