Marvel's Black Panther is the highest grossing superhero movie of all time. Worldwide, the acclaimed blockbuster made more than £950 million, and the Wakanda-effect didn't stop there. Starring a nearly all-Black cast, Black Panther was a watershed moment, and one that the film's costume designer Ruth E. Carter hoped would leave a lasting impression. “I want people to have a new vision of the continent of Africa,” she told Refinery29 in February. “I want people to understand it's not just this dark place where everyone dresses the same with bones in their nose, living in a grass hut. People need to see this is a modern continent. It has a voice and an aesthetic. We just put it on blast.” But we don't think Carter anticipated mainstream fast-fashion brands would interpret the moment quite this way.
On Tuesday, Forever21 tweeted "Wakanda Forever, get the sweater here" alongside a photo of a purple, orange, red and yellow mens' top, called a "Wakanda Forever Fair Isle Sweater," which was modelled on a white, blond, blue-eyed male model.
It didn't take long before Twitter began to mock the misstep. (The sweater, by the way, was decidedly not official, Marvel-sanctioned Black Panther merchandise.) Comedian (and host of an upcoming new weekly late night Showtime series) Desus Nice tweeted, "this sweater just called 311 because Shuri's making too much noise in her lab," while user @lisa2bags wrote "they got white people in the official Black Panther merch, and a Black guy in the bootleg. I mean... YIKES." The tweet has since been deleted, but the product still exists on the retailer's website. Forever21 has yet to comment further on the matter.
As it happens, this misfire comes after Prada was criticised last week for a New York City store window display featuring a charm resembling a Blackface character with huge eyes and big red lips. The Italian fashion house promised to erect an advisory council to "guide efforts on diversity, inclusion, and culture." Similarly, H&M and Zara have also come under fire recently for being racially and culturally insensitive. The latter, the New York Times is reporting, are “beefing up their approval process” for products before they land in customers hands — or on social media where they can be called out.
It sounds like Forever21 would also benefit from taking similar measures (among just general all around better business practices).