Harry Potter actress Emma Watson has been accused of being a racist and a “fake feminist” after an ad that she appeared in for a skin-whitening cream three years ago went viral.
Watson, now 25, reportedly appeared in an ad for Lancôme cosmetics’ skin-whitening Blanc Expert cream in Asia in 2013.
— Daily Mail U.K. (@DailyMailUK) April 4, 2016
The actress has since been an outspoken advocate for feminism, and serves as a UN Goodwill Ambassador. Watson launched the feminist “HeForShe” campaign at the UN last year.
In an essay for the online women’s magazine gal-dem.com, contributor Naomi Mabita wrote that the cosmetics company’s use of Watson as an ambassador for its product implies that the whiteness of the actress’ skin tone is an ideal that all women should strive for.
“Interestingly, there are several well-known western companies who sell skin-lightening products in predominantly black and Asian markets, but do not market those same products to their domestic customers,” Mabita wrote.
“Do an image search of ad campaigns and you’ll quickly out find how widespread this practice of equating facial perfection to ‘whiteness’ is,” the author added. “Emma Watson, forever paraded in the media as a white feminist icon, is the face of Lancôme’s ‘Blanc Expert’ (Expert White) which contains disruptive ingredients intended to whiten the skin.”
Watson has recently spent time burnishing her feminist bona fides. In January, the actress launched a “feminist book club” and enlisted social media followers’ help in naming it (“Our Shared Shelf” was the winner).
In February, the Brown University graduate announced she would take a year off from acting to learn more about feminism and gender quality.
The online magazine’s racism accusations against Watson were meant with derision by some social media users.
lmfao even emma watson isn't safe i fucking love feminism https://t.co/VXzfrP2LlL
— huh (@montegoslay) April 4, 2016
In a follow-up piece, gal-dem.com’s Charlie Cuff said its intention in producing the article was to highlight the racism of the cosmetics companies that manufacture the skin-whitening creams, and not attack Watson herself.
“Instead of raising awareness, the skin lightening series had quickly become the Emma Watson series, and it was interesting to see the way in which many people (mainly white people and white feminists) leapt to her defence and criticised gal-dem, as if the article we had produced had condemned Watson,” Cuff wrote. “In reality, the article was condemning the companies behind producing the skin-lighteners.
Watson can be seen next in the drama Colonia, and then in the crime drama Regression alongside Ethan Hawke and David Thewlis. She is set to play Belle in Disney’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, set for release in 2017.
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum