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USA TODAY Opinion contributor Ellis Cose explains the “egregious” history and stereotypes behind blackface.
USA TODAY

An Italian airline has scuttled its promotional video featuring an actor in blackface as former President Barack Obama and apologized for the offensive clip.

The video, part of Alitalia’s social media campaign for a new Rome-to-Washington route, was met with stunned disbelief when the airline shared it across social channels.

Alitalia deeply apologizes for the offense,” the airline tweeted Wednesday in an apology, saying it has since removed the video. “For our Company, respect for everyone is mandatory, it was never our intention to hurt anyone and we will learn from what has happened.”

Alitalia deeply apologizes for the offense caused by the promotional video on our Washington route. It has since been removed. For our Company, respect for everyone is mandatory, it was never our intention to hurt anyone and we will learn from what has happened.

— Alitalia (@Alitalia) July 3, 2019

USA TODAY has reached out to Alitalia for additional comment.

The New York Times reports that an airline representative at first defended the controversial video when negative comments erupted on Facebook, noting that the actor wasn’t white and that “makeup was applied to highlight (his) features.” 

Twitter users were quick to react.

Words fail me,” wrote Alberto Riva, managing editor of the travel news site The Points Guy.

Whoa. @Alitalia advertises its new flight to Washington with an actor in blackface playing Obama. The video also features people saying he was born in Africa. Words fail me.https://t.co/RoTjrATtVM

— Alberto Riva (@Albertoriva) July 3, 2019

“Alitalia dropped an ad featuring a white actor in blackface portraying President Obama. In 2019. Read that again,” tweeted activist April Reign, creator of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag.

This flew under the radar (no pun intended). @Alitalia dropped an ad featuring a white actor in blackface portraying President Obama. In 2019. Read that again. https://t.co/5VJpNWXRM8

— April (@ReignOfApril) July 4, 2019

Numerous brands have courted controversy in recent months with design choices that customers complained resembled blackface, the racist practice of darkening one’s complexion with makeup.

In February, Gucci discontinued a black turtleneck sweater with a red-rimmed cutout for the mouth, and Katy Perry’s eponymous shoe collection dropped two pairs of black shoes embellished with eyes and exaggerated red lips. Burberry apologized that same month for sending a model down the runway at London Fashion Week in a hoodie featuring a drawstring knotted into a noose.

Last December, Prada stopped selling its Otto charm, a monkey-like figure with red lips.

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