The singer addressed the incident in a series of messages posted to Twitter.
“Recently a journalist pointed out something I did in a promo video skit in 1984 for the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense,” the rocker explained. “In the piece I appear as a number of different characters interviewing myself, and some of the characters portrayed are people of color.”
In the promo skit, Byrne is seen wearing his iconic oversized suit, sitting on the set of what appears to be a cheesy cable access show. A series of interviewers – also played by Byrne – proceed to ask him questions about the concert film. These characters include a female interviewer (with Bryne in drag), a leather-clad rocker, a bearded old man and an African American.
You can watch the promo in its entirety below.
Though Byrne admitted he’d “just about forgotten about this skit,” he insisted he was “grateful” to have it brought to his attention.
“To watch myself in the various characters, including black and brown face, I acknowledge it was a major mistake in judgment that showed a lack of real understanding. It’s like looking in a mirror and seeing someone else – you’re not, or were not, the person you thought you were.”
In admitting his mistake, Byrne also acknowledged that he has changed in the decades since the clip. The singer encouraged others to take a broader look at themselves and recognize their own faults so that they, too, can learn and grow.
“One hopes that folks have the grace and understanding to allow that someone like me, anyone really, can grow and change, and that the past can be examined with honesty and accountability,” Byrne said in closing.
Released in fall 1984, Stop Making Sense was a landmark concert film and live album for Talking Heads. The LP sold more than 2 million copies, while the film was hailed as “one of the greatest rock movies ever made.” Byrne has since gone on to a successful solo career. His most recent album, American Utopia, was released in 2018. An HBO movie based on the LP’s Broadway production will air next month.