Italy’s national airline Alitalia has been forced to pull a promotional video amid claims of racism after it featured an actor blacked-up to look like former US president, Barack Obama.
The ad was designed to promote Alitalia’s new route between Rome and Washington and featured four actors playing US presidents Donald Trump, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Obama.
The airline initially defended the spot against claims of “blackface”, saying the actor who played Obama wasn’t white but was of Tunisian descent. Blackface has a long association with the caricature and mockery of black Americans.
But after a savage pummelling on social media, the airline announced that it was withdrawing the advertisement.
In a statement, an Alitalia spokesperson said: “Alitalia deeply apologises for the offence caused by the promotional video on our new Washington route. It has since been removed from all of our social media channels. It was never our intention to hurt anyone and we will learn from what has happened.”
However, social media was less forgiving. “How could you have been so stupid? Which genius is your communications director? I’m really speechless. This is 2019 and you are still peddling these stereotypes,” wrote one.
While another added: “When your social media/marketing team has no idea about the state of the world today. And the award goes to… @Alitalia.”
However, others called complainants “sanctimonious” which, arguably, highlights entrenched racism – typically towards black people – that still exists in many parts of Italy today.
Alitalia’s social media manager even telling Vice: “During the shooting we met many American tourists, everyone had a lot of fun with us but no one raised this issue.”