For fans of Ellie Kemper, known for her quirky, yet sweet roles on shows “The Office” and “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” last week’s unsettling news about her past may have come as somewhat of a surprise.
On May 30, a photo surfaced online of Kemper crowned queen at the 1999 Veiled Prophet Ball in St. Louis, Mo. The ball, founded by confederate soldiers in 1878, provided a type of debutante celebration for the city’s wealthy elite. According to Yahoo News, the organization did not welcome black members until 1979. The Veiled Prophet character shares similarities in looks to that of a uniform from the Klu Klux Klan, which rattled many Kemper followers.
So was no one gonna tell me Ellie kemper aka kimmy Schmidt was crowned KKK queen in 1999 pic.twitter.com/QdHJ6wGZGv
— charlie (@dianahungerr) May 31, 2021
Kemper, the daughter of a banking CEO and granddaughter of a railroad tycoon, told The LA Times in 2017 that she experienced “a very privileged, nice, warm childhood."
But it wasn’t until yesterday (June 7), almost a week later, that we heard a response from Kemper on Instagram—which included a lengthy apology and an acknowledgement of her ignorance regarding the organization and event.
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Her statement included the following language:
"When I was 19 years old, I decided to participate in a debutante ball in my hometown," she began. "The century-old organization that hosted the debutante ball had an unquestionably racist, sexist and elitist past. I was not aware of the history at the time, but ignorance is no excuse. I was old enough to have educated myself before getting involved. I unequivocally deplore, denounce, and reject white supremacy," she continued. "At the same time, I acknowledge that because of my race and my privilege, I am the beneficiary of a system that has dispensed unequal justice and unequal rewards."
Many fans and castmates took to social media to show their support, while some are not accepting the explanation. Actor Tituss Burgess, Kemper’s co-star on “Kimmy Schmidt,” reposted Kemper’s message to show support with a slight add-on of his own.
“I love my Ellie. Oh & P.S. Next time, just ask me, I’ll tell ya what to do.”
While the response time may have caused some to question the integrity of the response, Gene Grabowski, partner, kglobal, says Kemper did an adequate job to cover that with her explanation.
“While Kemper’s apology could have been more timely, she seems to have adequately explained her delay within the statement,” Grabowski says.
Grabowski also lauds the lengthy response as appropriate for the times, and applauds the actress for leaning into transparency regarding her past.
“Ellie Kemper’s apology, which might have seemed too long and over-the-top years ago, is appropriate for the age in which we now live and it's credible to her fan base,” he says. “Athletes and celebrities today are almost always expected to demonstrate their extreme empathy and sensitivity when apologizing for past or current acts considered to be insensitive. That is no doubt why Kemper chose to go out of her way to acknowledge her white privilege twice in her statement. While some may find Kemper’s apology insincere, most people will likely find it to be an authentic fit with her public image.”
Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal