Giuliana Rancic must love the taste of shoe leather, because she put her foot in her mouth in a big way. The E! personality came under fire for a comment she made about Zendaya on Fashion Police on Feb. 23, 2015. The former Disney star walked the Oscars red carpet in a stunning off-the-shoulder white Vivienne Westwood gown, perfectly polished and glowing makeup, a sparkly bracelet, diamond and pearl earrings, and a tiny gold-accented clutch. She also wore her hair in dreadlocks, which looked beautiful but wouldn’t have necessarily even seemed remarkable … until Rancic ran her mouth about it.
In a moment that went down in infamy, Rancic, a longtime red carpet staple, said of the former Shake It Up starlet (via Us Weekly), « I feel like she smells like patchouli oil. » The camera then cut to a photo of Zendaya while an unseen voice quipped, « Or weed! » The smell comment didn’t pass the sniff test, and it bit Rancic in the butt big time.
Zendaya called her out in the classiest way
Zendaya called Giuliana Rancic out for her remark almost immediately. In a lengthy Instagram post, the Spider-Man: Far From Home actress took the high road, writing in part, « There is a fine line between what is funny and disrespectful. Someone said something about my hair at the Oscars that left me in awe. Not because I was relishing in rave outfit reviews, but because I was hit with ignorant slurs and pure disrespect. To say that an 18-year-old young woman with locs must smell of patchouli oil or ‘weed’ is not only a large stereotype but outrageously offensive. I don’t usually feel the need to respond to negative things but certain remarks cannot go unchecked. »
Zendaya then pointed out that there are plenty of African American women who sport « locs » regularly, including director Ava DuVernay, singer Ledisi, and author Terry McMillan, as well as many male and female members of her own family, none of whom reek of the stereotypical odors that Rancic described. The one-time Dancing With The Stars champ added that her aim in wearing dreadlocks to the Oscars was to promote the idea that women of color’s natural hair is beautiful as is — a powerful and glorious point that apparently went so far over Rancic’s head that she likely didn’t even feel the breeze. Stars including Kerry Washington, Khloe Kardashian and Chloe Grace Moretz all publicly applauded Zendaya’s classy clapback.
Giuliana quickly apologized
Upon receiving backlash not just from Zendaya herself, but from almost the entire Internet, Giuliana Rancic finally read the room and apologized for her comment. Rancic tweeted, « Dear @Zendaya, I’m sorry I offended you and others. I was referring to a bohemian chic look. Had NOTHING to do with race and NEVER would!!! »
Rancic also made a statement on E! the day after her controversial comment aired, saying that while Fashion Police « pokes fun » at stars, her comments about Zendaya « did cross the line. » She added, « I didn’t intend to hurt anybody, but, I have learned, it is not my intent that matters, it’s the result. And the result is that people are offended, including Zendaya, and that is not okay. Therefore, I want to say to Zendaya, and anyone else out there that I have hurt, that I am so, so sincerely sorry. » Rancic continued on to say that the incident was a « learning experience » and that she promised to no longer « perpetuate » stereotypes.
Zendaya accepted her apology
Further proving that Zendaya is probably a better person than all of us, she graciously accepted Giuliana Rancic’s apology, issuing yet another beautifully worded statement about the incident. « Giuliana, I appreciate your apology, and I’m glad it was a learning experience for you and for the network, » Zendaya wrote, in part, on Instagram. « I hope that others negatively affected by her words can also find it in their hearts to also accept her apology as well. »
The Euphoria star also explained the importance of conquering « hidden prejudices » within one’s self and in others, and she urged her followers to stop sending hate Rancic’s way (though she admitted she, too, was tempted to say something « mean » about Rancic at first). She closed with an apt quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: « Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that. »
Kelly Osbourne was furious
One of Giuliana Rancic’s biggest critics at the time of her comment controversy was her own Fashion Police co-host, Kelly Osbourne. Initially, Osbourne tweeted that she didn’t want to get involved with the drama, but as we’ve witnessed with her feuds with Lady Gaga and Christina Aguilera, the rockstar spawn simply couldn’t help herself. She then tweeted that Zendaya was a friend of hers, adding, « I DID NOT MAKE THE WEED COMENT. I DO NOT CONDONE RACISM SO AS A RSULT OF THIS IM SEREIOULSY QUESTIONONIG STAYING ON THE SHOW! » A source told Us Weekly that Osbourne warned Rancic not to make the weed remark (which she may or may not have done in three separate takes) because Zendaya was a « friend of the show » and had actually appeared on the program three times before the Oscars incident.
Osbourne did quit Fashion Police after the brouhaha. She announced the news in a relatively innocuous statement from E!, per The Wrap, but when asked about it later wasn’t so diplomatic. She told the site in August 2015, « I will never admit to liking Giuliana [Rancic] because I don’t. I don’t think she’s a good person and I think she’s a liar. » She added that she would consider eventually returning to the show « if certain people weren’t there. » A source close to Rancic told People that she found Osbourne’s remarks « pathetic, » adding, « She thinks Kelly should find something or someone else to obsess over. »
Co-host Kathy Griffin quit and the show went on hiatus
Kelly Osbourne wasn’t the only panelist to turn in her Fashion Police badge after Giuliana Rancic’s racially insensitive remark about Zendaya. Comedian Kathy Griffin — who later became to subject of her own self-made controversy — quit the show after just seven episodes. When speaking about the incident, she revealed that Rancic didn’t even come up with the quip herself.
During a March 2015 appearance on The View, Griffin said, « I didn’t know she was gonna say that because some dude wrote that for her, which I don’t feel they really need it. Honestly, I think that everyone should’ve just improvised … she said it, and I was trying to be a team player, and the show is very formulaic, and that’s how they like it. It’s just not … my thing. So when it came time to, sort of, leave, they were very nice to me; they weren’t mean or evil. »
Griffin did note, however, that she wasn’t quitting just because of Rancic’s Zendaya remark, but because the show as a whole didn’t work with her comedic style. « As a feminist and a comic, » she explained, « it just didn’t feel like the right fit for me. » Fashion Police subsequently went on hiatus following Osbourne and Griffin’s exits, returning just for major events.
Giuliana said she was a victim of poor editing
Giuliana Rancic later claimed she wasn’t entirely at fault for how her comment about Zendaya’s hair came across. She explained on Today in April 2015, « I made a reference to the hippie culture. I talked about patchouli oil, which is a hippie perfume. In the editing process, some of the gestures I made, some of the things I said were taken out for time. I made peace signs, I said ‘bohemian’ twice — those were taken out for time. » Rancic added that given the way the joke aired, she understood why it was taken the wrong way.
The Wrap obtained a full transcript of the unedited footage, in which Rancic reportedly made peace sign gestures and said, « She has such a tiny frame that this hair to me overwhelms her, it’s really heavy. It overwhelms her and it’s just like, too boho. Zendaya is more high fashion. The hair to me, on her, is making her a little boho. Like, I feel like she smells like patchouli oil and weed. » Also allegedly edited out was Kathy Griffin asking if Zendaya planned on touring with the Grateful Dead, which would fit the « hippie » theme.
However, Rancic’s former Fashion Police co-host George Kotsopoulous told People that neither he nor Kelly Osbourne had writers during their time on the show, adding of Rancic, « To not own up to what you said and to blame it on others is just a little messed up. »
Zendaya continued to thrive
All in all, Giuliana Rancic’s seemingly derogatory comment about Zendaya only made the world more aware of how great the singer, dancer, and actress is, and how graceful she is even when she’s under a microscope and being targeted by trolls. She got a Barbie doll made in the likeness of her stunning style at the Oscars, and she’s proud of how she handled herself in the aftermath.
She told Allure in December 2016, « I got all of these pictures from women wearing locs. I made it my Twitter header, and that became empowering. It became something very positive. It allowed us to talk about things that make us uncomfortable … There was a little girl for Halloween last year that was me from the Oscars. » She added of her Barbie doll, « I think that was a big moment not just for me but for women of color. It’s a step in the right direction. But we have a long way to go. »
Giuliana’s supposedly unrelated major career move
The fallout for Giuliana Rancic continued months after her segment about Zendaya aired on Fashion Police. Rancic revealed to People in April 2015 that she’d received death threats after Zendaya’s statement on the joke went viral. By July 2015, Rancic announced that she was parting ways with E! News, but would remain co-host of Fashion Police and Live from the Red Carpet.
She told People that dramatic career move had « nothing to do with » the blow-up at Fashion Police, and that her exit — which she allegedly planned three years prior — was entirely her decision, as she wanted to spend more time in Chicago with husband Bill Rancic and their children. Still, she hinted to Access Hollywood in April 2015 that there was some issue with certain individuals in her life, explaining of the Zendaya incident, « I definitely learned a lot from this entire experience. One of those things that I’ve learned is when someone shows you their true colors, believe them. And I’ve definitely seen exactly who certain people are in my life. »