MELBOURNE, Australia, Sep 12 – An Australian newspaper defiantly republished a controversial cartoon of tennis star Serena Williams on its front-page Wednesday, slapping aside “politically correct” accusations that the drawing was racist and sexist.
Melbourne’s Herald Sun cartoonist Mark Knight’s caricature of Williams throwing a tantrum at the US Open was originally printed on Monday, attracting widespread condemnation from across the world.
Under the front-page headline “WELCOME TO PC WORLD”, the newspaper wrote Wednesday that “if the self-appointed censors of Mark Knight get their way on his Serena Williams cartoon, our new politically correct life will be very dull indeed”.
The cover included caricatures of other Australian and foreign political leaders drawn by Knight.
The veteran cartoonist added Wednesday he had suspended his Twitter account to protect his family and friends.
Prior to disabling his account, his tweet of the cartoon had attracted more than 22,000 comments, most of them critical.
Knight labelled the outcry against his cartoon as a sign that the “world has just gone crazy”.
“I drew this cartoon Sunday night after seeing the US Open final, and seeing the world’s best tennis player have a tantrum and thought that was interesting,” he said in quotes published on the News Corp Australia paper’s website Wednesday.
“The cartoon about Serena is about her poor behaviour on the day, not about race.”
The caricature has also sparked renewed debate in Australia about racist and sexist discourse in the highly multicultural nation.
“I thought they went over the top. The depiction of Serena was pretty vile,” Melbourne commuter Louise Rodbourn told AFP, echoing the mood of many city workers Wednesday.
“I think it’s disgusting. I find it really, a little offensive,” added fellow Melbourne resident Nowal Kahsai.
But some said the controversy had gone too far.
“She’s a fantastic tennis player and we should all see past that,” commuter Donna Weitacher said.
“This is his (Knight’s) job, isn’t it? This is what he does for a living and we’ve all appreciated what he’s done over the years in all different cartoons. Some of them very, very funny.”
Serena, a 23-time Grand Slam champion, smashed her racquet and called the umpire a “thief” and a “liar” while she was losing Saturday’s final to Haitian-Japanese Naomi Osaka.
She was she given three code violations by Carlos Ramos, which cost her a point penalty and then a game penalty.
That sparked a debate about whether she was treated more harshly than male tennis stars like John McEnroe, who was famous for his angry outbursts.
Knight’s caricature showed a butch and fat-lipped Williams jumping up and down on her broken racquet, having spat out a dummy.
Osaka was portrayed as petite and feminine with jet blonde straight hair — in real life she has dark curly hair with blonde streaks and is taller than Williams.
Knight’s detractors included author JK Rowling, who said: “Well done on reducing one of the greatest sportswomen alive to racist and sexist tropes and turning a second great sportswoman into a faceless prop.”