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Wendy Williams is no stranger to making controversial remarks on her daytime talk show, but on Tuesday, the host went too far. While discussing Golden Globe winning actor Joaquin Phoenix, Williams mocked Phoenix’s cleft lip and made a derogatory motion.

During the Hot Topics segment of her show, Williams said “When he shaves off his mustache, he’s got a hairline fracture, he’s got one of those — what do you call it? Cleft lip, cleft palate.” Williams then pulled up one side of her lip in a mocking manner. Williams’ actions immediately drew criticism from many people on Twitter, including those who suffer from cleft palates. CFL player Adam Bighill was born with a cleft palate as was his young son Beau, who underwent surgery earlier this week.


Bighill has been an advocate for the cleft palate community and said that Williams’ comments and actions promote bullying.


Singer and actor Cher also took offense to Williams’ comments and tweeted her disgust over the TV host’s actions. Cher, who has been heavily involved with people in the clef palate community, said that Williams’ comments were insulting to those who endure years of physical and emotional pain. “Much of the time they are in pain, afraid, but have hope,” tweeted Cher. “The heartbreak and fear their parents go through is unbearable.”

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Williams has since apologized on social media and tweeted that she and her show are making a donation in Beau Bighill’s honour to Operation Smile, a charity that provides cleft palate surgery to children in developing countries. Williams’ apology was enough for Bighill to forgive the TV host, but not Cher.


The singer made her feelings clear on Twitter, writing that an apology does not make up for Williams’ actions. Many of Cher’s followers have pointed out that an apology on Twitter does not reach the same wide audience who tune in daily to The Wendy Williams Show, adding that the TV personality should also apologize on her show to her millions of viewers.


Anna Martindale is the spokesperson for the Cleft Lip and Palate Association and told BBC News that Williams’ Twitter apology was not enough to undo Williams’ comments about Phoenix. “With the sarcasm and the ways in which she was talking about him, it was really clear that she was intending to mock him specifically for that,” said Martindale. “We work really hard to kind of create a very positive space where people can feel empowered and confident about their future about their child’s future. “No matter how much work we and other organizations like us do, we’ll never have as much impact as 10 seconds on the television from someone with that much of a viewership doing something like that.”

One person who has not weighed in on the controversy is Joaquin Phoenix. The actor has rarely spoken about his cleft lip, but in his 2019 interview with Vanity Fair, writer Joe Hagan describes the physical mark as “not a surgically fixed cleft, he says, but a nonsurgical scar he was born with.”

Williams’ donation is a good start, but let’s hope that the host makes a second apology on her show and helps to spread awareness on how to be an ally to those in the cleft lip and palate community.

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