Forever 21 has been branded “tone deaf” for using a white model to promote a line of clothing tied to Black Panther, the Marvel movie set in a technologically advanced East African nation.
The promotional photos feature a blond, caucasian model wearing a sweater with the phrase ‘Wakanda Forever’ across the chest. The slogan is the rallying cry of Wakanda, the fictional African nation depicted in Black Panther.
Social media users lambasted the fast-fashion retailer, with some taking offense over the choice of model and many believing a black model would have been a better fit for the fiction. Others claimed the retailer had missed a golden opportunity to represent people of colour and support black models.
Issuing an apology that says “we celebrate all superheroes with many different models of various ethnicities”, Forever 21 has now pulled the listing and deleted social media posts featuring the promo image.
Black Panther, which made more than $1bn at the box office this year, has been celebrated and widely held as a positive step towards a better portrayal of African and African-American culture in Hollywood. The movie’s predominantly black cast, led by Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o and Angela Bassett, was praised and well received by fans around the world, particularly in the US where black and minority audiences were the driving force behind its success.
African-Americans on average represent about 15 per cent of the audience during a movie’s US cinema run, but Black Panther drew almost three times as many. Nearly 40 percent of viewers were African-American, while just 35 per cent were white cinemagoers.