Dior's SAUVAGE campaign is deeply offensive, racist, and cultural appropriation at its worst

Screenshot of one of the closing frames of the "Dior SAUVAGE | The New Parfum (2019)" YouTube video.(Screenshot: YouTube video "Dior SAUVAGE | The New Parfum (2019), Lisa J. Ellwood, Indian Country Today)

The SAUVAGE advertising campaign is an example how a 'well-intentioned' collaboration can be done in an exploitative and racist manner says IllumiNative

Luxury brands have a long history of exploiting and appropriating Native imagery. Brands invite consumers to try on Native identities while making a profit, with little regard for the impact of their actions.

The “Sauvage” advertising campaign released by Dior is deeply offensive, racist, and cultural appropriation at its worst. The promise of Dior’s campaign, “An authentic journey deep into the Native American soul in a sacred, founding and secular territory” is instead an example of how a “well-intentioned” collaboration can be done in an exploitative and racist manner.

There are many ways in which Dior erred, including their choice to cast Johnny Depp as the face of the campaign, an actor who portrayed a Native character in a film so offensive that Native actors and crew walked off the set. Their choice of language is the most telling — while claiming to “honor” Native people, the company used “sauvage,” a racist slur used to describe Native peoples throughout history. This word was used as justification for genocide, forced relocation and assimilation, and violence and discrimination against Native peoples. Their “good intention” is outweighed by their impact.

Pictured: A dior.com screenshot of the couturier's SAUVAGE 2019 advertising featuring Johnny Depp. Their caption reads Sauvage is a creation inspired by wide-open spaces. A composition distinguished by a raw freshness, a fragrance that's both powerful and noble."
Pictured: A dior.com screenshot of the couturier's SAUVAGE 2019 advertising featuring Johnny Depp. Their caption reads "Sauvage is a creation inspired by wide-open spaces. A composition distinguished by a raw freshness, a fragrance that's both powerful and noble."(Screenshot: dior.com, Lisa J. Ellwood, Indian Country Today)

Instead of “honoring” Native people, Dior entrenched offensive and racist tropes of Native people- including a Native “maiden” and language that portrays Native people as “wild and untamed.” “Savage” is explicitly tied to the name of the campaign  a word that was used to classify Native Americans as violent and cruel. These stereotypes have been used by those in power to exploit Native peoples. The videos released with the campaign made no attempt to understand our history or the derogatory myths they reinforce.

IllumiNative’s research found that the stereotypes and portrayals used by Dior fuels bias and racism against Native peoples. It also addresses a lingering question many have about Native participation in the campaign. We live in a time when Native Americans are rendered invisible in mainstream culture and we must consider how this invisibility impacts our own community. When offered so few opportunities to see ourselves represented in mainstream culture, we sometimes look to, and are proud of, representations that are actually offensive. Invisibility is, as Dr. Stephanie Fryberg says, the modern form of racism against Native people.

Invisibility negatively impacts Native communities and non-Natives alike. This is why it is important that Native and non-Native allies push for opportunities for Native people to be completely in charge of their story  that their perspectives and experiences are welcomed. This campaign claimed to have collaborated with Native peoples, but the fundamental issue is that Native people were used to tell a pre-established narrative, one that the company wanted because they saw this narrative as being profitable. This isn’t collaboration, this isn’t allyship.

Instead, we need authentic, accurate, and contemporary representations of Native Americans.

There are excellent examples in Indian Country of Native-led brands and companies, like B.Yellowtail, that Dior should look to understand how Native people exist in a modern context.

When the campaign was released August 30, swift condemnation came from Native and non-Native allies. The company started deleting negative comments, then as of 5 p.m. Eastern Time, they pulled the campaign off of social media. But our work is not done. What is Dior going to do to make this right? Will they pull the entire national campaign? Will they apologize? There is more that will and should unfold here. We cannot allow Dior to bury this issue. Native peoples and allies stood up and made their voices heard.

We will no longer stand for or accept cultural appropriation, toxic stereotypes, bia,s or racism against Native peoples. We need better allies, and we hope Dior can learn to be one.

#BoycottDior #NativeTruth #IllumiNative #BeIllumiNative

Crystal Echo Hawk is the Founder and Executive Director of IllumiNative.

About IllumiNative

IllumiNative,is a Native-led nonprofit, launched to increase the visibility of Native peoples in American society by changing the national narrative. IllumiNative challenges negative narratives, stories, and stereotypes about Native peoples. We provide tools for Native advocates and allies including youth, community and tribal leaders, activists, and professionals across critical sectors — to develop and advocate for accurate and contemporary representations and voices of Native peoples.

Comments (1)
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JulietF2
JulietF2

It doesn't matter what other meanings 'sauvage' OR 'savage' possess: to most people the words define cruel, brutal, near-mindless aggression. 'Savages' live in huts and caves; 'savages' torture people and animals for fun; 'savages' have no concepts of civilization or law --- and so on.

Whatever the intent of the campaign, the execution failed and it should be pulled.