Dior’s latest ad campaign featuring Johnny Depp is receiving backlash for its use of Native American imagery.
The iconic French fashion house debuted the latest film for its men’s fragrance “Sauvage.” Directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino, a rugged Depp explores Canyonlands National Park where he discovers an electric guitar and begins to play “Rumble,” written by Shawnee musician Link Wray. The camera frequently cuts from Depp to show Canku One Star, an actor and member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, performing a Fancy War dance wearing traditional regalia and Tanaya Beatty, a Canadian actress of Da’Naxda’xw Nation descent.
Mondino and Depp collaborated with academic activist Ron Martinez “Looking Elk” to ensure the film captivated “a multi-faceted Native American ‘soul,’ seen in all its diversity and modernity.”
Dior’s commitment to authenticity included commissioning a Ute tribe medicine man performing a traditional blessing before filming, as well as a donation to the Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO).
Despite these measures, a preview of the film has sparked criticism online. When translated from French to English “sauvage” can mean a myriad of things; wild, untamed and savage. The use of Native American imagery and symbols for a product that shares its name with a racial slur against Indigenous people.
“How can you not understand how racist this is?” an upset user tweeted to Dior. Another added, “Being racist in French does not make it classier.”
Others called for the brand to remove the video and have accused Dior of using consumer outrage as a marketing tool to promote its product.
“It infuriates me to watch my culture be belittled into a shameless marketing tactic,” one offended user wrote to the company. “How about instead of using us to sell your product, you apologize by helping the impoverished nations in reservations instead of marketing us as ‘sauvages.’”
Although there has been concern regarding the creative strategy behind the film, Dior’s latest campaign was created with the help of members of the AIO to ensure the film showed respect for Native American elements and symbols, and to promote “authentic inclusion.”
“This collaboration, which started at the very beginning of the project, led to a work process that was extremely demanding and specific,” a press release for the film read. “On-going communication about the project, and then on the film set, had a shared aim: moving away from clichés in order to avoid the cultural appropriation and subversion that so often taints images representing Native peoples.”
Yahoo Canada reached out to Dior regarding the negative reception of the campaign’s first images and received the following statement:
The Parfums Christian Dior project is a part of AIO’s Advance Indigeneity Campaign to change the misperceptions about Native Americans, to share accurate American history, to build awareness about Native Americans as contemporary peoples and to promote Indigenous worldviews.
AIO supports Native American art, films, books, and other forms of Indigenous pop culture. Through the Advance Indigeneity Campaign, AIO continues to work at an international level with schools and universities to build innovative curriculum for and by Native peoples.
We are very proud of this collaboration with AIO on the new ad campaign for Sauvage.
Depp shares a special relationship with the AIO. In 2012, president LaDonna Harris adopted the actor as an honorary citizen of the Comanche Nation. Depp worked closely with Harris and her daughter, AIO executive director Laura, to ensure the project maintained its sense of integrity.
“There was a need for authenticity and respect for the land and the nations that allowed us to shoot there,” Depp said in a statement. “From the choice of location, wardrobe making, right down to casting and set design, AIO was involved.”
The AIO stands by the project and is hopeful that it will build awareness for Native American as contemporary peoples and Indigenous world views.
“We have something to offer. Our values and philosophies provide an alternative to EuroAmerican systems, another way [to] address challenges and create opportunities,” Harris said. “But, people have to be able to hear us.”
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