E! News anchor Giuliana Rancic has apologized for offending Zendaya Coleman during a now infamous exchange about the former Disney star’s dreadlocks during an episode of Fashion Police. But now the scandal has a new wrinkle: It turns out that the network host’s comments were not actually aired in full.
In a clip viewed by PEOPLE, the Fashion Police panel is seen discussing Zendaya’s red-carpet look. Rancic begins her critique by saying she admires Zendaya’s fashion sense but finds her long locks “really heavy – it overwhelms her, and it’s just too boho.” The anchor then makes peace-sign symbols and goes on to say that “Zendaya is more high-fashion. The hair to me on her is making her a little more boho. Like I feel like she smells like patchouli oil. Or weed.”
But in the clip that eventually aired, Rancic’s comments about Zendaya’s neo-hippie look – which an E! insider who is supportive of the host says were scripted by one of the show’s writers – do not appear. Instead, only Rancic’s early comments and the cracks about patchouli and marijuana are heard. Contrary to some reports, multiple sources confirm the panel filmed the discussion of Zendaya’s outfit only once.
The insider says the joke initially included a line about Zendaya following the Grateful Dead, but that part didn’t make it on the air. “She just thought it was a joke about hippies,” says the insider.
After Zendaya took offense, Rancic apologized both on air and on Twitter, writing, “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!!!”
Zendaya accepted the mea culpa, but sources say Rancic feels that the situation was made worse because her comments were truncated. Says the insider: “If you see what she actually said, it’s clear she wasn’t making a racial joke.”
But it’s also true that the E! incident touches a deep nerve in American life. While some viewers saw the Zendaya comments as harmless, others, many of them African American, took offense. The differences may have a lot to do with cultural perspective. A comment about patchouli may evoke hippies to some, but “there’s a long history of racist comments about black people in terms of how they smell,” says Jeffrey C. Stewart, chair of the Department of Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who reviewed the sequence.
Stewart adds that the flap over Zendaya’s hairstyle trips sensitivities about the way African-American hair has been stigmatized in the past. “If a look is easily appropriated by whites, then it’s acceptable, but if it’s not easily appropriated, then it is seen as unalterably ‘other,’ ” Stewart says. Some viewers “don’t see this person as bohemian or hippie [because] hippies don’t dress in formal attire or have their hair meticulously arranged.”
Friends say Rancic, who called the episode “a learning experience,” regrets any hurt she may have caused. “Giuliana accepts responsibility for what happened,” says a source close to the situation. “She was educated about the sensitivities here and doesn’t make excuses for it.”
• With reporting by GABRIELLE OLYA