British perfume and scented candle company Jo Malone issued an apology to John Boyega — their first male global ambassador — after the company took a video the “Star Wars” franchise actor made for them and reshot it. The brand removed the star from the award-winning ad completely for a Chinese remake. Boyega created, directed, and starred in the original ad.
In the alternative version, Boyega was recast with Chinese actor Liu Haoran, and all the other Black people who appeared in the original video also are replaced. The award-winning actor was not notified before the change and only found out about the recast when it appeared on Twitter, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Jo Malone described its actions as a “misstep” and said it was “painful” and caused “offense.” The incident only added to the growing perception of anti-Black prejudice in China that has been widely reported in recent years.
“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 The Hollywood Reporter. “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,” the brand explained. “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 entitled “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. In one scene, he rides a horse in a local park while others ride bikes alongside. The version with Haoran follows similar plot effects, but Boyega and the multi-ethnic cast are replaced by one that appears to be entirely Chinese.
Boyega responded to the controversy via Twitter just one day after the ad switch made headlines. In a series of tweets, the actor announced that he would be stepping down as Jo Malone’s global ambassador.
“When I joined the brand as their first male global ambassador last year, I created the short film we used to launch the campaign. It won the Fragrance Foundation Virtual awards 2020 for Best Media Campaign,” he wrote. “Their decision to replace my campaign in China by using my concepts and substituting a local brand ambassador for me, without either my consent or prior notice, was wrong. The film celebrated my personal story—showcasing my hometown, including my friends and featuring my family.”
The actor concluded his statement by stating that while he understood the practice of using a variety of global and local ambassadors, “dismissively trading out one’s culture this way is not something I can condone.” He added, “It’s back to back but I assure you this will be dealt with swiftly. I don’t have time for nonsense. We press on and strong. Stay blessed people.”
The “Detroit” star faced a similar situation five years ago in which his representation was diminished. In 2015, fans spotted that the Chinese posters for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” had been significantly reduced Boyega’s character Finn in size from the original poster. Finn was the third-largest character after Adam Driver’s Kylo Red and Daisy Ridley’s Rey.