A commercial for Christian Dior’s men’s fragrance, for which actor Johnny Depp shot scenes in southeastern Utah, has been pulled from YouTube after people objected on Twitter that it appropriated images of Native American culture.
Commenters criticized the ad for Dior’s brand Sauvage, which showed Depp walking in Utah’s striking redrock country, intercut with images of a Native American dancer and a Native American woman. Those critics note that the fragrance name is French for “savage,” a word used as an insult against Native American people.
Late Friday afternoon, the Dior ad ceased to exist on YouTube, replaced by a terse message: “Video unavailable. This video is private.” Posts also were removed from Instagram and Twitter.
The only words spoken in the ad were delivered by Depp, who said, “We are the land,” and the name of the fragrance.
“[T]he fact that ‘Sauvage’ is on some ‘we are the land’ BS is not surprising, but as always I find it deeply disturbing when brands force Native people to make the choice between stereotypes and misrepresentation, or utter invisibility,” tweeted Adrienne Keene, an assistant professor at Brown University, who writes the “Native Appropriations” blog and is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation.
The fashion label’s press notes said the ad had shown “the ongoing quest that travels into the heart of vast landscapes of completely virgin nature.”
Keene also posted: “As a note: ‘virgin nature’/’untouched wilderness’/’unused land’ is a total colonial trope just to justify colonization and land loss. Native peoples didn’t and don’t leave the land untouched. We steward, cultivate, and shape the land. We ‘use’ the land in relationship with it.”
The ad was shot in Grand and San Juan counties in southeastern Utah, a Utah Film Commission spokeswoman said Thursday. A publicist for Dior mistakenly told The Salt Lake Tribune earlier that the ad was shot in southwest Utah.
In Dior’s press notes, and in an accompanying behind-the-scenes video, the company pointed out that Depp and director Jean-Baptiste Mondino collaborated with Americans for Indian Opportunity (AIO), an advocacy group for Native American people, “in order to respect indigenous cultures, values and heritage.”
Keene points out that AIO was founded by LaDonna Harris, who, Keene wrote, “has worked tirelessly for Native folks throughout her career, and done incredible work.” Keene also notes that Harris courted controversy among Native Americans in 2012 by adopting Depp into her family, giving him a Comanche name, “Mah-Woo-Meh,” or “shape shifter.”
The Dior press notes mention Depp being “‘adopted’ by the Comanches” to stress the actor’s bona fides in the Native American community. In the behind-the-scenes video, which has also been removed from YouTube, Depp said: “There was a very striking woman, and she adopted me into the Comanche Nation.”
That occurred around the time Depp was cast as Tonto in a 2013 remake of “The Lone Ranger,” which also was partly filmed in southern Utah.
Laura Harris, AIO’s executive director (and LaDonna’s daughter), said Friday that “the [‘Sauvage’] name is the name, and we knew it would be controversial.” (Dior has used the “Sauvage” name since the 1960s.)
In a statement issued earlier in August, when the ad campaign was first announced, Harris said, “Parfums Christian Dior were very open to learning about contemporary Native peoples and were committed to avoiding cultural appropriation.” The statement said AIO provided advice to Depp and Mondino “on authentic inclusion of Native American images.”
The ad showed Depp walking over rock and through a stream and later playing an electric guitar — performing a riff from “Rumble,” written by Shawnee power-chord pioneer Link Wray. Depp is observed at a distance by a young woman (played by Tanaya Beatty, descended from the Da’Naxda’xw Nation in British Columbia), while elsewhere a Native American dancer — Canku One Star, a Rosebud Sioux member — performs atop a cliff.