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Actress Denée Benton referred to Governor Ron DeSantis as the “grand wizard” of Florida at Sunday’s Tony Awards.
Benton was on stage announcing the winner of the Carnegie Melon University Excellence in Theater Education Award when she made the comment.
The award was going to a teacher (Jason Young) in the town of Plantation, Florida, and Benton was expressing her surety DeSantis would change the name of the city quickly.
“Earlier tonight, CMU and the Tony Awards presented the 2023 Excellence in Theater Education Award. While I am certain that the current Grand Wizard…” Benton said, referring to the name for a KKK leader. “I’m sorry, excuse me, governor of my home state of Florida…”
The audience in the theater erupted with laughter and cheers for nearly 30 seconds as the joke set in.
“I am sure that he will be changing the name of [Plantation, FL] immediately.”
Florida Governor has track record of ideologies aligned with white supremacy
Benton’s label of DeSantis as a “Grand Wizard” comes after years of laws targeting communities of color and the LGBTQ+ community. DeSantis, who recently launched his campaign for President, has frequently come under fire for his ties to white supremacist ideology.
Just last week, the Republican decried stripping the name of a Confederate enslaver from a military base in North Carolina. In May, his law to allow parents to unilaterally demand the banning of books in school libraries lead to a poem by Amanda Gorman being removed from school shelves.
And earlier this year, he came under fire for banning AP African American history courses in Florida High Schools.
DeSantis has also utilized measures denounced as inhumane to politicize migrants seeking sanctuary in Florida. The governor signed a budget that included $12 million to bus and fly vulnerable asylum seekers out of the state. DeSantis’s attacks on various identity groups also extends to the LGBTQ+ community, aiming damaging laws and rhetoric at queer and trans Floridians.
Supporters cheer Benton’s call out of DeSantis as a “Grand Wizard” on Twitter
In addition to a standing ovation, Benton’s call-out of DeSantis on a national stage received praise across social media.
“Thinking about how Ron DeSantis is gon’ wake up wondering why he’s trending,” Alex Lampley tweeted, adding a video of a woman laughing hysterically. “Because a Black woman called him the Grand Wizard of Florida.”
“Even if he isn’t a racist, the racists think he’s racist,” Candace Herring tweeted, echoing a line from Andrew Gillum. “That says enough for me.”