A new fragrance advert from fashion giant Dior has sparked anger, with many perceiving it to be disrespectful towards those with Native American heritage.
The advert features actor Johnny Depp walking amidst the rocky landscape of Southern Utah; wading through streams, sitting beside a crackling fire and playing the guitar beneath a wide open sky. All the while, his journey in the wilderness is framed by Native American imagery.
Fancy war dancer and Rosebud Sioux member Canku One Star can be seen performing on the edge of a cliff, while First Nations descent Canadian actor Tanaya Beatty (Twilight), watches Depp from behind long grass while wearing animal skins.
In a since deleted tweet, Dior shared the advertisement for the new fragrance alongside the following description:
An authentic journey deep into the Native American soul in a sacred, founding and secular territory.
The new fragrance is part of Dior’s established ‘Sauvage’ line, which dates back to 1966. The name has long been said to have been inspired by Christian Dior’s friend Percy Savage who, when arriving at Dior’s home to brainstorm name ideas, was introduced by the butler as ‘Monsieur Sauvage’.
The French word Sauvage translates as ‘wild’ or ‘untamed’ in English. Many critics feel Dior should have been sensitive to the offensive connotations such a term could hold for many Native American individuals.
I cannot with @Dior exploiting native culture for their fragrance #sauvage… and yes that’s SAVAGE! What the FUCK?!? Y’all are disgusting! You mean to tell me that NOT ONE person in your company saw this as an issue through the tiresome ideation process?!?
— Shuga Cain (@MissShugaCain) August 30, 2019
Rebecca Thomas, who has Miꞌkmaq heritage, took to Twitter to explain why Dior shouldn’t have used Native American imagery emblazoned with the word ‘Sauvage’:
As some who speaks French, I know that you’re trying to equate “sauvage” with “wild” and “untamed.” I know you aren’t ACTUALLY calling us savages. You’ll get the benefit of the doubt on that one.
However, you are missing several points. The first: we live in a world where we cannot extricate “savage” from the history of colonization. It was the whole premise of things like residential schools, doctrine of discovery, and cowboy and Indian movies.
By having a fancy dancer with the words “Sauvage” across the screen, you only further cement that connotation in the brains of consumers who have a tendency to see us as the elves from LOTR and not as complex and diverse communities.
The absurdity of the @Dior #Sauvage Ad w/ Johnny Depp:
• Supposedly anti-appropriation, but goes balls deep in appropriation.
• Titles the actress as maiden & the native actor, warrior.
• Says it is helping Native folx, but invokes stupid/ignorant "indian" tropes.
— Dallas Goldtooth (@dallasgoldtooth) August 30, 2019
Dallas Goldtooth, a campaign organiser for the Indigenous Environmental Network, has spoken out about how such ads can make it more difficult for Native American individuals hoping to make it in the media industry:
Its ignorant stuff like this that literally limits the ability 4 Native actors, filmmakers, & creatives to break into the media industry — because the shit you see in the @Dior ad is seen as the industry status quo when it comes to portraying “Natives” on camera.
American films and TV shows have frequently failed to bring viewers nuanced, rounded Native American characters; with the industry being rife with demeaning, inaccurate and dehumanising stereotypes.
Alright, @Dior. Let's talk about your "Sauvage" perfume. A MOTHER EFFING THREAD
— Rebecca Thomas (@beccaleat) August 30, 2019
Beatty herself has spoken out about her involvement in the ad via Instagram, drawing from her own experience of working as an indigenous actor:
I do believe Dior – although misguided – had every intention of showing indigenous culture in a beautiful light, while giving some jobs to some Indians in the process.
One of the Native advisors for the ad, who I had a lot of great conversations with, put his heart into this job and I admire him for the efforts he made to try and maintain cultural integrity.
I want to acknowledge his efforts and Canku’s work because sometimes our hard work can get lost first in the message and then in the media storm.
Beatty opened up about her frustration at having so often herself confined to parts such as the ‘silent mythological figure’ or ‘a catalyst for the story’s white leads’.
She asked her followers to consider the ways in which Indigenous people continue to be mistreated away from the entertainment industry, drawing attention to issues such as the destruction of sacred lands.
Depp became the face of Sauvage in 2015, with previous ad imagery drawing from the wild west and vast desert spaces. The Chocolat actor has previously claimed to have Native American ancestry, and has repeatedly said his great grandmother had Cherokee blood.
However, there are some who take issue with Depp’s claim to have ‘either Cherokee or Creek’ heritage, with Indian Country Today noting in 2014 that Depp had never tried to verify his ancestry.
UNILAD has reached out to Dior for comment.
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Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.