Project host apologises for ‘appalling’ joke
SBS star Marc Fennell has issued a lengthy public apology after making a joke about a woman "missing a chromosome" on The Project last week.
The guest host, 35, who most would recognise from The Feed, or as Triple J's former movie reviewer, faced fierce backlash following his comments about a segment on an American vlogger making beans on toast in the microwave.
"Every time she posts a video I'm like, 'Are you missing a chromosome? Like, what has happened to you?'," Fennell had said to laughs from the panel.
Addressing the controversy on Facebook yesterday, Fennell apologised to families of people living with disabilities, admitting he didn't realise how "appalling" his remark was until it was pointed out to him on social media.
He vowed to "do better" and shared screenshots of his private messages to those who took him to task.
Chromosomal abnormalities can lead to genetic conditions like Down syndrome, which Fennell admitted he hadn't realised when he made the "offhand" comment.
AFLW and Survivor star Moana Hope, whose sister Lavinia lives with Möbius syndrome, took to Instagram to call out the comment.
"On The Project, a guy was reviewing a woman's cooking video and described her as missing a chromosome as a way of saying she is dumb, stupid and not all there," she wrote.
"Well Lavinia is missing a chromosome and so many other people are missing chromosomes and I can't believe he used that as an example of dumb and stupid.
"Marc, you don't get to bully and discriminate against people with special needs and think it's okay because you got a 'laugh' on national TV," she said, sharing the clip.
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Two different people are watching this same clip. One is missing a chromosome and the other is labeled as ‘normal’. But after the clip is finished you need to watch both reactions. One of them is Bullying and discriminating against people with special needs and monosomy. The other one says ‘ yeah it’s nice, the lady is lovely’. Yet he is labeled as NORMAL and she is used in a sentence to describe what he thinks is someone who is ‘stupid, dumb and not all there’. This 💩 needs to stop. @marcfennell you don’t get to bully and discriminate against people with special needs and think it’s ok coz you got a ‘laugh’ on a national TV. And to the people on the panel that did laugh shame on you. @theprojecttv this is unacceptable behaviour that needs to be seen to. This has offended more people then you can imagine. #needstostop #notfunny #itsmean #theproject
Fennell responded to Hope, admitting that he "felt sick" about the "mean" joke, and wasn't previously aware there was a connection between missing chromosomes and disabilities.
Posting his response to Hope on Facebook, he assured his other followers he would "do better".
"So, last Thursday I went on The Project and offhandedly said something which I have since realised was an appalling ableist comment," he wrote.
"Pretty much the moment I got off air I've been trying to personally respond to everyone who has messaged me.
"Ableism like this is not what I'm about and I hope you believe that I can and will do better," he said.
He also shared an apology message he'd sent to the private T21 Mum Australia Network Facebook group, in which he wrote: "I confess, I did not realise the connection to disability when I said it … Ignorance isn't much of an excuse but you are right to be appalled."
He added that he was "humbled" by the "ferocity of love" in reference to those who had reached out to him, thanking Hope, who is a full-time carer to her younger sister, for pulling him up.
"To really read, listen & respond to the many parents, siblings of and disabled and neurodiverse people who messaged me. I was humbled by the ferocity of their love & tried to sincerely apologise to each one," he said.
"That being said, I don't want anyone to miss the apology. I would also like to say a special thanks to @moanahope she was & is absolutely right to call this stuff out. Words matter. My words matter," he added.
Originally published as Project host apologises for 'appalling' joke