Just How Offensive Are Illamasqua's "Blackface" Ads?

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Take a look at the pictures above for beauty brand Illamasqua's holiday ad campaign. It features a model in two contrasting makeup looks: one stark white, the other a deep black. The ads came with the confusing tagline "I'm Not Dreaming Of A White Christmas." Understandably, there's been a huge amount of public outrage surrounding this ad, so much so that the brand immediately pulled the images. Many mainstream media outlets quickly jumped on the attack, calling it terrible and offensive, but we wonder if there's more to this story, and to this discussion, than the obvious.
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This isn't minstrelry, for sure, and we have to say that the image on the right doesn't appear to be a racial imitation. In fact, it doesn't even seem to be a human imitation. In both versions, the model is beyond skin tone — it's more of a fantastical representation of color personified than any actual suggestion for use. And yet, makeup exists to adjust skin tones and add colors for everyday life. And this image, on its own, is so easily taken out of context and turned into something offensive. Who could've approved these photos without realizing the inevitable controversy?
So, yes, we do believe the brand's motives were not malicious in this case — though the decision was still a poor one. But, does that make it any less offensive, or even acceptable? There's something about that image that, despite what it means when you analyze it from a detached perspective, provokes a very intense emotional response. We couldn't help but balk when we first saw it. While many news sites have chosen to run only the image on the right, we think the context of the two images together is crucial to the discussion, here. That said, it's still a shock to see even the slightest approximation of blackface. We (kind of) get where the brand was going with this, but where is the line between editorial statement and horribly hurtful and offensive? (The Huffington Post)
What do you think? Are we off base in suggesting their motives were innocent? And is there any way that black makeup (rather than more literal blackface) can be anything less than offensive, today or ever?
Photo: Courtesy of Illamasqua
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