A Mummers brigade with a history of controversial skits is fighting off allegations of racism after a New Year's Day parade performance in which Mummers depicted Philadelphia's mayor being led down the street on all fours by rapper Jay-Z.
Philadelphia City Council President Darrell L. Clarke on Wednesday demanded Finnegan New Year's Brigade apologize to Mayor Jim Kenney and Jay-Z for what the councilman deemed a display of "bigotry and intolerance" during Tuesday's annual Mummers Parade.
In the performance, an actor playing Jay-Z wears gold chains, bejeweled blazer and pants and waves around an umbrella while leading someone dressed as Kenney down the street on a leash.
The Kenney character, wearing an exaggerated long nose, crawls on his hands and knees while gesturing like a dog.
Clarke joined several social media users accusing the troupe of using blackface. "The skit involving a blackface Jay-Z walking a long-nosed Mayor Kenney like a dog was offensive, racist, and not even a little bit amusing," Clarke said in a statement.
The actor playing Jay-Z, however, told NBC10 that he is black and did not use any makeup during the skit other than a painted "J" and "Z" on either cheek.
The sketch is a reference to an editorial cartoon by Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News cartoonist Signe Wilkinson, Finnegan's Captain Mike Inemer said.
That cartoon appeared to reference the mayor's decision to cut a deal with Roc Nation, a music and promotion company founded by Jay-Z, to keep the rapper's Made in America Festival on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
The deal came after Kenney initially announced the city would be moving the festival due to "operational difficulties."
The mayor and city quickly backtracked after facing backlash from Jay-Z, who penned a scathing editorial published in the Philadelphia Inquirer. In the article, the rapper said he only learned of the move through the media and questioned whether mayor and city, "regularly reject minority-owned businesses that want to continue to thrive and grow alongside his city's people?"
On Wednesday, the city confirmed that it had greenlit the New Year's Day skit after reviewing the brigade's concept in advance and being assured by the group that the actor portraying Jay-Z would be black.
"The City condemns the use of blackface in any form and will continue to work with the Mummers to ensure future performances are nondiscriminatory," a statement from the mayor's office added.
Following the controversy, Inemer told NBC10 that he was surprised at the accusations of racism. "There was no racist intent," he said.
When told that the actor playing Jay-Z is black, Councilman Clarke acknowledged his error in an updated statement but insisted that the skit was "demeaning to people of color."
"Whatever the truth is of yesterday's performance - if the individual portraying Jay-Z is in fact a member of this brigade, for instance - people of color know minstrelsy when we see it," Clarke said.
"This event and related organizations undoubtedly have much more work to do to make all Philadelphians feel welcomed and included in this annual New Year's Day celebration."
Finnegan New Year's Brigade has courted controversy in the past.
In 2016, the comedy club centered its act around Caitlyn Jenner's gender transition. Behind him, a member was caught shouting, "F--- the gays! F--- the gays!" at parade spectators. The man also posed for photos with the sign.
At the time, Finnegan's apologized and said it banned the member from the group. It also apologized to those who took offense at the Jenner skit, though it said it was meant to be a satirical act.