Support local journalism. Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Photo appears to show Florida Rep. Anthony Sabatini, who's still dealing with a blackface scandal, wearing brownface

Posted By on Thu, Feb 7, 2019 at 5:10 PM

  • Photo by Stephanie Childers
A new photo of Florida Rep. Anthony Sabatini, who refuses to resign after photos surfaced of him in blackface, appears to show him in brownface, wearing a stereotypical "Mexican" costume.

The photo was sent to Orlando Weekly by a former classmate of Sabatini's who wishes to remain anonymous. It shows the Howey-in-the-Hills Republican dressed, the source says, "as a Mexican," with darkened skin, a fake mustache, a serape and a straw cowboy hat turned sideways resembling a sombrero.

We've reached out to Rep. Sabatini multiple times and will update the story as soon as he gets back to us.

Naqiy McMullen, another former classmate of Sabatini's who graduated from Eustis High School in 2008, corroborated the costume and was able to describe it without seeing the photo.

McMullen said that Sabatini occasionally drove a "junker car painted like the General Lee," and was part of a group called the "Costume Crazies," who dressed up for sporting events and also referred to other students with racial slurs.

"Yes I do recall a Fiesta-themed party where he wore a sombrero and darkened his face," McMullen told Orlando Weekly. "Racial slurs and making fun of students identities were seen as endearing to the students. For example my nickname was 'Jap,' even though I'm Puerto Rican, because they said I looked Japanese. I went along with it to fit in, but the abuse based on my ethnicity and name was really traumatic in retrospect."

McMullen says neither the blackface nor the brownface costume was an isolated incident at Eustis High School.

"[Sabatini] would use stereotypes about the schools as themes such as hillbillies for Umatilla, and black stereotypes for Leesburg," says McMullen. "He would often get in trouble with administration and he was banned from being class president after he stole a golf cart from a janitor and went for a joyride."

According to McMullen, Sabatini also organized off-campus parties with derogatory themes like "pimps and hoes" and "CEOs and office hoes."

Another former classmate of Sabatini, Stephanie Childers, says she took the brownface photo on Cinco de Mayo in 2004, and he was punished for it. "He was sent to the office to change, because it was obviously a discriminatory display during normal school hours," said Childers to Orlando Weekly. 

Since gaining public office, first as a city commissioner and now a state representative, Sabatini has been involved in a number of controversial situations.

In June of 2018, the freshman representative "liked" two Facebook posts comparing former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett, who is black, to a monkey. According to the Daily Commercial, one of the posts showed Charlton Heston in a clip from the movie Planet of the Apes, with a caption reading: "Valerie Jarrett flanked by some NRA guy and a Muslim Brotherhood grand poobah...," and another post comparing Jarrett to the female ape character, Zira, with the caption, "And the issue with Roseanne is?"

Sabatini also famously called for the country to relocate all the removed Confederate statues to the city of Eustis, which forced the city to issue a statement saying Sabatini's ideas "do not represent the Commission as a whole" and it "has taken no formal action regarding Confederate statues."   

The new photo comes just two days after the 30-year-old's general election opponent, Democrat Cynthia Brown, along with the Florida Democratic Party, called for Sabatini to resign over his previous blackface photo scandal, which he refuses to do. 
  • Photo via Anthony Sabatini /Facebook

"Blackface and brownface are both connected because they rely on stereotypes and lean on cultures that are opposed," says Carey Latimore, an associate professor of history at Trinity University. "For African Americans, blackface goes back to things like minstrelsy, and for Latinos it can be connected to tropes like Speedy Gonzales and the 'Latin lover.' The problem is you're showing an entire race as a joke."

Florida Democrats agree. On Tuesday, Florida Democratic Chair Terry Rizzo called on Sabatini to resign.

"Governor DeSantis did the right thing in accepting Michael Ertel's resignation – and he and Leader Jose Oliva should do the right thing and ask for the resignation of Rep. Anthony Sabatini. In calling out racist behavior, Florida Democrats and Republicans should stand united," Rizzo said in the statement.

Sabatini has since said his blackface incident, which first emerged in October 2018, was a silly prank that has been taken out of context.

"I'm 16 years old, one of my best friends of the time was black, and we thought at the time – looking back, it was immature – it would be funny to dress as each other,” said Sabatini on Tuesday to the Orlando Sentinel. "He dressed in my clothes – a Ralph Lauren polo shirt, shorts, Converse – and I dressed in his clothing. … None of us thought 14 years later any of us would be a public figure and the photo would be decontextualized."

Sabatini's friend, Brandon Evans, told the Washington Post that it was his idea to dress up as Sabatini, though he did not color his face white.

Florida House Speaker José Oliva, also a Republican, doesn't seem to think Sabatini should step down from office.

"The voters of his district were aware of this photograph and of the facts behind its creation," said Oliva in a response to the blackface incident. "Once those facts were known, and both individuals in the photo spoke, it became abundantly clear that Rep. Sabatini bore no racial animus. All of us are not the people we were at 16. We grow, we learn, and we realize the world is much bigger than the walls of our high school. The people of Rep. Sabatini’s district have made their choice, with full knowledge of the photograph, and that choice will be respected."

Orlando Weekly has reached out to Oliva for comment multiple times on this latest photo and received no response, but we will update when and if we hear from him.

These photos come in the wake of two other prominent politicians caught up in blackface scandals. Last week, Florida Secretary of State Michael Ertel resigned from office after photos surfaced of him wearing blackface and mocking Hurricane Katrina survivors. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam still refuses to step down from office after photos appeared showing him in blackface next to a guy in a Ku Klux Klan outfit in his medical school yearbook.

Stay on top of Orlando news and views. Sign up for our weekly Headlines newsletter. 

Tags: , , , , ,

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Orlando Weekly. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Orlando Weekly, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club for as little as $5 a month.


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Read the Digital Print Issue

January 19, 2022

View more issues


© 2022 Orlando Weekly

Website powered by Foundation