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‘Respect It and Leave It Alone’: Michael B. Jordan Accused of Cultural Appropriation for Naming His Rum J’Ouvert, Critics Launch Petition Challenging Brand Trademark

Michael B. Jordan is the latest Black celebrity to venture into the spirits industry — joining the ranks of Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, Sean “Diddy” Combs, and Dwyane Wade to name a few — and already he is facing backlash.

Over the weekend of June 19-20, promotional content for the actor’s J’ Ouvert Rum became the trending topic of discussion. The charming 34-year-old is usually being swooned over by fans for his latest photo, but instead, he was being accused of cultural appropriation. In the photos and videos, Jordan is seen posing in front of the brand’s logo, and a PR box of rum can be seen on display.

Michael B. Jordan’s girlfriend shared photos from the launch of J’Ouvert Rum to her Instagram story on June 19, but quickly deleted them following the onslaught of backlash. (Photo: @lorharvey/Instagram story screenshot)

Critics of all backgrounds, but especially those with Caribbean roots, were quick to launch a full-on tirade against the “Black Panther” actor for the name of his brand.

The history of the Creole term j’ouvert — which stems from the French term jour ouvert, meaning day break/morning — is complicated. The word dates back to the 17th century when Africans were enslaved in the Caribbean and forced to work the sugar cane fields. A New York Times article, The Barbaric History of Sugar in America, refers to sugar as “white gold that fueled slavery.”

As one Twitter user put it, those enslaved people managed to turn a dark time into a time of jubilee after gaining their freedom circa the mid-1800s. In Trinidad and Tobago people mark the celebration with a two-day carnival by joyfully adorning themselves in brightly colored attire, dancing, singing, enacting a mud ritual, and much more.

“It is a pre-dawn libation in which revellers hit the streets to throw paint, powder, oil and grease at one another and generally “jump up” to the sound of steelbands and sound systems,” as described by Pan African Music (PAM). “Acknowledged across the diaspora from London to New York, J’ouvert is a depository of culture, history and memory and would normally be celebrated in Trinidad and Tobago on the Monday before Ash Wednesday. … With the abolition of slavery in 1838 carnival was thrown open to all and the street parties that were held to celebrate emancipation found their way into the annual festivities. Thus the euphoria of liberation was amplified by the traditional release provided by carnival.”

A Temple University student article thoroughly backs up those claims by breaking down how j’ouvert celebrations were birthed during chattel slavery’s reign in the islands.

“J’ouvert, was actually born out of another historical event in Trinidadian history called Cannes Brulees or canes burning. During their period of enslavement negres jardins (field negroes) were sent to put out fires on
the sugar cane plantations in the middle of the night. The slaves of surrounding plantations were marched to the fire ravished areas. Horns and shells were blown to call them to action,” explained Nai-Whedai Sheriff on page 15.

Elsewhere in the article, Sheriff writes, “J’ouvert was an opportunity for the ex-slaves to reclaim their freedom, culture, and legal right to celebrate this freedom any way they chose.”

Several critics argue using the world strips it of sentimental value. Making matters worse was the discovery that Jordan and a business partner, who is alleged to have Trini roots, trademarked the word last year. As if the name alone was not enough of an insult, critics also called out Jordan including sugar cubes in the rum PR boxes, and for depicting an inaccurate map of Trinidad and Tobago in the rum’s colorful logo.

The onslaught of backlash was enough for Jordan, his girlfriend Lori Harvey, and the J’Ouvert brand to remove any and all traces of the launch from their social accounts. But alas, fans and critics had already secured their screenshots and shared them several times over across the Internet. 

The disgust over the entire situation prompted the launch of a petition demanding the trademark filing be dismissed. “We are not a powerless people! We are a people rich in culture, history and love,” wrote Jay Bless, the petition organizer. “It’s time we love ourselves enough to stop the sale of our culture to foreign entities that do not respect or value our global contributions, and who do not support and uphold our countries in respectful, long-lasting, tangible and verifiable ways!”

The Minister of Trade and Industry in Trinidad and Tobago, Paula Gopee-Scoon, has already weighed in on the matter.

“The first thing is to gather the information to see if it is in fact so. Then working together with the intellectual property office of the Ministry of the Attorney General, we’ll do the necessary investigation and, as always, seek to support anything that is Trinidad but at the same time protect what is ours,” Gopee-Scoon told Newsday. “This is of keen interest, not only to the Ministry of Trade and Industry but also to the intellectual property office of the Ministry of the Attorney General, and the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. We all have an interest. Trinidad and Tobago is our interest.”

However, despite the swarm of backlash, there were fans who proudly wished Jordan the best of luck with his rum endeavor.

“Congratulations to all inovled. 🇹🇹 appreciates you all.”

“Am from Trinidad and Tobago twin island…where on the Jovert is start before our Carnival….where our culture comes alive….am so happy for my African Brother to take it to another level….cause u know Trini love our Rum….💕🇹🇹…nice share our Culture Name….❤️🇹🇹💕

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