Fashion retailer Forever 21 has issued an apology for advertising a “Black Panther” sweater with a white model.
Forever 21 sparked an intense backlash campaign online for featuring on its website “pictures of a sweater that read ‘Wakanda Forever’ being worn by a white male,” Fox News reports.
The “Wakanda Forever” phrase refers to the fictional African nation popularized by the Marvel hit “Black Panther.” Often, celebrities will give the “Wakanda Forever” sign on red carpets by folding their arms in the form of a W. Behold the Forever 21 ad:
— Ryan Parker (@TheRyanParker) December 18, 2018
Immediately, Forever 21 was accused of whitewashing by not featuring a black model in the sweater, considering that “Black Panther” is a black superhero from an African country.
“Hey Forever 21, in what universe did you think it was OK to feature a white model in Wakanda gear? Granted, chances are you knew it wasn’t OK, but still as a former #21Men brand specialist for the company. I’m highly offended,” one social media user wrote.
Another user said, “Wow Forever 21 is tone deaf af. Colonizers aren’t praised in Wakanda. Try again.”
“A Wakanda Forever Fair Isle knit sweater modeled by an Eminem lookalike just makes no sense whatsoever, and it’s insulting. @Forever21 is canceled,” said another user.
Hey @Forever21, In What Universe Did You Think It Was Ok To Feature A White Model In Wakanda Gear? Granted, Chances Are You Knew It Wasn't Ok, But Still. As A Former #21Men Brand Specialist For The Company, I'm Highly Offended.
— Mark-Paul (@WhoIsMarkPaul) December 18, 2018
Wow Forever 21 is tone deaf af. Colonizers aren't praised in Wakanda. Try again.
— Iyesha Riley (@Iyeshalovette) December 18, 2018
A Wakanda Forever Fair Isle knit sweater modeled by an Eminem lookalike just makes no sense whatsoever, and it's insulting. @Forever21 is canceled
— felicia the critic (@felicianista) December 18, 2018
In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Forever 21 apologized if people found the photo “offensive in any way.”
“We celebrate all superheroes with many different models of various ethnicities and apologize if the photo in question was offensive in any way,” the company said in a statement.
“Forever 21 takes feedback on our products and marketing extremely seriously. We celebrate all superheroes with many different models of various ethnicities and apologize if the photo in question was offensive in any way,” the company said.
Forever 21 has since deleted the ad with no indication if it will be back online with a black model wearing the sweater.
The debate over white people wearing “Black Panther” attire has been ongoing ever since the film became a critical and financial success. This past February, the New York Times openly pondered whether or not white Americans should bar their children from dressing up as the iconic character for Halloween.
“As parents, or even as the people creating costumes, we need to be very aware of what that says,” one professor told the NYT. “There’s not a whole lot of black superheroes, so this is a really important thing for black kids growing up.”
The thesis was later rebuked by none other than the star of “Black Panther,” Chadwick Boseman, who found the concept of white children dressing up as a black superhero endearing.
When Halloween time came, the creators of “Black Panther” told The Washington Post that the concept of having a “blacks only” policy for “Black Panther” gear was an “insane” idea.
“The idea that only black kids would wear Black Panther costumes is insane to me,” said Reg Hudlin. “Why would anyone say that I love that all kids want to be Black Panther or Shuri or the Dora Milaje. These are the small steps that make the world a better place.”
Hudlin also celebrated the diversity of the “Black Panther” fanbase.
“Every type of person showed up for a book signing: black, white, Asian, Latino — men and women, young and old,” he said. “It feels good to write something culturally specific that plugs into a universally relatable experience.”