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.
An extended video promoting the US$150 fragrance shows Depp walking amid the red rocks of south-western Utah, stacking rocks to mark his path, as a Native American fancy war dancer Canku One Star, a Rosebud Sioux member, performs on cliff and a young woman, portrayed by Canadian actor of First Nations descent Tanaya Beatty, follows Depp from a distance.
Depp also whips out a guitar and plays a famous riff by Shawnee guitarist Link Wray.
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.”
Dior’s Sauvage line of perfumes is not new – it first launched in the 1960s – but the brand’s continued use of the name alongside Native American imagery has drawn particular criticism. 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.”
“Honestly, I couldn’t help but laugh because this drips with irony – every single aspect of it,” said Dallas Goldtooth, an organiser with the Indigenous Environmental Network, an environmental and economic justice group. “But I’m also upset and angry at the same time.”
The video “romanticised Native Americans as relics from the past”, Goldtooth said. “It’s deplorable that Dior thought this was appropriate.”
In a press release, the French fashion giant noted that the film was created in collaboration with Native American consultants and the advocacy group Americans for Indian Opportunity, with the aim of “moving away from clichés in order to avoid the cultural appropriation and subversion that so often taints images representing Native peoples”.
But Dior’s attempt to work with Native Americans fell short, critics said. “It feels like they tried to do it ‘right’ and involved some great people – but it’s still an ad for a notoriously racist company and a product called ‘Savage’,” wrote Adrienne Keene, a scholar and founder of the blog Native Appropriations.
Depp has previously drawn criticism for his portrayal of Tonto, a Native American character in Disney’s 2013 remake of The Lone Ranger.