Photos by Chuck Grant
The "Clueless" actress turned Fox News contributor spoke to Broadly about loving cops, admiring Hitler, and knowing how to get a rise out of people.
As long as Stacey Dash can remember, people have called her "crazy." That was actually her nickname in high school: "Crazy Stacey." It's a label that has followed her into her adult life, particularly when she began making her political views known. In 2012, when she endorsed Republican candidate Mitt Romney for president, actor Samuel L. Jackson questioned her sanity. Actress Gabrielle Union referred to her as a "crazy lady" after Stacey suggested that we do away with Black History Month and BET.
Stacey's controversial comments on race—which haven't earned her much favor in the black community—led to her appearance at the 2016 Academy Awards, where she served as a punch line when host Chris Rock introduced her to the audience as the "new director of the Academy's Minority Outreach Program." After the sketch, the name-calling progressed from "crazy" to "race traitor" and "Uncle Tom." She has a way of riling people up—her first acting coach considered her main talent to be "shock factor." But Stacey says that she isn't trying to be divisive. She's speaking her truth.
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"If you believe in something, then stand up for it. Don't run from it," she said. "That's why, when Chris Rock called me and said, 'Stacey will you do this?' I said, 'Yes.'"
A week after her now-infamous appearance at the Oscars, Stacey sat across from me at McCormick and Schmick's, a steakhouse in Oxon Hill, Maryland, roughly 20 minutes outside of Washington, DC. It was our first conversation of many over the course of the next four months.
Photo by Chuck Grant
She was in town to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). She had a black fur coat wrapped around her tiny body, and a large gold ring sat on her finger. "If I hit you [with it], it hurts," she joked. Stacey's publicist, Alyssa, and longtime personal assistant, Gina, urged her to eat, but she refused—she was too busy telling me about the "supernatural war" dividing America.
"There's bad cops, there's good cops, but I think most of all there are good cops," Stacey said, setting off that "shock factor" again. Her views on law enforcement happen to be in direct opposition to the sentiment behind the biggest civil rights movement since the 1960s, Black Lives Matter. But she doesn't seem to mind.
There's bad cops, there's good cops, but I think most of all there are good cops.
"There are some bad cops. There are some bad everything—there is evil. This war that we're going through is not a war of flesh and blood. We have to know that. It's a supernatural war."
Stacey posted this photo—posing with NYPD cops—on Twitter hours after the largest Black Lives Matter gathering occurred, in which thousands of demonstrators assembled at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, to protest the killing of an unarmed man by the police in North Minneapolis. Photo via @realstaceydash
"What war?" I asked.
"We are at war in our country," she patiently explained. "This is war. It's definitely war."
"How do you win the war?" I asked.
"The truth is, I thought about this, and what came to mind..." she looked at her publicist, "...and let me finish—was Hitler."
"How did he get all those Nazis to do what they did? Propaganda!" she continued. "How did he get that propaganda out there? Press, media—whatever way he could, that's how he got it out there. To me, that's what [conservatives] have to do. To win the war, we've got to take over the media. The Democrats know that, and they've done it. Now the Republicans have to do it."
How did [Hitler] get all those Nazis to do what they did? Propaganda!
Stacey made a point to tell me that she disagrees with the Führer's political beliefs. ("Hitler was an evil man.") She simply thinks conservatives should be more media savvy. But it's telling that she is a champion of propaganda, a form of communication that has historically relied on emotionally provocative imagery to produce a response. I mean, she could have explained her views without mentioning Hitler, but Stacey clearly knows a thing or two about working the media.
"Stacey Dash can say something outrageous, people can put it in a headline, and people will respond," said Todd Boyd, a University of Southern California film history professor who specializes in the analysis of the intersections of race, hip-hop, and Hollywood. "Her visibility and fame in the last few years are really tied to saying really ridiculous things."
It's a valid point. Although Stacey has worked consistently since her star-turning role in Clueless 21 years ago, you'd be hard-pressed to name her last three films. But you can probably remember the last three times she was trending on Twitter—and it wasn't for her work as an actress. Black Twitter, in particular, takes issue with Stacey.
"For a long time there have been images of African Americans who were conservative who appeared to be selling out their race," Boyd said. "The way to get rich is to sell out your race in public." Hattie McDaniel, the first African American to win an Academy Award—in 1940, for her performance as Mammy in Gone with the Wind—was accused of that. She penned an op-ed in a 1947 issue of The Hollywood Reporter in which she said she had been "censured by some of [her] race" who said that the roles she took "kept alive the stereotype of the Negro servant in the minds of theatre-goers." Like Stacey, McDaniel did not agree with the racial critique of Hollywood, defended the seemingly indefensible, and was unapologetic about her stance. She was consistently employed as an actress until she died.
"I'm a capitalist. I know how to turn shit into sugar, but I don't do things just for money," Stacey told me. "If I did, I'd have a reality show right now. But I won't do that."
Stacey's fine with Americans disagreeing with her views, but she's sick of her critics portraying her as a wealthy Uncle Tom who has betrayed her people. "[The biggest misunderstanding is] that I don't like black people or that I come from some entitled, rich background," Stacey said. "The things I say do not come from judgment, but from a place of experience."
She hopes to reverse the narrative with a new memoir called There Goes My Social Life: From Clueless to Conservative, published by Regnery Publishing, the conservative imprint behind Sarah Palin's Sweet Freedom and Ann Coulter's Adios, America, the anti-immigration tome that inspired Donald Trump's campaign. The book details how Stacey's childhood—which included drug-addicted parents, child molestation, and a pimp uncle and his hookers—made her a conservative woman.
"What has your family thought of the [political] change?" I asked.
"I don't have a family," Stacey said. "I'm on my own."
Stacey grew up in the South Bronx. "[It was] like any childhood in the South Bronx," she said. "Not easy!" The daughter of a Mexican mother and black father, Stacey was born in 1967, and her parents were just 18. Growing up, she says, her mother abused cocaine while her father slept all day. (He abused heroin.) "They were young, so I have to at least say that," Stacey said. "They were very young."
She didn't have much supervision. Most days, according to Stacey, her parents left her with neighbors so they could party. She writes in her memoir about an incident that took place when she was a toddler. She was left with one neighbor who had a teenage son: The boy lured Stacey into his room with candy. She doesn't remember what happened while she was in there, but she recalls being covered in semen when she left. "These babysitters were not the best people," Stacey said. She said she begged her parents to leave her at another babysitter's house, but they refused.
"My parents didn't..." Stacey stammered, still unable to explain or even understand how that could happen to a child. "I don't know if it's that [my parents] didn't care, or didn't believe me, or just didn't have any other options—but that's what they did. And bad things happened to me with these babysitters."
She credits her survival to attending Catholic mass on Sundays (her confirmation name is Nicoletta) and to her Uncle Ferdinand. He lived in a nice apartment filled with "stacks" of cash and a rotating cast of beautiful women. "[The girls] always took good care of me," Stacey said. "They always looked after me."
They were prostitutes. And Uncle Ferdinand was their pimp. When Uncle Ferdinand was eventually arrested and sent to prison, a 12-year-old Stacey was confused and devastated. Today, she credits him with instilling in her a strong work ethic and influencing her fiscal conservatism. He lectured Stacey about avoiding welfare and working for a living. "Being on welfare in my neighborhood was very frowned upon. You were a lamb to slaughter," Stacey explained. "The guys who did other things to make money, who hustled, made up to $30,000 a day. Who doesn't want to make $30,000 a day?" Uncle Ferdinand died in prison, and she never saw him again.
One would think that would color Stacey's views about hustling differently, but Stacey has a unique way of processing her life experiences. For example, in her book, she writes about being a violent gang member while in middle school in Los Angeles. (She'd relocated there briefly with her mother.) "I had no option," Stacey said. "I was fighting every day. I fought the biggest girl in school, and I beat her ass. They had to take me off of her, and when they took me off her there was blood."
The bloodshed impressed the school's rival gangs: the Bloods and the Crips. Both wanted Stacey. "I had to choose a color, and I chose my color," Stacey said, although she refused to disclose which gang she chose. She saw benefits to gang membership; it helped her with her schoolwork. "That gave me peace. I had backup. I could study and learn without worrying about having a fight everyday."
I feel like, even if you hate me, read my book, please.
"The [recent controversies are] nothing compared to what I had to deal with every day growing up," Stacey said. "I wrote this book because I want people to know I come from a place of experience, not a place of judgment, and that I love my people. I'm Mexican, I'm black, I'm Native American, and I love my people. I want my people to achieve the American dream just like everyone else. And I'm tired of them being bamboozled and lied to by the media, [told] that they have to be a certain way, live a certain way, think a certain way, to exist. That's just not true. I feel like, even if you hate me, read my book, please."
Stacey holds a strange place in American pop culture. As an actress, she's mostly known for Clueless—which was an instant hit when it was released in 1995, and has since developed a cult following—and for being a sex symbol. She's been in Sports Illustrated, on the cover of King, and received tons of love from rappers over the years, getting name-checked in dozens of songs and starring in music videos, most notably Kanye West's "All Falls Down" in 2004. (Her influence on West has apparently been profound, based on his guest spot on Jamie Foxx's 2009 track "Digital Girl," in which he raps, "Your body make a baller spend cooked coke cash / Plus every good girl wanna go bad / In Playboy mags / Like Stacy Dash or Kim Kardash / And be a lady at it.") She hasn't been in a film that's matched her earlier success, but she has never stopped working. There are few years unaccounted for on her IMDb page. And after all that, she's landed at this place of the "professional conservative woman."
It was a conscious decision. Stacey voted for the first time in 2008—for Barack Obama. "Oh my God, a black man for president? I think that's great," Stacey said of her thought process at the time. "That shows that we have come beyond race in our society, that we are moving forward. Things are going to be great, and this man has a chance to unite us in a very profound way and have us walk in the opportunities that the civil rights movement fought for, because we won that."
But once he was in office, she wasn't happy with President Obama—and she wanted everyone to know. Stacey writes that what she had wanted to say was that she felt like she had been "blacked" into voting for him. On October 7, 2012, she impulsively tweeted, "Vote for Romney. The only choice for your future," and then went to sleep. When Stacey woke up, she was headline news.
"I didn't expect anything to happen," Stacey recalled. "I expected me to just have my humble opinion, vote for Romney, the only vote for our future. I didn't think it would turn into, 'Oh, she doesn't like black people. How could she not vote for the black president? She's black.'"
In the midst of all the backlash, she received a letter from a Southern lawyer named Patrick Millsaps, who had worked as Newt Gingrich's chief of staff during his presidential campaign. Millsaps told Stacey to give him a call if she ever wanted to get into politics. So she did. "I asked him to fire my agent and he did. Then I just said that day, 'You're my manager,'" Stacey said. "He googled what a manager was and became my manager."
Walk in the opportunities that the civil rights movement fought for, because we won that.
Millsaps set up a meeting with Roger Ailes, the chairman and CEO of Fox News, and in 2013, the network hired Stacey as a paid contributor. Next up was a book deal and a healthy schedule of conservative speaking engagements. (She has since stopped working with Millsaps. Millsaps and his attorney did not return Broadly's request for comment.)
"I'm grateful God has given me a second chance," Stacey said. "I feel like this is my second chance."
Her second chance has coincided with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Stacey's political and racial commentary has contrasted nearly every stance of the activists' values. According to Jasmyne Cannick, a political and social commentator in Los Angeles, Stacey is a joke to most socially conscious black people.
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"African American women who are on the liberal side are a dime a dozen," Cannick says. "If you want to stand out, be a black conservative [who has] no problem self-hating and hating on your people, and you will be loved by all Fox [News] viewers—she has found a niche." But Cannick doubts that Stacey's views are having any kind influence or impact on conservatives.
"I don't think white folk everywhere are falling over themselves to find out what Stacey Dash thinks about a certain issue," Cannick says. "She helps Fox hit their diversity goal for the year."
Stacey, though, sees her job differently. She says she feels more welcomed as a black woman at Fox News than she did as a black actress at movie studios. She considers her Fox News colleagues Kimberly Guilfoyle and Sean Hannity her close friends. (Hannity wrote the foreword to her book.)
Stacey voted for the first time in 2008.
Stacey's reinvention as an outspoken conservative has affected her personal relationships in show business. Her longtime friend Russell Simmons was initially supportive of her new interest in politics, even though their views are diametrically opposed on almost every issue. He wrote about it in October 2012 for his site Global Grind, in a post titled, "Stacey Dash Isn't Clueless!" shortly after she tweeted about Mitt Romney. He said he "was impressed by the way she held her own. She is smarter than most about the issues and she certainly has the right to have her opinion."
However, this past April, during an interview on The Tomorrow Show, Simmons said, "I've known [Stacey] for some time, and I've been more disappointed in her more and more as her voice has come out." He explained how she would wear fur to his home (PETA once named him Person of the Year) and once called her own daughter a "dyke" in his presence—neither of which he appreciated.
"I've known Russell since I was 20 years old, so I thought I could trust him," Stacey said. "He's said things [publicly] that I've said to him in his house, in private."
Stacey's even madder about what her cousin and Roc-A-Fella Records co-founder Damon Dash has said about her on social media. "My own family has done this, my own family," Stacey said. "I went to see [Damon], to see his daughter, and he put the picture on Instagram and said, 'She's a Republican but we love her.' They're exploiting me." (Broadly was unable to find the offending Instagram.)
More recently, in a January 2016 interview, he said, "Stacey's Stacey. It's annoying." He said that while everyone is entitled to their own opinion, he believes there "has to be a consciousness about how it affects other people." He added, "And I would never say no crazy shit like that."
Stacey's agent dropped her two weeks ago. She said casting directors told him, "I give you credit for pitching her with a straight face."
"Meanwhile, I don't treat anybody else that way," she said. "I don't judge anybody by their politics. I've not auditioned for a single role in a year and a half. My agency just dropped me because of my political beliefs, and they're supposed to be liberals?"
"[This is] just like Trumbo, yes," Stacey said, likening her struggle to Dalton Trumbo, the Academy Award–winning screenwriter—responsible for classics like Roman Holiday and Spartacus—who was blacklisted from the film industry for being a communist.
"That's a very ignorant statement to compare [the public's response] to her to the blacklist," Boyd said, pointing out that, unlike artists on the blacklist, Stacey voluntarily made her political views public.
I want to own a plantation.
She hopes to one day move far away from Hollywood. "I'm a horse girl, so I want to live in the South," she said. "I want to own a plantation. I want to own an old plantation and have beautiful old trees and moss and lots of horses."
Instead of acting, Stacey is betting her future on politics. She's launching Dash America, a new "political brand" that she vaguely describes as having three platforms: 21st-century feminism, gun rights, and unity—the latter of which Stacey defines as "no more race card."
"No more racial divide," Stacey said. "Enough about race. I'm done. I'm so tired of talking about race, as I know the whole country is."
"21st-century feminism [means] you can be feminine, you can be sexy, you can be empowered, you can be a stay-at-home mother and a wife and still be a feminist," Stacey said, reciting third-wave feminist arguments made in the 1990s—which was in the 20th century. "You don't have to wear a pantsuit and dress like a man and be a CEO to be a feminist. You can be a woman who empowers men and be a feminist."
Photo by Chuck Grant
She opposes abortion, but also views women's sexuality as their power. "My grandmother always told me that you are a lady in public, a whore in the bedroom, and a mother the rest of the time, and that's how you keep a man," Stacey said. "I think it's great advice and works." (Stacey is thrice divorced and currently single.)
Throughout her memoir, Stacey writes that she never feels beautiful. On our last phone call, I asked Stacey how she could possible see herself—a known sex symbol—as ugly.
"It's one thing when strangers tell you you're beautiful, and the world tells you you're beautiful. But if your mother never told you you were beautiful, then it's something that doesn't ever penetrate," Stacey said.
"It never..." she began to cry. "I'm sorry. It never really becomes a part of who you are. It seems foreign, so when people say that [I'm beautiful] or I read it, I don't feel it. I know I'm not ugly, don't get me wrong—but there's just something that I know I'm missing."
"It's hard," Stacey said. "I don't feel good unless a man's telling me I'm beautiful. I don't believe him, so then I become insecure, and that's not pretty."
"Are you happy right now?" I asked her, as she cried.
"Am I happy right now?" she paused for a moment before saying, "I am determined right now. I am focused right now. I am like a wolf right now."
Correction: An earlier version of this piece erroneously referred to Jasmyne Cannick as an organizer of Black Lives Matter protests. She is a political and social commentator.
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