New York Times edits Uncle Jack Charles obituary after backlash

Aboriginal Elder uncle jack charles appearing on sbs' who do you think you are
Photo: SBS

The New York Times has amended a “disrespectful” obituary and tweet marking the death of beloved Indigenous Elder Uncle Jack Charles, after a fierce backlash from Australians.

Charles passed away last week at age 79, with tributes pouring in for the respected Elder and Victorian gay man known to many as “Uncle Jack”.

The New York Times published an obituary for him this week, but swiftly caused outrage online for its language and tone.

A Times Twitter post linking to the obituary described Uncle Jack as “one of Australia’s leading Indigenous actors, but his heroin addiction and penchant for burglary landed him in and out of jail throughout his life”.

The obituary itself also described his “penchant” for theft, and referenced his experience of being removed from his family at four months old, as a member of the “so-called” Stolen Generations.

The publication has since amended parts of the obituary and removed and replaced the Twitter post “because [the original tweet] lacked proper context”.

Uncle Jack Charles’ obituary slammed as ‘racist’ and ‘disrespectful’

Speaking to NITV News, Indigenous academic and researcher Professor Bronwyn Carlson said she was “quite shocked” by the Times’ “really inappropriate” language and “disgraceful” framing of Uncle Jack Charles’ life.

“It’s absolutely poor journalism to pick the worst moment of someone’s life to frame their entire life story,” Carlson.

Professor Carlson added after Queen Elizabeth II’s death “we’ve seen Indigenous people literally punished for making [any statement] that was deemed derogatory… because they didn’t display the right kind of sympathy to the Queen.

“And then here we have a significant Elder who was held in really high regard.

“Regardless of any kind of difficulties that they’ve had in their life, to tarnish their passing in such a way was so disrespectful and harmful to Indigenous people.”

Professor Carlson described it as an example of the media failing to provide context around the difficulties First Nations communities face.

“This is a person who was well known as being forcibly removed from their family as a child, and all the horrors that that might entail,” she said.

“We know that those people who were removed, suffered psychological, sexual violence, physical violence, and so forth.

“So for this person to have some hardships, and that to be the focus of that headline was completely inappropriate. It was really an act of violence.”

The New York Times’ Australia bureau chief Damien Cave apologised for the “lack of context and clarity” in the obituary.

“An earlier tweet to this obituary was deleted. If you were one of those who called it out … we heard you, and apologize for the lack of context and clarity,” Cave wrote.

“Nuance is always the goal and sometimes we miss the mark. Story updated too.”

Prime Minister among flood of tributes to Uncle Jack Charles

Last week, tributes to Uncle Jack Charles flowed from arts leaders, LGBTIQ+ leaders and political leaders after Uncle Jack’s death in Melbourne after suffering a stroke.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese paid tribute to Uncle Jack, acknowledging he had “lived a hard life” and “endured cruelty and pain” but he left a joyous legacy”.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney also remembered the Elder as a “remarkable truth-teller”.

“He was a groundbreaking storyteller and activist who brought people in with his warmth and grace, never shying away from his past and who he was,” Burney said.

“Uncle Jack offered a window for many Australians to see the enduring pain of survivors of the Stolen Generations and inspired people with his strength of character and resilience.”

Burney said Uncle Jack is widely considered to be the “grandfather of Indigenous theatre”.

“We have lost a legend of Australian theatre, film and creative arts. Vale Uncle Jack,” she said.

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Jordan Hirst
Jordan Hirst

Jordan Hirst is an experienced journalist and content creator with a career spanning over a decade at QNews. Since 2012, the Brisbane local has covered an enormous range of topics and subjects in-depth affecting the LGBTIQA+ community, both in Australia and overseas. Today, the Brisbane-based journalist covers everything from current affairs, politics and health to sport and entertainment.

QNews, Brisbane Gay, App, Gay App, LGBTI, LGBTI News, Gay Australia

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