We all are familiar with designer campaigns that flood our social media channels all year round. Every brand launches its new collection, whether spring, winter, or summer, in a unique yet attention-catching way. Sana Safinaz made one such attempt in 2018.
Their designer lawn was shot in Kenya, Africa, in an attempt to portray their culture and overall inclusivity. However, the campaign received heavy backlash and criticism from critics and the general population for being racist, culturally insensitive, and derogatory.
The campaign's pictures show African men in the background or being used as props. One image that went viral (for all the wrong reasons) was where an African man was holding an umbrella over a fully dressed Sana Safinaz model. Such pictures were not only humiliating but were exploitative and showed the regressive mentality of the brand. Some even termed the campaign reliving "colonial fantasy" and fulfilling the "white savior complex".
The question, however, is how would such a campaign affect the representation and image of the African tribes who have always been sidelined from the mainstream media?
It's not a hidden fact that black representation through media has always been a problem. But is it really the representation that is the problem or the way the representation is done? In this campaign, we see black men and women in the frame, but is this how they want to be seen? As mere props assisting another racial and ethnic group? Definitely not. They want to be seen as a distinct racial group that deserves equal, positive representation and importance, just like other communities around the globe.
A campaign that showed a day in their lives, their culture, and practices would have been better than portraying them as props. It's high time we take responsibility for our actions and produce media products that don't negatively affect any racial or ethnic group.
I completely agree with your post, I think its the way that the black community is represented that received backlash. I think to be actually more inclusive they should have hired 2-3 black models to model their clothes and accessories. This would have actually helped the African tribes representation. They could also be shown modelling together with Pakistani models instead of making them hold umbrellas. The picture that you’re referring to did give off a derogatory vibe and reiterated Pakistan’s already racist culture. The question we need to ask ourselves is that if the roles were to be reversed, and the black person was modelling while a Pakistani held the umbrella, would that be representative?
I agree with what you said about the problem lying in the way representation occurs. This campaign reproduced the internalised racism of this country which I have actually heard people defend because according to them ‘racism doesn’t apply here’. I would argue that even colourism in Pakistan finds its roots in the racism that was sown through the colonial mindset of the West. At the same time these issues are exacerbated by classism just like in your example where the person of colours had to be holding the umbrella. The intersection of racism and classism manifests in a plethora of ways in Pakistan and it is high time such behaviour is called out.