What should have been a relaxing, lavish Italian getaway between famous friends Samuel L. Jackson and Magic Johnson turned into a bigoted mess, thanks to some locals who didn’t get a joke.
But it wasn’t what it seemed.
Johnson tweeted a photo set of the famous duo sitting in the touristy Tuscany sea town of Forte dei Marmi Wednesday, Aug. 16. Fans eagerly swarmed them to snap photos, but when the images circulated online, other Italians weren’t as giddy.
Sam & I chilling out on a bench yesterday in Forte dei Marmi, Italy. The fans started lining up to take pictures with us. pic.twitter.com/uzXx698PiN
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) August 16, 2017
The image made its way into the meme-sphere of social media, where Italian journalist Luca Bottura posted a photo Friday, Aug. 18 reading, “Boldrini’s resources in Forte dei Marmi shop at Prada with our [$41]. Share this picture if you are outraged.”
— Luca Bottura (@bravimabasta) August 18, 2017
Meant as a social experiment on racism, responders ran with the meme, which tied in left-wing Italian politician Laura Boldrini’s advocation for migrant’s rights and Italy’s $41 a day stipend for migrants.
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Some called out Bottura for being racist.
“Your racism is showing. Actor Jackson and the player Magic Johnson earned their income through hard work.”
Il tuo razzismo sta mostrando. L’attore Jackson e il giocatore di Magic Johnson hanno guadagnato il loro reddito attraverso un duro lavoro.
— ruth white (@redhen19) August 24, 2017
“All Blacks do not come in Italy to live off their grants.”
Todos los negros no vienen en Italia para vivir de sus subvenciones.
— traore djibril (@djiby06) August 23, 2017
Others made it into a game.
“Here’s the photo nailing the two migrants upon their arrival in Barcone … Magic Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson.”
— Adriano (@Adriano_Gir) August 20, 2017
“If I’m not mistaken are Samuel l. Jackson and Magic Johnson posing as refugees!”
Se non sbaglio sono Samuel L. Jackson e Magic Johnson che si spacciano per rifugiati!
— Marco Sottocorona (@serendib_efreet) August 18, 2017
On Sunday, Aug. 20, Bottura cleared up the meme’s meaning.
“I can compile a couple of statistics,” he wrote. “40 percent understood the provocation, 30 percent was outraged — especially [those who didn’t know the source] — and 20 percent thought it was a real racist meme and that I didn’t recognize Samuel Jackson and Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson. … 10 percent doesn’t know/doesn’t say).”