A recent ad campaign by Italy’s flagship airline, promoting Alitalia’s newest route to Washington DC, included actors dressed as US presidents such as Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Donald Trump, but the company’s portrayal of Obama sparked accusations of racism, and that the actor chosen for the role was made up in “blackface.”
Now Alitalia faces charges of racism after running an ad featuring a non-black actor made up to resemble former US President Barack Obama. The company has pulled the so-called ‘blackface’ ad and apologized.
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The airline was assailed by critics on social media.
“Blackface is racist because it has disparaging origins,” one person said on Twitter. “It doesn’t matter if Alitalia’s intention wasn’t to make fun of black people, it’s the practice itself that’s racist no matter what you use.”
“Alitalia has always been racist,” commented the another.
The airline first responded to the criticism by denying the charge, arguing the actor was not white and that they had only used makeup to alter his facial features, not his skin color. But after complaints continued to pour in on social media, Alitalia decided to pull the ad, issuing an apology and vowing to “learn from what has happened.”
“Alitalia deeply apologizes for the offence caused by the promotional video on our new Washington route,” the airline said in a statement on Twitter. “It has since been removed from all of our social media channels. It was never our intention to hurt anyone.”
Not everybody was up in arms, however. Some on social media defended the airline and urged the critics to relax.
“People need to chill out,” one user wrote on Twitter. “Too sensitive, it’s blocking out creativity… I do not find this offensive but the humor in it.”
“I don’t agree with this,” said another one. “Obama is biracial with a brown skin and I like to think anyone with such skin tone is good enough to portray the president.”