[guest post by Dana]
Taking a break from the dumb world of politics, let’s look at the dumb world of social justice. Specifically, the new, cringe-inducing Christian Dior ad for the men’s fragrance, Sauvage, starring Johnny Depp:
As you can imagine, the ad was attacked for cultural appropriation: Dior pulled the from YouTube within six hours of it being uploaded.
Dior is facing backlash for promoting its perfume line Sauvage with an advertisement featuring Native American imagery.
The fashion brand teased the ad, which stars actor Johnny Depp, on Twitter on Friday as “an authentic journey deep into the Native American soul in a sacred, founding and secular territory”. It has since deleted the tweet and all references to the campaign on social media.
Scholars and critics have responded that the campaign is racist and a clear cut case of appropriation.
“It is so deeply offensive and racist,” said Crystal Echo Hawk, CEO of the media watchdog group IllumiNative. “I don’t know how anyone in 2019 can think a campaign like this can go down well.”
The French name of the fragrance line translates to “wild” or “savage” in English.
“These types of tropes, these types of narratives about Native people as savages they do real harm,” Echo Hawk said. “And fuel racism.”
And more criticism:
“Honestly, I couldn’t help but laugh because this drips with irony – every single aspect of it,” said Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, an environmental and economic justice group. “But I’m also upset and angry at the same time.”
The video “romanticized Native Americans as relics from the past”, Goldtooth said. “It’s deplorable that Dior thought this was appropriate.”
“It has huge connotations. ‘Sauvage’ was to say we were dirty, uncivilized, that we had no culture. So this is not good at all. This is a racial slur for any Indigenous French-speaking person,” said Melissa Mollen-Dupuis, the co-founder of Idle No More’s branch in Quebec.
“It’s as if they used the N-word to promote a perfume.”
But here’s the thing: Dior worked in collaboration with Native Americans on the project as well as having Native American fancy war dancer Canku One Star, a Rosebud Sioux, and Canadian actor Tanaya Beatty, descended from the Da’Naxda’xw Nation in British Columbia, appear in the ad. One can reasonably assume they were not forced to be in the ad, and that they were compensated at a fair rate of pay per the terms of their contracts. Also noted: Depp gives a nod to Shawnee guitarist Link Wray as he riffs on Wray’s well-known Rumble.
In Dior’s press notes, and in an accompanying behind-the-scenes video, the company pointed out that Depp and director Jean-Baptiste Mondino collaborated with Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO), an advocacy group for Native American people, “in order to respect indigenous cultures, values and heritage.”
Adrienne Keene, [an assistant professor at Brown University, who writes the “Native Appropriations” blog and is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation], points out that AIO was founded by LaDonna Harris, who, Keene wrote, “has worked tirelessly for Native folks throughout her career, and done incredible work.” Keene also notes that Harris courted controversy among Native Americans in 2012 by adopting Depp into her family, giving him a Comanche name, “Mah-Woo-Meh,” or “shape shifter.”
In reading about this kerfuffle, I noticed that a number of outlets neglected to mention that LaDonna Harris’s daughter, who is also AIO’s executive director, Laura Harris, said: “the [‘Sauvage’] name is the name, and we knew it would be controversial.”
Eyes wide open.
I know Indians who are offended by the ad because of the cultural appropriation. I’m not offended by it other than on an aesthetic level because it is some seriously over-the-top-cringe-inducing awfulness, primarily because of Johnny Depp. If the Dior people had been smart about this, they would have scratched everything – especially Depp – and simply presented the gorgeous Canku One Star dancing on the red cliffs. Now that would be a breathtaking ad.
(Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.)