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John Boyega

Jo Malone apologises after John Boyega is cut from Chinese campaign

TextAlex Peters

UPDATE: Boyega has cut ties with the brand – 'I don’t have time for nonsense'

The perfume and candle company Jo Malone London has issued an apology to John Boyega after a personal campaign he created for the brand was completely reshot for the Chinese market, removing him entirely and not featuring a single Black person.

The actor and activist was named Jo Malone London’s first male global ambassador last year and the brand released an original short conceived and directed by and starring Boyega entitled London Gent which featured his family and friends in Peckham where he grew up. Boyega said at the time the campaign was a way to highlight and celebrate his background. 

“There’s a mixture of things you see me do in the film, you see me in a professional environment on a film set, then with family and it’s about breaking free of the concept of 'going back or returning to your roots' but more about the roots existing with this new side of my life,” he told WWD.

However, earlier this month, a new ad was released by the brand for the Chinese market which kept major elements of London Gent’s script and concept but replaced Boyega with local star Liu Haoran, a move seen by many as another example of anti-Black prejudice in China. The brand has since released an apology calling the move a “painful” misstep.

“We deeply apologise for what, on our end, was a mistake in the local execution of the John Boyega campaign,” Jo Malone London said in a statement sent to The Hollywood Reporter who understand that Boyega wasn’t made aware of the new commercial’s production but found out via Twitter. “John is a tremendous artist with great personal vision and direction. The concept for the film was based on John’s personal experiences and should not have been replicated.”

The company says it has removed the local version of the campaign and also apologised to Haoran who wasn’t involved in the conception of the ad. “We recognise that this was painful and that offense was caused,” the statement continues. “We respect John, and support our partners and fans globally. We are taking this misstep very seriously and we are working together as a brand to do better moving forward.”

This is not the first time Boyega has faced apparent racism in China. In 2015, Chinese posters for Star Wars: The Force Awakens were criticised for significantly reducing the size of Boyega’s character Finn compared to the original poster. Other non-white characters, including Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron and Lupita Nyong’o’s Maz Kanata had been cut out entirely.

Earlier this month, Boyega addressed his experiences as a Black actor as part of the Disney franchise in an interview with GQ. “What I would say to Disney is do not bring out a Black character, market them to be much more important in the franchise than they are and then have them pushed to the side,” he says. “They gave all the nuance to Adam Driver, all the nuance to Daisy Ridley. Let’s be honest. Daisy knows this. Adam knows this. Everybody knows. I’m not exposing anything.” 

He also discussed the all too common experience of Black actors and models of hairdressers being unable to style their hair properly and the significance of his own hair growth journey over the past two years. “When black men grow out their hair it’s a very powerful thing,” he says. “Culturally, it stands for something.”

UPDATE 15/9/2020:

John Boyega has cut ties with Jo Malone London, stepping down from his role as global ambassador. Sharing the news on Twitter, Boyega wrote that the brand's decision to replace him in the campaign without his consent or prior notice was “wrong.”

“The film celebrated my personal story– showcasing my hometown, including my friends and featuring my family,” he wrote. “While many brands understandably use a variety of global and local ambassadors , dismissively trading out one’s culture this way is not something I can condone.” The actor said the situation would be dealt with swifty. “I don’t have time for nonsense. We press on and strong. Stay blessed people.”

In response, Jo Malone London put out a statement on Twitter saying the company respected Boyega's decision and wished him all the best.

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