For the past two years, Azealia Banks has insisted that Russell Crowe manhandled her at a party, spitting on her, choking her, and calling her the N-word. Now, Banks is betting that the world has evolved past the point of dismissing a controversial black woman’s account in favor of the powerful white man who allegedly assaulted her.
In 2016, Azealia Banks went to a party in Russell Crowe’s hotel suite. Banks arrived at the party as RZA’s guest; she was the star of Love Beats Rhymes, which the Wu-Tang founding member directed. But by the time she left the suite, to hear Banks tell it, she was utterly humiliated. In the weeks and years to come, she would have to reckon not only with the aftermath of that night’s events, but the knowledge that no one in the room, her former collaborator included, publicly corroborated her story.
After the event, Banks shared her harrowing experience on social media, posting, “To recap my night, I went to a part [sic] at Russell crowes suite, at which he called me a n****r, choked me, threw me out and spat at me. Last night was one of the hardest nights of sleep I’ve had in a long time. The men in the room allowed it to happen.”
TMZ quickly stepped in, citing “multiple witnesses” to shape a narrative that was far more favorable to the successful, white actor in question. “According to eyewitness accounts the trouble started when Azealia laughed out loud at Russell’s music selection, and then called him and at least one other guest, ‘boring white men.’ We’re told a female guest jumped to Russell’s defense and suggested Banks pipe down.” The article continued, “Instead, we’re told she made an insane speech/threat to Crowe and the woman ...‘You would love it if I broke my glass, stabbed you guys in the throat, and blood would squirt everywhere like some real Tarantino s***.’
Then for good measure, witnesses say she dropped a few N-bombs ... yet Crowe remained surprisingly calm.
“We’re told Azealia reached for her glass, cocked it back ... and that’s when Russell had enough,” TMZ concluded. “He grabbed her in a bear hug and carried her out of the suite. He then called hotel security guards who removed Azealia from the grounds.” The comedian Jim Jefferies corroborated this account, tweeting a link to the article and writing, “This is 100 percent the truth. I was there, she was out of control. Russell did absolutely nothing wrong.”
In a separate post, TMZ reported that Banks had filed a battery report with the Beverly Hills PD after demanding, and failing to receive, an apology from Russell Crowe.
RZA himself went on TMZ Live to shore up Crowe’s story, swearing that Azealia was “out of control and violent,” and that Crowe didn’t choke Banks or use the aforementioned slur. While RZA admitted that the actor spat at Azealia—the sort of thing you would probably chastise a friend for doing to a personal guest of yours—he placed all of the blame on Banks. RZA’s full statement, which Jezebel correctly categorized at the time as “rather paternalistic and condescending,” didn’t dwell on Crowe’s literal manhandling, reducing the altercation to “Russell blocked the attack and expelled her from the suite.” Instead, RZA focused on Banks’ “loud and obnoxious behavior,” lecturing, “I have a wife, daughters, sisters and females on my staff so I protect women everyday. I pray none of them ever behave the way I witnessed Azealia Banks behaved that night.”
Banks predictably took issue with RZA’s account and volleyed back on her social media, writing, “RZA has clearly been given no legal advice and went straight to TMZ out of his feelings to try and gaslight me.” She continued, “You mean to tell me, that a 300b man needed to use ALL OF THAT FORCE, to remove an ‘erratic’ guest from a party? My uber records/hotel surveillance shows me arriving to the party at 9:45pm, the incident occurred around 2:45am, I were supposedly erratic, how did I possibly end up spending THAT MUCH time at your party?”
In December 2016, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office dropped Banks’ case, having reportedly spoken to several witnesses whose accounts lined up with TMZ’s original claims. In other words, Russell Crowe’s invitees backed up the Crowe-friendly version of events. There were reportedly no security cameras in the area where the altercation took place.
During a much-discussed Breakfast Club interview in 2017, RZA reiterated that Crowe did in fact spit on Banks—and then seemingly tried to excuse his friend’s actions by virtue of the fact that Crowe apologized to him. To RZA, that is. It seems that Banks never got her apology, privately or publicly. Banks quickly responded to RZA’s latest comments on the incident, writing, “Nobody understands how badly I wanted to die the moment rza LIED and told the world I deserved to be spat [at]…People laughed at me and said I lied.”
While Banks’ accusations were made in a pre-Me Too era—one in which tales of bad men were circulated as petty gossip, rarely taken seriously by reputable media outlets or Hollywood executives—that’s not the only reason why her story was basically written off. More likely Banks, as a black woman in a room full of men, claiming to have been assaulted by the most famous one, had neither the entertainment industry power to make her voice heard, nor the reputation necessary to be seen as a credible victim. The Me Too movement, for all its strides, has also served as a reminder of which women’s stories are prioritized. Banks, who has a history of delivering insightful and damning commentaries on race in the industry, has pointed out this double standard herself. In March, she posted, “All Kanye did was say excuse me then take Taylor’s mic (which she handed him) and they damn near cancelled him. Crowe choked me, spat on me, called me a ni**er and is still being booked for work. It’s insane that he really got away with that. I’m really not over it.”
Crowe, who has a history of violent outbursts, was recently tapped to play Roger Ailes in an upcoming Showtime drama.
It’s extremely relevant that Azealia Banks was ostracized and called out long before the latest round of artist cancellations. Her missteps ranged from physical confrontations to online beefs with fellow artists, and she has used racist and homophobic language in her attacks. Whether or not you want to support Banks financially in light of her past actions is a personal decision, but the collective effort to overlook her recounted experience with Crowe is inexcusable.
To hear Banks tell it, calling out the actor had wide-ranging effects on her mental health and her career. “Everyone in the room that night lied on his behalf,” Banks insisted again in March. “People at lionsgate wouldn’t even speak to me after this happened. They essentially took rza’s side and I really suffered with the original premiere of love Beats Rhymes and the soundtrack being cancelled because of this. No one has ever apologized to me for any of this. When this happened NO ONE called to ask if I was okay.... these last two years have really been hard for me. I’m getting better now and I hope I get the chance to do another movie and have a real premiere with a red carpet and paparazzi/media such .... I was really looking forward to that.”
On Sunday, Banks unofficially reopened her case, setting up a crowdsourcing page to fund a lawsuit against Crowe. On the GoFundMe, Banks reiterated her story: “Russell Crowe spit on me at a party in 2016 and denied it, had a group of people gaslight me causing irreparable damage to my acting career and my reputation as well as loads of emotional damage.”
“This isn’t about a big pay day for me,” Banks continued, pledging to donate any lawsuit earnings. “It’s about letting the world know that black women are victims to the same sort of disgusting violence men in Hollywood deal out to women and it’s important to send a message that black women also deserve justice and will get justice in these situations. Crowe called me a n****r, choked me, and spat on me... if I were a white singer he wouldn’t have even thought about laying a finger on me.”