Members of the cocktail community are lighting up Facebook after a controversial incident involving one of the industry’s most influential figures. Posts made the rounds earlier this week when Tales of the Cocktail founder Ann Tuennerman appeared to have participated in a now-deleted Facebook Live video in which she wore blackface makeup while being interviewed by her husband, who is also affiliated with Tales. According to a screenshot shared on Facebook by cocktail writer Lincoln C. Chinnery, the caption accompanying the video read: “Paul G Tuennerman interviewing me on Mardi Gras Morning from the Zulu Den. As he said ‘Throw a little Black Face on you lose all your Media Skills.’ He did his best as the interviewer.”
Tales of the Cocktail, a multi-day conference held each summer in New Orleans, is considered one of the alcohol industry’s biggest annual events, and winning one of its Spirited Awards is a top honor in the beverage world. The Tuennermans appear to have participated in last Tuesday’s Mardi Gras parade while marching with the Krewe of Zulu, the largest predominantly black Carnival krewe (the organizations that preserve the history of the Carnival celebrations). The Krewe of Zulu itself has historically used blackface iconography, a practice that spurred protests by African-American organizations in the 1960s.
Today, Tuennerman posted a 450-word apology on the Tales of the Cocktail website, writing: “I now recognize how deeply offensive this is to many, and I am sincerely sorry. It was a naive and inconsiderate action, the consequences of which have made it clear that I have much to learn ... As an industry leader, I assume full responsibility for my actions, and am ready to listen to all those who I have angered and hurt in the process.” (Tuennerman replied to Eater’s request for comment with a link to her public statement.)
For many in the cocktail community, Tuennerman’s use of blackface makeup is particularly unacceptable from a leader in an industry that has struggled to include people of color at its highest levels. “I really need you to stop saying you are sorry and start engaging,” wrote New Orleans bartender Ashtin Berry in a public Facebook post shared on Thursday night, before Tuennerman’s public apology. “Now you may very well be devastated, but this not the forum or the place for you to center your feelings ... You are a public figure and my question is do you understand where your privilege lies? You were smiling in this picture you went on to make other comments that were inherently anti-black.”
In a Facebook post from later in the day, Berry announced that she had invited Tuennerman to participate in a “public unpacking.” The two are now scheduled to appear in a Facebook Live video on Monday. “I want to state that I believe that we have the power and ability to reframe and restructure how those in our community govern and engage with each other,” Berry wrote in the announcement. In her statement on the Tales of the Cocktail website, Tuennerman writes: “I am humbled to be invited to speak openly with Ashtin. I know I may not have answers to all of her questions, but I earnestly want to be a part of the solution and not part of the problem.” Tune in for that conversation Monday, March 6 at 2 p.m. CST.