On Tuesday the internet went crazy when fashion retailer Forever 21 advertised their Black Panther Christmas sweater — which reads “Wakanda Forever,” complete with the Black Panther’s mask adorning it — modeled by a white male. People quickly responded to what many critics consider to be whitewashing, pointing out how the company could easily have chosen a black model for the job.
As reported by ComicBook.com, both the Marvel film and the comic books it is based on feature a black character in the lead role, with the majority of the main characters also being black — given the story is based in central Africa in an uncolonized territory. One theme pertinent to the narrative of the story focuses on black empowerment and higher knowledge.
While the film was a hit among people of all races, genders, and identities, it seems it was a controversial choice to select a white model to wear the Christmas sweater in question. There are other items on their website being worn by black models — including a black sweater with a yellow Black Panther helmet on it — showing that the fashion retailer have somewhat less controversial choices available in terms of modeling their clothing.
The company tried to promote the sweater in a now-deleted tweet, one which started off the controversy.
— Consequence of Sound (@consequence) December 19, 2018
Forever 21 has since responded to the backlash, removing the tweet from the social media site and the image of the model wearing the sweater from their website. At first, they simply redirected the link on their website to that of the black model wearing the black and yellow sweater instead — before completely removing the images.
The fashion retailer has also issued an official statement about the saga, according to a follow-up report by ComicBook.com.
“Forever 21 takes feedback on our products and marketing extremely seriously. We celebrate all superheroes with many different models of various ethnicities and apologize if the photo in question was offensive in anyway.”
Even though the images have been removed, the controversy has sparked a conversation about race again, as it’s not the first time that Black Panther merchandise has caused a stir this year. When a Black Panther collector’s pin hit the shelves at Disney theme parks earlier in 2018, T’Challa had noticeably lighter skin than one might accept from an African king.
On that occasion, it seemed as if the explanation was that there was “some sort of color variation potentially due to paint issues, though the issues may also have stemmed from lighting in photos of the item.”