A Lesson To Be Had From That Johnny Depp/Dior Ad

On August 29, luxury brand Christian Dior dropped a description of a new perfume on Twitter, claiming it was, “an authentic journey deep into the Native American soul in a sacred, founding and secular territory.” Attached to the tweet, was the image of a Native American dancing in the Western terrain with a sunset in the background. The name of the perfume revealed to be “Sauvage,” French for wild. 

Dior later released an ad on YouTube for their new product, which features Johnny Depp playing the guitar with clips of the Native American dancer and an “Indian maiden” like woman, played by Native American actress Tanaya Beatty

The launch of this new ad campaign had an immediate backlash on social media with many commenting on how disrespectful this campaign was for Indigenous culture. And I have to agree.

Time and time again, Natives and their culture are exploited for the benefit of businesses. The Land O’ Lakes Indian maiden still exists, and the image of Natives in sports teams is a whole story in itself. No matter where these images appear, they always similarly depict Natives with feathers, braids, dark skin, and warpaint. While some groups, like the Cleveland Indians, have made moves to rid the corporate world of these negative stereotypes, they persist and occasionally still appear, and that’s a problem. 

When it comes to racist or stereotypical actions, society is quick to point them out in other racial and cultural groups, but the Indigenous community often gets left behind. When scrolling through reactions on Twitter for this new Dior ad, I was shocked to find that many people found the ad “beautiful” and “nothing wrong.” It had me wondering why many felt this way, and in the end, I answered my question: people aren’t educated/knowledgeable on Native culture. 

Thanks to the entertainment industry, the American education system, and our country’s accounts on history, the average non-Indegionous person believes these stereotypical viewpoints on the Indigenous people of America. Although other racial groups and cultural backgrounds are permitted to look and act in several different ways, the Indigenous community is not given that benefit. It is believed that there is only one way to act Native and only one way to look Native. When, in actuality, the Indigenous community spreads across America with looks, traditions, and culture being different from tribe to tribe. That’s why I could not connect with “the land” like Dior and Depp wanted me to. My people are from the east coast, which means “our land” does not consist of rocky terrain and orange sunsets, but more of wooded or swampy terrain. This difference does not make one Native experience more traditional or better but proves that diversity of life exists in Indian country. 

I’m not exactly sure on what could have made the ad better. I firmly believe that people’s cultures should be off-limits, but I feel that Dior could’ve at least placed Native Americans at the forefront of the ad. If you want to honor or pay homage to Natives, why not have them at the center? 

In the end, Dior took down the ads for this new line of “Sauvage” (this has been the name of the perfume since 2015) and rightfully so. Indigenous culture has been continually exploited for the profit of others, and it needs to stop along with the stereotypes. Indian country is a beautiful, vast and diverse culture that could never be contained in just one bottle of perfume.