Justin Trudeau Tried To Explain Why He Wore Blackface To Kids

Courtney Shea

The host of Facebook Live show’s New Mom, Who Dis? Jessi Cruickshank sat down with Canadian Prime Justin Trudeau, who has only given one other one-on-one sit-down interview this election cycle (with Dawna Friesen of Global News).

In a wide-ranging 15-minute conversation, Cruickshank grilled the PM on everything from his kiss with Melania Trump to Canada selling arms to Saudi Arabia to exactly how many black or brownface photos there might be. And she didn’t do it alone. In an exchange that trumped anything we saw at Monday night’s debate, a set of six-year-old twin sisters asked Trudeau to explain his racist past. Here, Cruickshank takes Refinery29 behind the scenes of the interview everyone is talking about.

Don’t take this the wrong way, but I was surprised to see the prime minister on a Facebook Live show about parenthood. How did the interview come together?
I was as shocked as you are. We are a little show — just me and my producing partner, Jason. When we started the project six months ago, we created a list of dream guests and Justin Trudeau was on it, along with several Real Housewives. We reached out to everyone via their public email addresses. We never heard back from any of the Housewives, but we got an almost instant response from the Prime Minister’s Office. Within a few days, we were on the phone with his team. The plan was to do something funny and candid about parenthood and being a dad and how his policies affect young families. And then the blackface photos and videos surfaced, and the tone of what we set out to do had to shift.

Were you surprised the interview went forward at all in light of the scandal?
Yes! It was loose talks and then when the blackface images surfaced the campaign had to regroup. When they gave us the green light, we had two days to plan the whole thing.

Why do you think Team Trudeau chose your show for a rare one-on-one interview?
I have this very loyal fan base of moms and young people, and I know that’s an audience the Liberals are hoping to reach. I also know that there are members on his team who are fans of mine. They showed the PM my “Hot Dads” episode from season 1 [in which Cruickshank ogles three hunky fathers]. Apparently he loved it and wanted to come on. When he sat down, he said off mic, “You don’t want me to bounce my pecs around like those hot dads, do you?” And I was like, oh my god: A) you watched the episode and B) I kind of do. Really though, I think what they saw was an opportunity for Trudeau to talk not just as a politician but as a person in a way he is not able to do during debates or press conferences.

You didn’t shy away from touchy topics. Did the prime minister’s team vet your questions in advance?
No. I was fortunate enough to be given the platform to ask any questions I wanted in any manner that I wanted. And all credit to them — I have interviewed D-list celebrities whose managers ask to vet my questions. Thematically, I let them know that the blackface images were something I was going to ask about. They knew that we were going to have kids on the show and that I was going to ask the prime minister to hold a live baby while discussing policy.

I think Trudeau and his team probably underestimated me.

Jessi Cruickshank

Some people may have expected softballs from a comedian with a show about being a mum. Do you think you surprised them?
I think I did. People, Twitter, the Internet. Certainly when they heard the PM was giving an interview to Jessi Cruickshank, they probably underestimated me. And I think Trudeau and his team probably underestimated me too. I think any woman who sits down with a world leader is going to be underestimated, especially someone like me. I wanted to put something out in the world where I could strike a balance. Nobody has asked the guy about that Melania Trump moment. I got to do that! We talked about his son dating… I wanted to show that side of him and then I wasn’t afraid to take it to more serious places.

Not even a little afraid? I would have been freaking out.
I mean, I was. I was terrified. But I asked anyway. I felt a lot of responsibility as one of two people who have been given the chance to sit down with him one-on-one during this election cycle. I wanted to ask him about the brownface images, but I wanted my questions to feel like they were coming from a human being. I asked him the same questions I’ve been talking about with my friends: How can you not know how many times? Are there other photos that are going to come out? I didn’t want him to just apologise all over again. We’ve already heard that. I wanted to knock him off message a little bit and I think we achieved that.

With a significant assist from your adorable audience. Where did the kids come from?
We had to keep everything quite secret so we reached out through our personal networks. A couple of the kids have been on my show before. And then friends of friends. The goal was to find great kids who would ask their own questions.

So the twins who asked the prime minister about his brownface behaviour came up with that themselves?
They did. They are six years old and obviously incredibly bright. Their mum had been talking to them about what happened, they had had conversations in their home about the images and how they made them feel. That’s what they wanted to ask.

It was a pretty amazing moment.
Thanks! For me the most powerful part was when Trudeau kind of answered the first question in his way that we’ve heard before and then [one of the sisters] followed up with a second question: “Did you paint your hands and your nose brown?” There was this kind of this energy shift and the realisation of, “Oh, I have to answer this in a ways that a child can understand.” I thought that was the first time we heard him talk about it in a candid and honest way.

Final question: Your suit and the PM’s socks were perfectly coordinated. Coincidence?
Oh my god, total coincidence. Like I said, we’re a two-person team — there is no sock department. I actually didn’t even notice the socks until I watched the footage back. I can say that as a woman I was feeling immense pressure around what to wear. I didn’t want to look like I was pretending to be something I’m not, but I didn’t want to wear a crop top. I felt very Hilary Clinton in that moment. That’s why I was laughing about the socks thinking — at least people give male politicians crap about their fashion choices too.

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