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Italian Airline in Hot Water Over Ad Featuring Blackface Obama

July 05, 2019 - 11:12 am
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Italian airline Alitalia has apologized for a controversial promotional video featuring an actor in blackface portraying President Barack Obama after social media users lashed out at the airline over what they called a racist move.  

The ad, which ran in Italian, was part of a series of videos promoting Alitalia's new nonstop route from Rome to Washington, D.C. The companion videos feature other American presidents, including President Trump, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln along with the hashtag #WhereIsWashington.   

Social media erupted at the video featuring a man who appeared to be light skinned but wearing black makeup to portray the United States' first African-American president.

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"Whoa. @Alitalia advertises its new flight to Washington with an actor in blackface playing Obama. The video also features people saying he was born in Africa. Words fail me," wrote Alberto Riva, managing editor of travel news site The Points Guy. 

Another Twitter user said they planned to boycott the airline over its misstep. 

"We have tons of American Airlines that fly to Italy. You can take the train from there. You do not have to give your money to Alitalia until they get this [off] their site," said @spratelydenise. 

An Alitalia spokesperson initially defended the video, telling The New York Times that the actor causing the star was not Caucasian and that his makeup was merely meant to "highlight features." The airline did not immediately reply to CBS MoneyWatch's request for comment. 

It later said it was removing the video from its social media channels. 

"Alitalia deeply apologizes for the offense caused by the promotional video on our Washington route. It has since been removed. For our Company, respect for everyone is mandatory, it was never our intention to hurt anyone and we will learn from what has happened," the company said in a statement on Twitter. 

Alitalia is one of a handful of large Italian corporations recently accused of racial insensitivity. 

Gucci, in February, pulled a wool balaclava sweater from its shelves after social media users said it reminded them of blackface.  

Prada, last year, was attacked for using window display figurines that also evoked blackface imagery.