Alitalia has been accused of racism after posting an ad on social media featuring a white actor wearing blackface and pretending to be Barack Obama.
The airline has since pulled down and apologised for the ad, which featured a non-black actor in heavy makeup, including accentuated lips and an enlarged nose, posing as the former US President.
At first, Alitalia claimed the ad wasn’t racist after Leonardo De Franceschi, a media and cinema researcher at the University of Rome, criticised the ad.
“The actor we cast is not Caucasian, we used the makeup to change his facial features, not his skin colour,” a spokesperson for the airline told Al-Jazeera.
But before and after images of the actor posted by France’s BFMTV channel tell a different story.
Alitalia’s social media manager also defended the ad, claiming they met many American tourists while shooting the ad and no one raised “this issue”.
The ad was part of a four-part series advertising a new non-stop route from Rome to Washington DC, according to Al-Jazeera. Other videos in the series feature actors playing President Donald Trump, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
After it eventually removed the video, the airline said it was deeply sorry and never intended to hurt anyone.
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.
— Alitalia (@Alitalia) July 3, 2019
“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 airline said on Facebook and Twitter.