What a sorry week this has been.
Three celebrities with Atlanta ties issued apologies after their high-profile mistakes were made.
Actor Jonah Hill apologized for hurling a gay slur at an aggressive photographer. His burst of contrition came in between statements from pop star Justin Bieber, who apologized after videos from years ago surfaced showing him first telling a racist joke and then singing a racist song.
“Happy” singer Pharrell Williams, who noted his Native American heritage in a 2010 interview with Oprah Winfrey’s magazine, said he was sorry for wearing a Native American headdress on the July cover of Elle UK.
“I respect and honor every kind of race, background and culture,” Williams said in a statement.
Bieber posted words of repentance and Scripture on his various social media platforms.
“As a kid, I didn’t understand the power of words and how they can hurt,” he said. “Now that these mistakes from the past have become public I need to apologize again to all those I have offended. I’m very sorry.”
Hill went on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” and issued a live, lengthy apology.
“I’ve been a supporter of the LBGTQ community my entire life and I completely let the members of that community and everybody else down when I used a word like that,” he said. “I don’t deserve or expect your forgiveness but what I ask is that at home, if you’re watching this and you’re a young person especially, if someone says something that hurts or angers you, use me as an example of what not to do. Don’t respond with hatred or anger because you’re just adding more ugliness to the world.”
All three humbled stars have Atlanta connections. Bieber calls Atlanta his second home and spent time here working on a recording project earlier this year. Williams’ hit song was mixed at an Atlanta studio, and Hill filmed the 2012 sci-fi comedy “The Watch” here.
That movie was awful, by the way. If he’s still in apology mode he might want to consider falling on his sword for that dreadful waste of two hours, too. But we digress. Sorry.
And lest we wax too judgmental, experts remind us that there are lessons for the non-famous when stars shoot from the lip.
“We all make mistakes,” said national etiquette expert Diane Gottsman. “We all have said things we’re not proud of. We’re all human. For those of us who are ready to disperse judgment — find somebody for me who has never made mistakes.”
The hallmark of an effective “I’m sorry,” she said, is “when you can identify with the apology and you really feel that they mean it.”
Williams, Hill and Bieber all have seemingly met that test.
Savannah celebrity chef Paula Deen, on the other hand, is still rebounding after she acknowledged last year that she had uttered racial slurs in decades past. Her apology tour, consisting of a visit to “The Today Show” during which she sobbed most of the time, and a series of web videos so cringe-worthy that they inspired a raft of parodies, didn’t seem to win over critics.
“Engaging in reputation repair immediately instead of letting the situation fester is what most perceive as the appropriate response,” said Natalie T. J. Tindall, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Georgia State University and past chair of the Public Relations Society of America’s Diversity Committee.
Celebrities like Hill and Reese Witherspoon, who issued a heartfelt apology after a dashboard camera captured her mouthing off to a local state patrol officer last year when her husband was pulled over in Buckhead and arrested for DUI, have done that well, she said.
Deen, meanwhile, let her situation “grow like yeast until the situation managed her,” Tindall said.
Atlanta author and psychotherapist Janet Blair Page drew similar lessons from Deen’s implosion.
“Tears and emotional drama don’t help,” she said. “You want to be straightforward and specific. Say exactly why you’re sorry and what you’re sorry about. You want to be aware that you not say anything that will get you in more trouble.”
And this is key: when you’re apologizing, just say you’re sorry. Don’t beg for forgiveness, as Deen did.
Otherwise, the message is, “I apologize, now it’s your turn to do something for me,” Page said.
And don’t even consider pulling out that sorry “mistakes were made” playbook.
“If you’re going to apologize, take the direct hit,” Page said. “Be quick, succinct. Don’t linger.”