I've lost count of how many times I've advised whites not to darken their skin to play minorities. That's because a white person wearing blackface or brownface is kind of like a white person saying the N-word. You can do it but brace yourself for an angry backlash. That's exactly what actor Ashton Kutcher is enduring after appearing in a new ad for PopChips in which he dons dark makeup and assumes an Indian accent to portray a Bollywood producer named Raj.
In response to the controversy Popchips has pulled the ad, which parodies online dating sites and features Kutcher playing a series of "World Wide Lovers." Other characters, including a gay man named Darl, have also been criticized as offensive. A representative for the company released a statement saying, "The new Popchips worldwide dating parody featuring four characters was created to provoke a few laughs and was never intended to stereotype or offend anyone. At Popchips we embrace all types of shapes, flavors and colors, and appreciate all snackers, no matter their race or ethnicity. We hope people can enjoy this in the spirit it was intended."
But members of the Indian community say that someone at Popchips should have seen how putting a white actor in brownface to play an Indian man with a thick accent was offensive. Tech entrepreneur Anil Dash commented on the controversy on his website. "I can't imagine I have to explain this to anyone in 2012, but if you find yourself putting brown makeup on a white person in 2012 so they can do a bad 'funny' accent in order to sell potato chips, you are on the wrong course," he stated.
Dash sent out a number of statements on Twitter questioning what the creative process was behind the ad campaign. For example, which member of the creative team recommended brownface in the first place? Who then gave the thumbs up to have Kutcher appear in brownface? Despite his concerns about the ad campaign, Dash doesn't like the company's quick fix solution of simply yanking the offensive ad.
"It's like if rat droppings were found in a bag of Popchips," Dash said. "You wouldn't solve it by saying 'We threw away that bag of chips!' You'd solve it by saying 'Here's what we're doing to clean up things at the factory.'"