Outrage over Mummers hurts Manayunk parade

Members of Finnegan NYB offended members of the LGBT community with their performance centered around Bruce Jenner’s transition to Caitlyn.

Donations and sponsorships have slumped for next month's small, family-friendly Mummers Parade in Manayunk, and organizers fear they know why:

The caricatures and put-downs of African Americans, Mexicans, gays, and transsexuals that marred the big New Year's Day parade on Broad Street.

"The people we're reaching out to are not saying yes," said Jane Lipton, executive director of the Manayunk Development Corp. "They're saying no in the most polite way."

The second-year parade expected a boost in corporate interest, having proved itself, but has been unable to land a lead sponsor, Lipton and others said. The $1,000 and $2,000 donations that came in last year, she added, have either dropped off or dried up.

Lipton and other organizers insisted that the Mummers Mardi Gras Parade will go on, whatever the funding, with all 17 string bands set to traverse the one-mile Main Street shopping-and-dining strip at 11 a.m. Feb. 20.

But the situation shows how the controversy surrounding the 2016 Mummers Parade has impact beyond the sour international headlines and online outrage the event generated.

The New Year's parade saw Mummers in sombreros and brownface, some dressed as tacos. Signs proclaimed, "Wench Lives Matter," a parody of the "Black Lives Matter" movement. The face of transsexual celebrity Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce Jenner, was superimposed on a box of "Froot Loops."

Mayor Kenney called some of the behavior hurtful and unfunny, and tasked the Human Relations Commission and his administration's top LGBT aide with bringing major changes to the city-backed spectacle.

On Wednesday, Kenney spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said the administration was continuing to work with the Mummers to ensure that next year's parade "does not include the offensive displays we saw from individuals and a brigade this year - and instead embraces acceptance and inclusion across the board."

She declined to address the circumstances facing the Manayunk parade.

Joe DeCandido, president of ADVENT Consulting, which as event promoter is in charge of raising money for the Manayunk event, said no one openly cited the New Year's parade troubles as a reason for not giving.

But, "I'd be naive to think otherwise," he said.

DeCandido said he's typically had good, productive conversations with potential sponsors - only to have them call back and say they're not interested.

"I was there that [New Year's] day, I witnessed it," he said. "It's something that a few people did, and took it a little too far, and ruined this general appeal of Mummers for certain corporations."

And that hurts - personally, he said, because he loves the Mummers and their tradition. He has Mummers as friends and neighbors. Helping produce the parade has been more than a job.

Last year 5,000 people came to Main Street to see the pageantry, and the event provided about $20,000 for the string bands, money that helps enable them to continue to perform.

"We want people to think of the Mummers year round," DeCandido said, "and give them the positive light they deserve."

Right now, he said, parade funding is running $15,000 to $20,000 short.

Lipton likewise adores the Mummers, having first watched parades as a girl in the 1960s. Her musician grandfather would re-create their sound for her.

The incidents on New Year's Day were distressing and upsetting, she said.

"If I was an African American person in the city, and I saw 'Wench Lives Matter,' a play on something that's so important in our country right now, it would stab me," she said. "It's not the Philadelphia I live in, not the Philadelphia that I know and love. . . . As my mother or father would have said, 'You should know better than that.' "

Kenney, a former Mummer, was quick to condemn the behavior.

"You can't pick on trans people, you can't pick on gay people, you can't pick on immigrants," he said after the parade. "It's not funny. It's not satire. Satire is something that's funny, not hurtful."

To try to change perceptions of the Mummers as predominantly white, city officials kicked off the parade with two Latino groups, an African American drill team, and an LGBT contingent. They marched in a new Philadelphia Division aimed at injecting cultural and ethnic diversity.

That buzz was overshadowed by a video posted on social media that showed a drunken Mummer shouting gay slurs while marching down Broad Street.

Tom Loomis, president of the Mummers String Band Association, said on Wednesday that all Mummers had been tainted by the actions of a few.

"There was an ill-advised skit by a brigade that was in poor taste, and the comments uttered by one member, that have stigmatized us all," he said. "Our division works extremely hard to put on a family-friendly show. For us to be stigmatized is really a tragedy."

The Manayunk parade marks the only event, aside from New Year's Day, where all 17 bands perform. The parade enforces a strict ban on public drinking.

Lipton said she hopes an angel donor emerges, but at this point "people are just not saying yes."

"We did so well so quickly last year," she said. "This year, we felt it was going to be a slam dunk."

jgammage@phillynews.com

215-854-4906@JeffGammage