"Big Brother" contestant Aaryn Gries, whose racial and homophobic slurs have sparked a firestorm — and high ratings — for the CBS reality show, has at least one ally — her mother.
Just days after Gries was evicted from the "Big Brother" house, Elizabeth Owens is speaking out in a statement to The Times, chastising her daughter but declaring that the remarks are not reflective of Gries' upbringing or her true character.
"While I love and continue to support my daughter Aaryn, words cannot describe my disappointment in some of her comments made on 'Big Brother,'" Owens wrote. "These inappropriate comments certainly do not represent the value system under which her father and I have raised her. Aaryn is a young 22-year-old college student that has spent 70 days living in a fish bowl and making mistakes for America to see."
Owens lashed out at the show's producers and host Julie Chen, saying that "Big Brother" has highlighted Gries' missteps in a blatant attempt to boost ratings. The series, in which several contestants are isolated without contact with the outside world, has been one of CBS' highest-rated summer performers.
Gries was kicked out of the "Big Brother" house Thursday during the live weekly episode in which houseguests vote off a contestant. She has been fired from her job at a modeling agency as a result of her remarks but is not aware of the fallout because she remains isolated as part of a jury of ousted contestants who will determine the winner on the season finale Sept. 18.
Many of Gries' remarks came in the early weeks of the contest and were shown on a 24-hour live Web stream.
Referring to African American houseguest Candice Stewart, Gries said, "Be careful what you say in the dark, might not get to see the bitch." In one episode, she flipped over Stewart's mattress and mocked her while adopting a stereotypical black accent.
At another point, Gries said of an Asian American contestant, "Shut up, go make some rice," and used a homophobic term to describe another houseguest.
The slurs by Gries and another houseguest, GinaMarie Zimmerman (who is still in the house), have ignited a charged controversy around the show, which is in its 15th season.
Chen, who is Asian American, said the comments were "extremely hurtful," calling Gries "ignorant, young and immature." CBS Corp. Chief Executive Leslie Moonves, who is married to Chen, called the remarks "absolutely appalling."
In the wake of the furor in July over the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, CBS distanced itself from the racially charged comments on the show, taking the unusual step of airing disclaimers before several episodes.
During a tense interview with Chen following her eviction, Gries was alternately defensive ("I have said some things that have been taken completely out of context") and remorseful ("I feel horrible").
In her statement to The Times, Owens wrote that she wanted "Americans to see the young woman that I know; Aaryn is kind, loving and generous, though certainly not perfect and without fault in this incidence."
Gries attended her senior prom with an African American man, "one of her closest friends through high school," Owens wrote.
"Aaryn's first true love was Cuban American, and she has cousins of Japanese descent who she truly loves," she added. "She has never discriminated against anyone for their sexual orientation whether within our family or not. Aaryn truly loves all people equally."
She added that Gries, who is from San Angelo, Texas, recently sponsored a little girl in the Philippines through the Save the Children program.
Owens accused "Big Brother" of exploiting Gries' controversial behavior while downplaying her subsequent apologies.
"It appears that it was beneficial for 'Big Brother' to focus on the negative comments made by Aaryn to boost ratings," she wrote. "Again, I DO NOT condone those inappropriate comments, but I — and I am sure the entire 'Big Brother' audience — would have appreciated the show's producers also airing her complete statement acknowledging the mistakes she made and more of her apologies to the Houseguests while still 'in the house.'"
Owens also took exception to Chen's statements about Gries: "I am disappointed that a woman of Julie Chen's stature would choose to attack Aaryn and influence America to judge the fallacies she [Chen] seems to have about Aaryn."
A CBS representative responded to Owens' criticism in a statement: "We believe the show has handled a very difficult situation appropriately, and that Aaryn's comments on the live 24/7 Internet feed and on the broadcast speak for themselves."
Owens wrote that she is confident Gries will "continue to own her mistakes and apologize emphatically to the people she has hurt. I am also confident that Aaryn will learn from any mistakes she has made and use this experience to grow and heal."
Owens, who did not disclose details about herself, her occupation or her family in the statement, apologized "on behalf of our entire family" to those offended by her daughter's remarks, including Chen, houseguests and their families.
She expressed hope that her daughter would eventually speak out about her "Big Brother" experience "and potentially use it to bring light and change to the important subject of racism."
She concluded, "It is my hope and prayer that those who have been hurt can find it in their hearts to forgive Aaryn."