Last summer, Brad Breakell painted his face black and posed inside a cardboard cutout of a shark’s head to film an ad for his Boise restaurant, PizzalChik. He was accused of donning “blackface,” took the video down and apologized.
In January, Breakell posted a video to PizzalChik’s Facebook page to promote a Mexican-style menu. This weekend, PizzalChik’s Facebook, Yelp and Google Reviews blew up again with accusations of racism, and Breakell again removed a video.
Breakell said he has no idea why the weeks-old video suddenly became the center of reinvigorated controversy. He said the blowback began Saturday night. By Sunday, PizzalChik’s Facebook posts were inundated with angry comments. By Monday, there were more than a dozen one-star reviews of the restaurant on Yelp, each referencing the Facebook post.
The video has also been reposted by Boiseans like Magy Chavez, who are calling for accountability.
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“I’m not trying to make him lose business, I just want (other people) to be able to make informed decisions about where they’re spending their money,” Chavez said.
Chavez’s post, which includes a copy of the video, had been viewed more than 5,000 times as of Monday afternoon.
In the video, Breakell plays the part of “Billy Burrito,” dressed in a sombrero and poncho. He dons sunglasses, drawn-on eyebrows and mustache, and appears to have darkened his face with brown makeup. Speaking in an exaggerated Spanish accent, Breakell runs through the menu before giving a “shoutout to Magy” from Lenny the landscaper, another of Breakell’s characters that has drawn accusations of racist stereotyping.
“If you look at my body of videos, there’s nothing offensive,” said Breakell on Monday. “If I was going to make fun of Mexicans, would I call myself Billy Burrito? Billy’s not a Mexican name.”
Chavez disagrees. She was one of the Facebook users who raised questions about the shark video last summer. She said she wouldn’t hesitate to hold Breakell accountable in the future if he posts more videos that she feels veer into the territory of casual racism. And she was “pretty shocked” that he would mention her by name in a video.
“He needs to understand that cultural insensitivity will not be tolerated, and painting his face to sell a product at the expense of others is not acceptable,” Chavez said. “I think holding people accountable for their actions is important.”
She called the restaurant owner’s 2017 apology video “a little half-hearted.”
For his part, the Canadian immigrant said the costumes and accents are similar to the comments he hears about his own nationality. Breakell said it’s difficult to know what people will find offensive, emphasizing that the characters in his ads are just that — characters.
“Are all actors racist? Where do you draw the line?” he said. “I created a character, and I acted a part. It’s not racism. It’s not.”
Breakell and Chavez said they feel “harassed” by the other’s actions, but the Boiseans also said they don’t harbor ill will toward each other. Chavez said she’d be willing to sit down and talk with Breakell the next time he wants to make a video.
“If you don’t like the humor I put out there, you have the option of turning off the video,” Breakell said. “I’d like to see this thing just die out.”