A cartoon published in an Australian newspaper that depicted tennis star Serena Williams having a temper tantrum at the US Open last year was not racist, Australia’s media watchdog has ruled.
The cartoon depicted Williams jumping above a broken racquet next to a baby’s dummy in the US Open final during her loss to Naomi Osaka. Critics complained that the caricature used racist and sexist stereotypes of African-American people.
Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper and cartoonist Mark Knight denied the image was racist.
The Australian Press Council said on Monday the cartoon did not breach its standards of practice.
Public complaints centred around the portrayal of Williams with exaggerated lips “and [being] positioned in an ape-like pose”, said the watchdog. This contrasted with the depiction of Naomi Osaka, whose father is Haitian and mother Japanese, “as white with blonde hair”.
However, the watchdog ruled that the cartoon did “not depict Ms Williams as an ape, rather showing her as ‘spitting the dummy’, a non-racist caricature familiar to most Australian readers”.
The newspaper said the cartoon was intended as a lampoon of the tennis star’s angry exchanges with chair umpire Carlos Ramos at the US Women’s Singles final in New York.
Williams clashed with Ramos over penalties she thought she did not deserve and ultimately lost to Osaka.
The US-based National Association of Black Journalists said at the time the cartoon was “repugnant on many levels” and “not only exudes racist, sexist caricatures of both women, but Williams’ depiction is unnecessarily sambo-like.”
“Sambo,” a derogatory term for a black person, is the name of a folkloric figure usually depicted with an exaggerated mouth and an ape-like stance.
The council acknowledged that some readers found the cartoon offensive. “However … there was a sufficient public interest in commenting on behaviour and sportsmanship during a significant dispute between a tennis player with a globally high profile and an umpire at the US Open final,” it said.
The Australian Press Council is the chief watchdog for complaints about Australian media, but does not have the power to issue or enforce penalties.