On May 17, Kendall Jenner launched an ad campaign to promote her new brand of tequila and the final product immediately sparked controversy. Jenner, 25, received extreme backlash for appropriating Mexican culture in her ad promoting 818 tequila, which showcases a tan Jenner riding a white horse through an agave field and sporting braided pigtails and a sombrero. She is accompanied by native Mexican agave farmers as they laugh and share some tequila. Many were surprised by her complete lack of awareness around appropriating Mexican culture and portraying it as “migrant chic,” but I’m here to assert a proposition: Kendall Jenner knew exactly what she was doing.
Jenner’s Ad was filmed in a bluish and moody tone that caught many viewers’ attention. A TikTok user named Imani Barbarin, who holds a Masters in Global Communications, discussed the significance of the intentional lighting and color toning of the ad, saying, “The first thing I noticed is not the blatant cultural appropriation; it was the lighting. This is something that a lot of people of color in communications talk about all the time. In a lot of cases, it’s a yellow filter, [but] in the ad with Kendall Jenner, it’s a bluish one. These color treatments are usually used for countries that the west or predominantly white societies deem as dangerous or primitive. Often at the same time, the color makes white people look tan and adventurous, but on darker skinned people, it actively obscures their features.”
Barbarin’s comments play into a larger conversation in Hollywood around these color treatments. Last year, Netflix’s film Extraction starring Chris Hemsworth received similar scrutiny for its yellow filter, since the film takes place in Bangladesh. The yellow filter, critics said, made the location seem polluted and grimy, adding to stereotypes of non-Western countries. Though some try to excuse it away as a nod to the climates of these countries, there’s undeniably a racial element to these choices, and Jenner’s ad fits right into it.
If Jenner made this same mistake in her Pepsi commercial a few years ago, wouldn’t her team ensure that something like this would never happen again?
Twitter users also took to the platform to explain the harmfulness of the ad and Jenner’s new brand, calling Jenner out and urging Americans to boycott the celebrity’s tequila, writing, “DO not consume Kendall Jenner’s tequila because what she’s doing is Cultural Appropriation making it hers,” as well as, “I wish kendall jenner would actually pull up to the real 818 and see if she would still try appropriating Chicanx and Mexican culture.” Jenner never responded to critics’ claims that her ad was appropriative — though she did disable comments on her Instagram post.
But once again, I ask: Are people really surprised? This isn’t the only time Jenner has upset people with her controversial ads. In 2017, Jenner’s tone-deaf Pepsi commercial sparked outrage as the model passed out Pepsi sodas to police officers and Black Lives Matter protesters during a protest, ultimately trivializing the movement. Pepsi later pulled the ad, but at that point, the damage had already been done. Users angrily commented on the ad on Twitter and other forms of social media, reprimanding both Jenner and Pepsi. In an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians, a tearful and seemingly “devastated” Jenner tried to halfheartedly apologize for the commercial, claiming, “I would never purposely hurt someone, ever.”
But if Jenner made this same mistake in her Pepsi commercial a few years ago, wouldn’t her team ensure that something like this would never happen again — like putting out a new ad for her tequila that blatantly appropriates Mexican culture? Jenner and her family are collectively worth billions of dollars, so certainly they have top-of-the-line marketing teams that would watch for things like this and ensure it never happens again… right?
Kendall Jenner has had opportunities to educate herself, but she chooses not to.
Wrong. This ad is the latest symptom of a much larger problem. The Kardashian-Jenner family has been notorious for appropriating other cultures for years and is especially infamous for its ongoing exploitation and appropriation of Black culture and trends. Members of the family including Kim Kardashian and Jenner’s younger sister Kylie have a long history of blackfishing. One of Kylie’s more recent blackfishing incidents occurred back in March when she posted a photo of herself with much darker skin. One Twitter user commented under the photo, “When will your family be done cosplaying Black women?”
But it isn’t just a Kim, Kylie, and Kendall issue. In 2014, Khloé Kardashian was seen wearing a Native American headdress, which appropriated Indigeneous history and significance, trivializing the importance of traditional headdresses in Native American culture and perpetuating westernized stereotypes of Native American culture. Back in 2015, Khloé also posted an Instagram photo wearing a niqab, a veil worn by some Muslim women, with the caption “Habibi love.” Many Instagram users accused Kardashian of disrespecting and appropriating Middle Eastern culture for the sake of “fashion,” with one Instagram user simply commenting, “u gotta be kidding.”
And let’s not sleep on that one time that Kim named what is now Skims shapewear Kimono, back in 2019, which sparked huge backlash from the Japanese community for appropriating Japanese culture. Kardashian alleged that she did not mean to offend anyone and that she “never thought that it would be a problem.” And just last year, Kim upset the Indian community after a post circulated of her wearing a maang tikka, a traditional Indian headpiece that is only worn for very special occasions.
As consumers, we have the power to stop giving them the attention, and moreover, capital, that they so desperately crave.
TL;DR: It’s strikingly clear that the Kardashian-Jenner clan have a long history of cultural appropriation. We’ve had this conversation one too many times, which begs the question: Why do we continue to give this family a platform? Kendall Jenner has had opportunities to educate herself, but she chooses not to. Between their large team full of marketers, public relations professionals, and managers, there should be no excusing their actions. The Kardashian-Jenners are merely profiting off of other cultures for their own gain, and they do not care who they hurt or offend in the process. And while they may receive some heat for a few days, they bank on the backlash dying down and that they will recover unscathed. They trust that their platform will never be taken away because it has never been taken away in the past, which simply allows them to keep doing what they are doing — it is a vicious cycle of cultural appropriation, which is exactly why we need to stop giving them a platform.
And so, the responsibility lies with us: We must band together and deplatform the Kardashian-Jenners. As consumers, we have the power to stop giving them the attention, and moreover, capital, that they so desperately crave. No more television shows and social media accounts and product developments. In fact, allow this to be the last ever article you read about the entire family. I know I sound radical, but Jenner and her family know what they’re doing, and we need to stop making excuses for them — they’ve done this before, and they’ll do it again. Give your attention (and your money) to people who actually deserve it instead.