Universal Orlando Sued After Character Actor Poses With Biracial Children & Flashes White Supremacy Symbol

Photo: youtube
gru universal studios white supremacist ok symbol

One of the best things about visiting amusement parks is all the actors dressed up as characters, many of them from our childhoods or movies our kids watch. Unfortunately, families don't expect these actors to be white supremacists.

In 2019, Richard and Tiffiney Zinger traveled to Loew's Wild Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando, and approached an actor dressed as Gru from "Despicable Me." As the actor placed his hand on Tiffiney's daughter's shoulder and she went to take a photo, the actor flashed an "OK" sign with their hand.

The "OK" symbol is a hate symbol associated with white supremacy or "white power," and involves joining your thumb and index finger together and leaving your middle, ring, and pinky fingers up.

This isn't the first instance of this particular actor flashing the "OK" symbol; on two separate occasions, costumed actors at the park were asked to take a photo while they were dressed as Gru, and used the hate symbol.

Now, Universal is being sued by two separate families in a civil rights lawsuit.

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A civil rights lawsuit was filed on behalf of two girls, aged 5 and 6 at the time, in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court in Orange County, on June 23.

The lawsuit mentions that these instances occurred in March and February of 2019. While Universal claimed to have fired this actor, they never revealed their name to the public.

Both the Zinger family and another unnamed family are claiming their kids suffered "mental anguish, loss of dignity, humiliation, embarrassment and other emotional distress" due to the incidents.

The lawsuit also claims Universal Orlando violated the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992, so the families are seeking more than $30,000 in damages.

When did the 'OK' hand gesture become a symbol of white supremacy?

It doesn’t have a very rich or very impressive history; in fact, it’s a little embarrassing.

In 2017, it started out as a hoax. Some anonymous users on 4Chan, an anonymous and unrestricted online message board, began what they called “Operation O-KKK” to see if they could trick the wider world — and especially, liberals and the mainstream media — into believing that the innocuous gesture was actually a clandestine symbol of white power.

What they didn’t expect, however, was for the other side to take it seriously.

Quickly after the creation of the propaganda, Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klansmen, and other white nationalists began using the gesture in public to signal their presence and to spot potential sympathizers and recruits.

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Instead of seeing the hand sign as the letters “O” and “K,” they saw them as “W” with the middle, ring, and pinky fingers, and “P” with the index finger and thumb. “WP” standing for “white power.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League, the gesture has migrated beyond ironic trolling culture to become a “sincere expression of white supremacy,” after Brenton Tarrant, the white supremacist accused of killing 50 people in back-to-back mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in March 2019, smiled and flashed the sign to reporters at a court hearing on his case.

It’s awful that the “OK” sign has become a symbol of white supremacy, especially when it’s just a popular symbol everywhere else outside of that.

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It’s an emoji on the iPhone. It’s a common celebration in basketball when someone makes a 3-pointer. It was a popular meme where one would make the hand sign and trick people into looking at it, saying “gottem.” It also simply means OK and represents the letter "F" in American Sign Language.

There are efforts from the internet to reclaim the hand gesture as a meme or a simple positive connotation, but the alt-right have taken a strong hold of it. The most recent appearance of the hand gesture showed up at the Capitol Hill Riots back in January.

Context is what matters most here.

It’s very apparent that this Gru actor was trying to make the hand symbol stand for white supremacy. You don’t pose with someone and try to inconspicuously use the symbol; it’s supposed to be obvious.

And it's especially daunting that on at least one instance, the gesture was used when posing with a child of color.

As for whether or not the character Gru is associated with alt-right theories and beliefs, well, perhaps there’s another 4Chan message board that idolizes Gru as some sort of Neo-Nazi figure.

Ultimately, the actor deserved to get fired, but whether or not these families have a case against the theme park goes beyond my pay grade.

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Isaac Serna-Diez is a writer who focuses on entertainment and news, social justice and relationships.