Marvel's Black Panther is the highest grossing superhero movie of all time. Worldwide, the acclaimed blockbuster made more than $1.2 billion, 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 modeled on a white, blond, blue-eyed male model.
It didn't take long before Twitter began to mock the misstep. 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, and at the time this article was published, the product still existed on the retailer's website.
On Tuesday evening, however, Forever21 sent Refinery29 the following statement: “Forever 21 takes feedback on our products and marketing extremely seriously. We celebrate all superheroes with many different models of various ethnicities and apologize if the photo in question was offensive in any way.”
As it happens, this misfire comes after Prada was criticized 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).
This story was originally published on Tuesday, December 18, 2018.