Full disclosure: I love Despicable Me with the hilarious, sometimes anti-hero, Gru and all his Minions. But a child’s family vacation featuring some of her favorite movie characters from the film was marred when an actor dressed as Gru made a racist gesture while posing in a picture with the little girl.
“I’ve been emotionally distraught about it. I’m still pretty upset that someone felt they needed to do this to children,” the child’s mother, Tiffiney Zinger, told USA Today. “It can cause emotional stress on my child and her development.”
Zinger, and her husband, Richard, took their two young children to Florida’s Universal Orlando theme park during a family vacation in March.
While there, the children posed with actors dressed in full costume from the Despicable Me movie franchise; one actor dressed as Gru and the other as a Minion.
Zinger says she and husband didn’t notice it then, but the one dressed as Gru made an “OK” gesture on the girl’s shoulder.
As USA Today explains:
In [video of the incident taken by the family], Zinger’s daughter is being directed to stand by the Gru character. As she excitedly walks toward him, he gestures for her to stand to his side. The Gru character first places his hand behind her shoulder. Then, the character moves his right hand on top of her shoulder and curls his thumb and index finger into a clearly visible “OK” symbol.The gesture has become a symbol of concern because it has been used by white supremacists and other far-right extremists.
The gesture just last week was recognized by the Anti-Defamation League as a symbol that has been co-opted by white supremacists as a symbol of hate.
Zinger and her husband realized the problem in August while they were reviewing photos and video taken during their spring vacation. They then contacted the theme park.
“We just wanted to take them to see the minions,” Tiffiney Zinger said. “Do something special for our family and this person ruined that special warm feeling.”
The family said they didn’t receive an immediate response from Universal Orlando, but when contacted by the Associated Press, the theme park said what the unidentified actor did was unacceptable and that the actor no longer works for the company.
“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 Orlando spokesman Tom Schroder told USA Today.
An OK symbol may seem harmless, but experts say it has been hijacked by white supremacists. Per USA Today:
Heidi Beirich, director of the Intelligence Project at Southern Poverty Law Center, said the symbol began showing up about four years ago as an online trolling tactic used by white supremacists.
Beirich says they like to “photobomb” images with hate symbols and then share them online as an inside joke or prank.
“It’s a game for them to slip their hate symbols in contexts that don’t belong,” she said.