Johnny Depp found himself at the center of controversy due to an ad he starred in promoting luxury brand Dior's fragrance Sauvage, which has since been pulled from social media. Teasers for the ad, which was supposed to be released Sept. 1 in the form of a short film, were posted to Dior's social media accounts on Aug. 29 but deleted within hours following criticism that the "We are the Land" campaign stereotyped Native American cultures and constituted cultural appropriation.
Critics of the Jean-Baptiste Mondino-directed project took issue with the name of the fragrance, as "sauvage" is French for "wild" and "savage," the latter being a racial slur used to describe Native peoples throughout North American history. The fragrance name has been used since the 1960s.
In a trailer for the short film, which was made in partnership with the non-profit Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO), Depp could be seen playing guitar riffs against the Arches National Monument in Utah while Rose Sioux tribe member Canku Thomas One Star performed a traditional dance.
The only way this Dior campaign could be worse is if Elizabeth Warren had a cameo.— Bridget Phetasy (@BridgetPhetasy) August 30, 2019
Possibly the most amazing thing about this "Sauvage" campaign is that they're using abuser Johnny Depp as its primary spokesperson because of his "deep ties" to the Native American peoplehttps://t.co/R3kAs2LQLO pic.twitter.com/U8SKlCGh2S— Jeff Yang (@originalspin) August 30, 2019
In summary: I’ve been on Johnny Depp’s case since at least 2012. He’s not Native, he’s not a friend to Indian Country. Dior has also been on the appropriation train since forever. Galliano literally put ghost dance designs on dresses: https://t.co/Nsqlp7v1rS— Dr. Adrienne Keene (@NativeApprops) August 30, 2019
Depp, who has been the face of the fragrance since 2015, has made claims of Native American ancestry in the past and in 2012 was adopted into the family of AIO president LaDonna Harris, a member of the New Mexico-based Comanche tribe. In the trailer, Depp said that he was christened a cultural name, Mah-Woo-May, which means "shapeshifter."
In the trailer, consultant Ron Martinez Looking Elk touched on cultural appropriation. "Cultural appropriation, for us, is a huge thing because we've been dealing with this since colonization," he said.
wait so people are actually hating on dior and johnny depp bc of the new campaign that was supervised and co-starred by native americans pic.twitter.com/ixoQ47eNmE— 🌺 (@PERlODTBYE) August 30, 2019
It seems to me that #JohnnyDepp has a gigantic target on his back right now and people will grab their torches and pitchforks at the drop of a hat. @Dior named the perfume, not him. Plus Sauvage has been out since 2015 - where was your social outrage then?— Annie Roxlin (@AnnieRoxlin) September 1, 2019
A press release from the AIO stated that "Depp reached out to his Comanche family to ask for their help to ensure Native cultures were portrayed appropriately." The statement added that the campaign is part of a larger initiative to "change the misperceptions about Native Americans, to share accurate American history, to build awareness about Native Americans as contemporary peoples and to promote Indigenous worldview."
"There was need for authenticity and respect for the land and the nations that allowed us to shoot there," Depp said in the report from AIO. "From the choice of location, wardrobe making, right down to casting and set design, AIO was involved.”
It's also not the first time the LVMH-owned luxury brand has been accused of cultural insensitive. In 2018, Dior was accused of whitewashing in promotions for its Dior Cruise 2019 collection, which was inspired by Mexican horsewomen called escaramuzas. The campaign featured Jennifer Lawrence, who is not of Mexican descent.
Photo credit: Atsushi Tomura / Stringer / Getty