Dior Faces Cultural Appropriation Backlash for Native American-Inspired 'Sauvage' Fragrance Campaign
Storied French fashion brand Dior is facing criticism after it debuted a sneak peek of its new fragrance campaign featuring Native Americans and Johnny Depp.
The brand posted two clips of Canku Thomas One Star, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, performing the Fancy War Dance wearing a colorful traditional ensemble as part of the new Dior Sauvage advertising initiative.
In the first clip, the dancer is performing as a voiceover says “We are the land.” In the caption the brand wrote, “An authentic journey deep into the Native American soul in a sacred, founding and secular territory.”
In a second Instagram post, Dior shared images of Canku Thomas along with a deeper explanation of the brand’s involvement with the Native American community.
“With images saturated with colours and emotions, @c1star performs the mesmerizing Fancy War Dance that embodies all the modernity of the Native American culture,” the caption reads. “A film developed as a close collaboration between the House of Dior and Native American consultants from the 50-year old Indigenous advocacy organization, @americansforindianopportunity in order to respect Indigenous cultures, values and heritage.”
The brand also included the hashtag #johnnydepp, as the actor was face of the first Sauvage campaign. It wrote that there will be “more to come” on September 1, but before the film was even released fully to the public, it already received intense backlash on social media.
Just minutes after sharing the videos to the brand’s Twitter, Dior received a slew of negative reaction.
“Using Indigenous people and our culture for your new perfume aesthetic and feeling the need to name it ‘Sauvage’ is a completely bad take. Do better @Dior,” wrote on commenter in reply to the brand’s Twitter post.
“Cooooool, so you’re telling me that @Dior is profiting off Indigenous culture/imagery, and hired JOHNNY DEPP to star in the ad for a perfume called SAUVAGE?! …who thought this was okay? #boycottdior,” read another comment.
Another commenter questioned whether the tribes will get the revenue of the ad. “So all the proceeds are going to Native American tribes?” wrote on Twitter user.
When asked for comment to the backlash, Dior provided PEOPLE the full press release of the campaign.
In the release, it explains that this film is a continuation of Johnny Depp’s last Sauvage fragrance film, which featured him riding into the desert. This time, his journey took him to the American Far West on his “quest for meaning.”
The brand wrote that the film was “developed as a close collaboration between the House of Dior and Native American consultants from the 50-year old Indigenous advocacy organization, Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO), in order to respect Indigenous cultures, values and heritage.”
It continued: “As soon as we began to evoke Native American imagery and symbols in this new film, the House of Dior, Jean-Baptiste Mondino and Johnny Depp immediately decided to contact Native American consultants who are enrolled citizens of the Comanche, Isleta and Taos Pueblos and the Pawnee Nation, with years of experience fighting cultural appropriation and promoting authentic inclusion. This collaboration, which started at the very beginning of the project, led to a work process that was extremely demanding and specific. 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.”
Each detail of the film was discussed with academic and activist Ron Martinez “Looking Elk” who worked as a consultant to ensure the culture was portrayed with respect, and the AIO validated every detail from the script, to location to costumes used, the release explained. Dior also announced it is making a donation to AIO.
In the press release, the brand calls its campaign star, Depp, the “perfect embodiment of an intense Sauvage man,” explaining that the star was “adopted” by the Comanches. Depp and musician Jeff Beck performed the music in the film, which was inspired by the track “Rumble” by Link Wray, a Shawnee guitarist who pioneered rock music.
“This new film is an echo to a ‘declaration of love’. A love letter to the spirit of a land that should be protected and cultures that should be celebrated, and to peoples that should be honored,” the brand wrote.
Some social media users are calling out those bashing the brand. “lol at people commenting negative stuff about the natives clearly didn’t even bother to watch the video,” one Twitter user wrote.
Another commented: “I’m native american and dont parallel the idea this is racist or cultural appropriation. I think its beautiful.”
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