Italian Airline Apologizes for Promotional Video Featuring Actor in Blackface Playing Barack Obama

An Alitalia airline plane takes off from Rome's Fiumicino airport on May 31, 2019. (Credit: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images)

An Alitalia airline plane takes off from Rome's Fiumicino airport on May 31, 2019. (Credit: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images)

Italian airline Alitalia has apologized for a promotional video that featured an actor in blackface portraying former US President Barack Obama.

The video was made as part of an advertising campaign for the flag carrier’s new Rome-Washington route, and was posted on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

The airline has removed the video and apologized after receiving complaints.

“Alitalia deeply apologizes for the offense caused by the promotional video on our Washington route,” tweeted Alitalia.

“It has since been removed. For our company, respect for everyone is mandatory, it was never our intention to hurt anyone and we will learn from what has happened.”

Blackface refers to darkening one’s complexion using paint or makeup. In the United States, the racist practice has its roots in 19th century minstrel shows but it also appeared in Europe.

The use of blackface in the video produced a backlash on social media.

“This @Alitalia video showcasing a silent blackfaced “Obama” is reprehensive on so many levels: racism, extreme provincialism, willful ignorance of facts, lack of historic knowledge,” tweeted one user.

“When your social media/ marketing team has no idea about the state of the world today. And the award goes to… @Alitalia,” tweeted another.

The controversy is the latest in a string of race controversies that have landed major brands in hot water.

In February, Italian fashion house Gucci apologized and discontinued a sweater that social media users said resembles blackface because of its design.

That same month, singer Katy Perry’s eponymous fashion brand also pulled two shoe designs after criticism that they featured racist imagery.

And in December 2018, luxury fashion house Prada withdrew products from its Pradamalia line after images surfaced of some merchandise depicting monkey-like figures with black faces and large red lips.

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