Jenna Mourey, a YouTube personality who became one of the platform’s first mainstream female stars as Jenna Marbles, said Thursday that she was going to stop her channel amid a backlash over old videos that she made in blackface and mocking Asian people.
Mourey, whose channel has more than 20 million subscribers, apologized in a video for the content, which she made in 2011 and 2012 when she had just established her channel. She said she was abandoning the platform to “hold myself accountable.”
“I am ashamed of things I have done and said in my past,” she said in a signoff video.
Unlike many other internet celebrities, Mourey has been making videos for more than a decade and managed to remain successful on YouTube, a platform that can be hugely profitable to people making content for it. Mourey said in the 11-minute video that she wanted to address the videos because “we’re at a time where we are purging ourselves of anything and everything toxic.”
“I think now it’s hard for that content to exist at all because I think people watch it and don’t bother to look at when it was posted or care about what path I took to get to where I am,” Mourey said. “It offends them now, and, if that’s the case — where people will watch something and be offended now — I don’t want it to exist.”
Mourey said that some of the offending videos had previously been made private but that she was publicly addressing them because she was getting questions on social media about why she had done so. She explained that she did not want to contribute to putting out “negative things in the world.”
She said she wanted to address two clips specifically. She replayed one of her impersonating rapper Nicki Minaj in 2011 while wearing a pink wig and with her skin darkened.
“It was not my intention to do blackface,” she said in the video Thursday.
She also played another clip from 2011, which she called “a bad year for me in judgment,” that featured Mourey singing a rap song. In that video, Mourey is wearing a hat that resembles a Vietnamese non la and says sarcastically that she was being “racist” after mocking Asian people by performing an offensive stereotype.
She also apologized for a video that she made in 2012 “ranting about girls sleeping around” that she said demonstrated she had “internalized misogyny.”
Mourey said that she made other videos private because they could be hurtful to those struggling with gender identity, she added.
“I am just a person trying to navigate the world,” she said.
Mourey said she was going to move on from posting videos on her channel but she did not know for how long or whether it would be a permanent departure from the online world that she had created.
Her immediate plans: “Just live and just be. That’s it,” she said.
Mourey was the latest public figure to address the depictions of blackface in her past. This week, episodes of “30 Rock,” the hit TV comedy series, were pulled from streaming services because they featured skits with white actors in blackface.
Late-night hosts Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon have each apologized for appearing in blackface. The apologies have emerged amid nationwide protests over racism and police mistreatment of Black people.
Mourey has expanded her work onto the livestreaming platform Twitch in recent years, where she shares a channel with her partner, Julien Solomita. The two appeared at TwitchCon in 2017 and were nominated for a Shorty Award in 2018 for their work on Twitch.
Other YouTubers have also recently come under fire for racist skits, including Shane Dawson, who has been repeatedly criticized for old videos of him wearing blackface; and Jeffree Star, who was recently accused of making racist and offensive comments. This week, YouTuber David Dobrik faced backlash when an old video of him and Liza Koshy surfaced in which they imitated speaking Japanese.
Many fans expressed sadness over Mourey’s decision to leave YouTube, and several resurfaced a video in which she discussed race and privilege. “White privilege is a privilege, and if you don’t acknowledge it, that’s contributing to the problem. It’s not a victimless crime,” she says in the video.
Some YouTubers expressed disappointment over her decision to leave and spoke about her impact on the community as one of its best-known female creators. “Jenna is a massive part of creation on YouTube,” tweeted YouTuber Sky Williams, who said that he “grew up” watching her.
“We should be judged not by how we acted when we were ignorant but how we responded when we were informed,” YouTube star Hank Green wrote on Twitter. “By that measure, Jenna Marbles is head and shoulders beyond a great many YouTubers.”
But others pointed to the intense abuse that Black people faced in the industry and how it created barriers to success. “My tears are reserved for all the Black people who will never even attempt to have a YouTube career because they don’t want to be subjected to racism all day every day as a living,” popular YouTuber Akilah Hughes tweeted.
“I hope one day people can learn and change and grow before they make millions of dollars doing blackface,” she wrote.
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