Jo Malone London, the British perfume and scented candle brand, has issued an apology to John Boyega — who was last year named its first male global ambassador — for taking a personal video he made for them and reshooting it for the Chinese market, in the process removing not only Star Wars actor entirely but not featuring a single Black individual.
The company described its actions — likely to be seen as yet another example of perceived anti-Black prejudice in China that has been widely reported on in recent years — as a “misstep” that it said was “painful” and caused “offense.”
The new ad kept major elements of the original’s script, but replaced Boyega with local actor Liu Haoran (star of the hugely popular Detective Chinatown film franchise). The Hollywood Reporter understands that Boyega — who conceived and directed the first film — wasn’t made aware of the new commercial’s production, and only found out after it was put on Twitter.
“We deeply apologize for what, on our end, was a mistake in the local execution of the John Boyega campaign,” Jo Malone London said in a statement sent to THR. “John is a tremendous artist with great personal vision and direction. The concept for the film was based on John’s personal experiences and should not have been replicated.”
The company said it also apologized to Haoran, who was not involved in the “concepting” of the campaign.
“While we immediately took action and removed the local version of the campaign, we recognize that this was painful and that offense was caused,” it added. “We respect John, and support our partners and fans globally. We are taking this misstep very seriously and we are working together as a brand to do better moving forward.”
The original short — released last year and titled London Gent — showed Boyega on the streets of his home district of Peckham in London, hanging out and dancing with real-life friends and spending time with his family, who also appear. In one scene he rides a horse in a local park while others ride bikes alongside.
We are thrilled to announce that our Jo Malone London Gent film featuring @JohnBoyega is the proud winner of The Fragrance Foundation Virtual Awards 2020 for Best Media Campaign. #ScentofAGent #TheFragranceFoundationAwards pic.twitter.com/rNZpTVXLB6
— Jo Malone London (@JoMaloneLondon) August 27, 2020
Speaking to Women’s Wear Daily last year, Boyega said he used the campaign to highlight his background.
“There’s a mixture of things you see me do in the film, you see me in a professional environment on a film set, then with family and it’s about breaking free of the concept of ‘going back or returning to your roots’ but more about the roots existing with this new side of my life,” he said. “It’s not a chapter that stops.”
The reshot Chinese film sees Haoran also hanging out with friends and also atop a horse in a park while others cycle by. But alongside the absence of Boyega, the main noticeable difference is that whereas London Gent features a mix of ethnicities (Peckham is one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the U.K.), the Chinese ad doesn’t include a single Black person.
— Liu Haoran 刘昊然 Updates (@liuhaoran_intl) September 1, 2020
This isn’t the first time Boyega has come up against apparent racism from the Middle Kingdom, where there have been several debates within the entertainment industry over apparent anti-Black bias.
In 2015, Chinese posters for Star Wars: The Force Awakens ignited backlash when fans spotted that Boyega’s character Finn had been significantly reduced in size from the original poster, where he was the third-largest character after Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren and Daisy Ridley’s Rey.
Other non-white characters, including Oscar Isaac’s Poe Dameron and Lupita Nyong’o’s Maz Kanata, were cut out entirely.
And it’s not the first time that a Chinese advert has come under fire. In 2016 a commercial for local detergent Qiaobi sparked global outrage after it appeared to show a Black man being washed white.
The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to John Boyega’s reps for comment.