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Johnny Depp’s Dior Sauvage campaign
courtesy of Instagram/@dior

Johnny Depp’s Dior Sauvage campaign pulled after racism backlash


TextAlex Peters

The ads were criticised over use of Native American tropes

Dior’s latest campaign for fragrance Sauvage has been pulled by the French fashion house after it received widespread criticism for its use of Native American imagery. Fronted by (alleged domestic abuser and non-Native American) Johnny Depp who has been the face of the fragrance since 2015, the campaign was promoted as “an authentic journey deep into the Native American soul in a sacred, founding, and secular territory.”

Directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino, the ad debuted on Friday (August 30) and follows Depp as he wanders through the red rocks of the Canyonlands in Utah as Canku One Star, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, performs a war dance in traditional dress. Tanaya Beatty, a descendant of the Da’Naxda’xw Nation people, also features.

The campaign immediately began to draw criticism for its stereotyped portrayal of Native Americans, especially in connection with the use of the word “Sauvage” which so closely resembles ‘savage’ – a word long used to degrade and debase Native Americans.

“It is so deeply offensive and racist,” Crystal Echo Hawk, CEO of the media watchdog group IllumiNative told The Guardian. “These types of tropes, these types of narratives about Native people as savages they do real harm. And fuel racism.”

Described as a “love letter to the spirit of a land that should be protected, culture that should be celebrated and to peoples that should be honoured,” the campaign was said by Dior to be the result of close collaboration with Indigenous advocacy organisation, Americans for Indian Opportunity. In a “Stories Behind the Creation” clip, since deleted but reposted by Diet Prada and Dr Adrienne J. Keene, Ron Martinez, one of the AIO consultants for the project says:  “Cultural appropriation for us is a huge thing because we've been dealing with this since colonization. Our presence on this project is really to help, so for us to make sure the look and the identity is authentic, is really important.”

Despite these precautions taken by Dior, many native people remain unconvinced. “It feels like they tried to do it “right” and involved some great people—but it’s still an ad for a notoriously racist company and a product called “Savage”,” tweeted Dr Adrienne J. Keene, an Assistant Professor of American Studies and Ethnic Studies at Brown University and citizen of the Cherokee Nation. “I just wish we could have this level of representation for projects created by and centering Native people.”

As of today (September 2) Dior has deleted all posts and videos across social media from the campaign. A spokesperson for the brand said: “The House of Dior wishes to address the strong reaction to the trailer of the new campaign of the Sauvage fragrance featuring a Native American artist performing a traditional Fancy dance.”

“This campaign was inspired by the deep and rich Native American culture which the House of Dior holds in highest regard.

“To ensure accuracy and inclusion the House of Dior works closely with Native American consultants, artists, writers and dancers as well as the Americans for Indian Opportunity.

“The House of Dior has a long-standing commitment against racism or any kind of discrimination and will continue to work with and proudly support organisations which fight against those burdens.”

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