Broadway actress Denée Benton compared Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to a Ku Klux Klan leader during Sunday’s Tony Awards.
Benton took the stage during the live broadcast on CBS and Paramount+ to present the Excellence in Theatre Education Award from Carnegie Mellon University. Jason Zembuch Young of South Plantation High School in Plantation, Florida, is the 2023 recipient of the award.
In her remarks, Benton noted that she is not only a CMU alum but also hails from from Florida.
“Earlier tonight, CMU and the Tony Awards presented the 2023 Excellence in Theatre Education Award. And while I am certain that the current Grand Wizard — I’m sorry, excuse me, governor — of my home state of Florida…,” she said, as the audience applauded. “I am sure that he will 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, enhancing the lives at students at South Plantation High School in Plantation, Florida.”
“Grand Wizard” is an apparent reference to the white supremacy group Ku Klux Klan, which previously bestowed that title upon its leader.
DeSantis, who announced his presidential bid last month, has not yet commented publicly on on his social media channels. He’s running on the Republican ticket, where his opponents include former President Donald Trump.
DeSantis, has made many moves since taking office in 2019 that have been met with opposition and controversy from civil rights advocates, including signing the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill. He retaliated against the Walt Disney Co. when the company criticized the bill by eliminating the special tax district around Walt Disney World and seizing control of the district’s governing body.
Benton has appeared in Broadway shows including Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, Hamilton and Into the Woods. She also has TV credits including Lifetime’s Unreal and HBO’s The Gilded Age.
Her comments were made without a writer assist as this year’s Tony Awards ceremony took place amid the ongoing writers strike after organizers struck a deal with the WGA to proceed without a script as a concession to the guild, which promised not to picket the event.