Alitalia has apologized and taken down a video featuring an actor in blackface depicting former President Barack Obama after the Italian airline faced backlash on social media.
The advertisement was part of a series of promotional videos to highlight Alitalia's new route from Rome to Washington, D.C., which included portrayals of other presidents such as Abraham Lincoln and Donald Trump. But it was the ad of an actor covered in dark makeup to appear African-American that was met with immediate criticism from some users on sites like Twitter.
“Whoa…” Alberto Riva, the managing editor of the travel news site The Points Guy, wrote on Twitter. “… The video also features people saying he was born in Africa. Words fail me.”
April Reign, the creator of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, expressed her shock as well.
“This flew under the radar (no pun intended). Alitalia dropped an ad featuring a white actor in blackface portraying President Obama. In 2019. Read that again.”
A company representative initially defended the move, saying the actor was not Caucasian and the “makeup was applied to highlight features," the New York Times reported.
The airline later apologized for "the offense caused by the promotional video" and said it had removed the ad "from all of our social media channels."
"For our Company, respect for everyone is mandatory, it was never our intention to hurt anyone and we will learn from what has happened," Alitalia said in a statement posted on Twitter.
This is not the first time a major company has sparked controversy and backtracked a marketing campaign over similarly offensive content. Earlier this year, Katy Perry Collections removed from its website two shoe designs that resembled blackface and Gucci pulled a sweatshirt with a blackface-resembling image. The company Prada also discontinued a line of bag charms and window displays that featured monkey-like characters with outsize red lips, NBC News reported.
About one-third of Americans believe blackface is always or somewhat acceptable to wear on Halloween, according to a Pew Research poll released in February. More than half of those asked disagreed.