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A Forever 21 ad for a Black Panther-themed Christmas sweater is receiving much backlash for featuring a white model.
While the original photo is no longer available on the company’s website or Twitter, screenshots show a white, so-blonde-his-hair-is-white model rocking the purple, yellow, and orange-colored Christmas sweater, which reads “Wakanda Forever” in the middle, underneath the face of a panther.
For the product of a film that’s about rising against Western colonization—and lauded for its representation of Black people—to be marketed by a white model, was upsetting to many.
Wow Forever 21 is tone deaf af. Colonizers aren't praised in Wakanda. Try again.— Iyesha Riley (@Iyeshalovette) December 18, 2018
Hey @Forever21, In What Universe Did You Think It Was Ok To Feature A White Model In Wakanda Gear? Granted, Chances Are You Knew It Wasn't Ok, But Still. As A Former #21Men Brand Specialist For The Company, I'm Highly Offended.— Mark-Paul (@WhoIsMarkPaul) December 18, 2018
Some didn’t agree with the backlash, though.
Y’all made Forever21 delete it? Wakanda isn’t a real place https://t.co/pzcfAezkya— MK (@SuperFlyMK) December 18, 2018
Real or not, Wakanda definitely harbors a sentimental value for many, with its depiction of Africa in a powerful light and representing the strength and power of the Black community. Additionally, with Black models in fashion pushed to the backstage or underrepresented, the ad adds insult to the injury by having to see a white model promote a symbol of Black power.
In a statement to the Daily Dot, Forever 21 apologized, writing: “Forever 21 takes concerns on our products and marketing extremely seriously. While we celebrate all superheroes with many different models of various ethnicities, we listened to the important feedback from our customers and removed the product photo in question from our website and social media accounts. We sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by the product photo.”
As of Wednesday morning, the product on its page only showed the sweater, without a model.
Updated with comment from Forever 21.
Samira Sadeque is a New York-based journalist reporting on immigration, sexual violence, and mental health, and will sometimes write about memes and dinosaurs too. Her work also appears in Reuters, NPR, and NBC among other publications. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School, and her work has been nominated for SAJA awards. Follow: @Samideque