Actress Denée Benton directly compared Republican Florida Governor and 2024 presidential candidate Ron DeSantis to the “Grand Wizard” of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in a speech delivered Sunday night at the 2023 Tony Awards show.
Benton made reference to “the current Grand Wizard — I’m sorry, excuse me — governor of my home state of Florida” at the Tony Awards, an annual ceremony for Broadway plays and musicals. Her equation of the conservative governor to the national leader of the KKK received applause from the New York City audience.
“While I’m sure the current Grand Wizard — I’m sorry, excuse me — governor of my home state of Florida will be changing the name of this following town immediately, we were honored to present this award to the truly incredible and life-changing Jason Zembuch Young … at South Plantation High School in Plantation, Florida,” Benton said.
Benton has appeared in the Broadway production of “Hamilton” and several other lesser-known stage and screen productions, according to her IMBD profile. She has appeared in profiles from The New York Times and Vanity Fair, and directs her fans to “liberation resources” in her Instagram bio.
The black tie awards show sold tickets for $430 and above, according to the Madison Square Garden website. A different online vendor offered to sell balcony tickets and an exclusive VIP afterparty experience for about $2,000 each. Attendees included some of Hollywood’s biggest names, as well as transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney, according to People Magazine.
Benton’s comments come after a slew of legislative victories for the conservative governor, including laws designed to remove left-wing ideologies from grade school curricula. DeSantis has taken particular issue with Critical Race Theory’s inclusion in Florida public schools, leading to blowback from left-wing groups and individuals like Benton asserting the ideology’s exclusion from schools is equivalent to racism. The particular award Benton presented and referenced in her remarks had no explicit relation to politics or activism, according to Variety.
DeSantis also has made headlines for his very public spat with Disney, which had opposed his legislative agenda while enjoying unique tax privileges. DeSantis is widely considered one of two frontrunners for the 2024 Republican nomination for president along with Donald Trump.
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