Mardi Gras public safety

Endymion secures parade route, adds and then drops Mel Gibson as grand marshal

Endymion always draws large crowds to Mid-City. (Mid-City Messenger file photo_

The past weekend was eventful for the superkrewe of Endymion, the sole remaining krewe to parade on the traditional Mid-City route.

On Friday (Jan. 6), Mayor LaToya Cantrell singled out the 3,200-member krewe during the city’s annual Kings Day press conference, giving full assurance that its Feb. 18 parade will roll on the full route.

The mayor’s statement put an end to fears that the city’s police officer shortage could force the parade to start at North Carrollton and Orleans Avenue, skipping the eight blocks along Orleans.

Then, on Saturday evening, the Endymion leadership set off a social media firestorm with an announcement of actor and director Mel Gibson as the co-grand marshal.

Gibson, known for his action roles the “Mad Max” and “Lethal Weapon” series, led the 1995 “Braveheart” to the two top Oscars. His film career, however, crashed and burned after a series of controversies, including domestic violence and drunken driving charges.

It was his well-publicized antisemitic remarks, as well racist and homophobic statements, that set off the firestorm.

Public safety concerns

On Sunday, the krewe withdrew its invitation to Gibson, citing public safety concerns. The krewe released this statement from Endymion official Dan Kelly:

“The Krewe of Endymion has received significant feedback about our grand marshall [sic] announcement yesterday evening. Some of this commentary included threats that cause us great concern.

In the best interest of the safety of our riders, special guests and everyone that welcomes us on the streets, Mel Gibson will not ride as a Co-Grand Marshal for our 2023 parade.

We appreciate the cooperation of the city in addressing the issues that will allow us to present another wonderful parade this year along our entire route. We will move forward with our final preparations in the coming weeks for the largest procession in Carnival.”

Public safety is an issue for the superkrewe, known for its massive floats. Its 2020 parade quickly ended after a spectator was killed while stuck between the sections of a moving tandem float.

The floats are halted after officials cancel the remainder of the Endymion parade. (Camille Barnett)

The tragedy followed the 2019 deaths of two bicyclists who were struck by a drunken driver while leaving the parade route. An impaired driver two years earlier injured dozens of people when he careened into a crowd of revelers.

Endymion grand marshals

After the krewe’s announcement on Sunday, the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, the Greater New Orleans Clergy Council and the Jewish Community Relations Council issued a statement applauding Endymion for its quick reversal while expressing their dismay that Gibson was chosen in the first place. The release said, in part:

“Mel Gibson has a long history of making antisemitic, racist and misogynistic slurs. While the actor has made half-hearted attempts to apologize for his remarks over the years, there is still a great deal of pain associated with his name and deep wounds in the Jewish community from those controversies, which may never heal. Given his history of fueling antisemitism and other forms of hate, we find his choice as Grand Marshal of Endymion was completely insulting and shortsighted.” 

Endymion did not say whether Gibson will be replaced. Its other 2023 grand marshal, Tulane University football coach Willie Fritz, is widely acclaimed after leading the Green Wave to a 2022 conference championship and a Cotton Bowl win. About 40% of Tulane’s undergraduate population is Jewish, according to Himmel International.

Musician Jon Batiste reigns as a co-grand marshal in the 2018 Endymion parade. (Zach Brien, Mid-City Messenger file photo)

Endymion typically features from one to five celebrity grand marshals. In 2019, the parade was led by musicians Flo-Rida, Lionel Richie the entire band Chicago. In 2022, there was one: New Orleanian Raymond Arroyo, news director for the Eternal Word Television Network and a Fox News contributor.

The krewe also publicly rescinded a grand marshal invitation in 1991. Amid Operation Desert Storm that year, it removed actor Woody Harrelson from the role over his anti-war activities.

The 1991 news release from Endymion stated: ″While recognizing that Mr. Harrelson, like every American, has the right of opinion and expression, the board of Endymion reminds all that New Orleans Mardi Gras is non-political.″

The Jewish Federation’s news release on Sunday also commented on the nature of Carnival in New Orleans:

″While Carnival has had its own complex history with antisemitism and racism, Jews and other marginalized communities have been part of New Orleans Mardi Gras since the beginning. Today, our communities are fully engaged in this cultural institution, including dozens within the Jewish community who ride in the Endymion Krewe. Mardi Gras is a celebration of the spirit of New Orleans, which includes all her citizens and residents and honors our diversity and our rich history. Endymion choosing a Grand Marshal with a strong record of hatred sent the wrong message about the event.″

The theme of Endymion’s 2023 parade is “Endymion Salutes the Poets.”

The 2020 Endymion parade begins. (Camille Barnett, Mid-City Messenger file photo)

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