Snapchat’s Bob Marley ‘Digital Blackface’ Filter Sparks Outrage

Snapchat today unveiled a new selfie filter in honor of 4/20, allowing users to transform themselves into reggae icon Bob Marley – a move that caused immediate backlash against the popular social media app. Snapchat’s Bob Marley filter caused a firestorm on social media today after the company unveiled its latest selfie filter, which allows users to don Marley’s signature dreadlocks and also reportedly changes the tone of the users’ skin – a “feature” some critics are calling “digital blackface.”

“The lens we launched today was created in partnership with the Bob Marley Estate and gives people a new way to share their appreciation for Bob Marley and his music. Millions of Snapchatters have enjoyed Bob Marley’s music and we respect his life and achievement,” said a Snapchat spokesman, speaking with the New York Daily News.

The Bob Marley Snapchat filter is problematic for many users, who take issue with the popular social media app changing a person’s skin tone to match Bob Marley’s. Many Snapchat users took to Twitter today to vent their outrage, voicing criticism of Snapchat’s reportedly tone-deaf attempt at commemorating the reggae superstar.

“It is offensive. This is a caricature of a black person. Blackface is based on the notion of making black people look inferior. This 420 celebration glosses over the cultural significance that cannabis has in the Rasta culture, where it is regarded as extremely sacred, and not just something used for a daily kickback,” wrote Aaisha Dadi Patel for Daily Vox.

The “digital blackface” Bob Marley filter is still available in the app, and Snapchat has made no indication that the company will change the filter or remove it from the popular image messaging app — and few critics are calling for such measures, most are just disappointed at Snapchat for what is being characterized as an “ignorant” move on the part of the company.

Other users are venting their frustration at Snapchat in a different way — not by criticizing the “digital blackface” but rather the portrayal and “minimization” of Bob Marley to a caricature, rather than the multi-faceted and passionate performer that he reportedly was. The Guardian asked Snapchat about the filter, questioning the company’s judgment and whether or not the filter was ill-advised.

Snapchat replied with the above-quoted statement, citing that the filter was made available to users in conjunction with the Bob Marley Estate, who Snapchat says approved of the use of Bob Marley’s image. Twitter users, however, see it differently. Many are calling for Snapchat to reconsider the “digital blackface” filter, given that the non-holiday, 4/20, is associated with marijuana use rather than Bob Marley himself — a figure fans are quick to point out, was a lot more to his supporters than a “weed smoker.”

After the release of Snapchat’s Bob Marley “digital blackface” filter, Snapchat super-star Kylie Jenner made a few videos of herself making use of the filter, eliciting further backlash from social media, particularly Twitter, where critics called Jenner out for her use of the filter. According to Mashable, Kylie Jenner’s half-sister, Kim Kardashian, once expressed outrage after seeing a white man wearing a Kanye West Halloween costume, which reportedly included skin-darkening makeup, or “blackface.”

Bob Marley died in 1981 at age 36, after living much of his life as a prominent member of the Rastafari movement, a key cultural element of the development of reggae and Marley’s own sound. Marijuana played a significant role in Marley’s own religious experiences, but Marley historians are quick to point out that there was a lot more to Bob Marley’s cultural influence than the fact that he smoked marijuana.

[Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images]