Star Wars actor John Boyega has stepped down as an ambassador for the fragrance brand Jo Malone London, owned by US-based Estée Lauder, after the company cut him out of the Chinese version of an advert he directed.
Jo Malone, which was sold by its eponymous creator two decades ago, took on Mr Boyega last year as its first male “global ambassador” and issued an advertisement entitled London Gent in which he spends time in Peckham, south London, where he grew up.
The company subsequently issued a reshot version of the advert featuring the Chinese actor Liu Haoran, and no black actors, for the Chinese market, prompting an outcry on social media.
Mr Boyega said on Twitter on Monday evening: “I have decided to step down as Jo Malone’s global ambassador . . . Their decision to replace my campaign in China by using my concepts and substituting a local brand ambassador for me, without either my consent or prior notice, was wrong.
“The film celebrated my personal story — showcasing my hometown, including my friends and featuring my family. While many brands understandably use a variety of global and local ambassadors, dismissively trading out one’s culture this way is not something I can condone.”
Mr Boyega, whose parents moved to the UK from Nigeria, is a vocal anti-racism campaigner.
Jo Malone London said on Twitter: “John Boyega is an incredible talent, artist and person and we were proud to have him as part of our Jo Malone London family. We respect John’s decision and we wish him all the best.”
It had already withdrawn the Chinese version of the advert and apologised, telling The Hollywood Reporter: “We deeply apologise for what, on our end, was a mistake in the local execution of the John Boyega campaign.
“The concept for the film was based on John’s personal experiences and should not have been replicated . . . we recognise that this was painful and that offence was caused.” Estee Lauder did not respond to requests for further comment by publication time.
The brand’s founder, who now has another fragrance line, Jo Loves, sought to distance herself, saying: “Today after recent events, I would like to repeat that since 2006, I have had no involvement in any capacity with Jo Malone London. It is a brand I sold to Estee Lauder in 1999 and exited.”
Mr Boyega has also criticised Disney after playing the character of Finn in films including Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. He told GQ this month: “What I would say to Disney is do not bring out a black character, market them to be much more important in the franchise than they are and then have them pushed to the side.”
Jo Malone London is the latest in a series of brands to wrestle with issues of race since the Black Lives Matter protests this year.
Food products including PepsiCo’s Aunt Jemima baking ingredients line are to be renamed because of racial stereotyping, while Unilever’s TRESemmé haircare brand has withdrawn products temporarily from South African stores over an advert describing images of black people’s hair as “frizzy and dull”.
Additional reporting by Leila Abboud in Paris