Via USA TODAY:
LOS ANGELES — Visual messaging app Snapchat came under fire Wednesday after it released a filter critics said amounted to a digital version of blackface.
The filter attempts to honor late reggae icon Bob Marley by letting users take a selfie in Snapchat and then alters the image to make the user look like Marley, complete with dreadlocks, a colorful hat and brown skin.
“I’m disgusted by what I’ve seen from @snapchat today, honestly can’t believe this,” wrote user @qmvia.
“This Bob Marley snapchat thing is blackface in 2016 effectively. Digital disrespect,” wrote user @Elijah.
Blackface originated in the early 19th century when black performers weren’t allowed to perform to white audiences, so white performers would use cork or paint to darken their skin. White performers wearing this make-up, which they applied to exaggerate features, ridiculed African Americans. The caricatures in these highly popular minstrel shows, such as “Jim Crow,” contributed to a legacy of racist stereotypes.
“It’s bad,” Wired wrote of Snapchat’s new filter. “It’s very bad.”
Outcry over the filter also resurfaced complaints that the tech industry’s largely white, male workforce makes it vulnerable to decisions that can be tone-deaf to other races.
Snapchat’s idea was to honor Marley, and in fact, it was the Marley estate’s idea to do the filter, according to a person close to the company not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. Spotify also honored Marley with a playlist.
But it wasn’t his birthday, adding to grievances aired on social media that Marley’s legacy shouldn’t just be reduced to pot-smoking. The filter was made available on 4/20, an informal holiday that celebrates marijuana, which Marley used as part of his Rastafarian religion.
Snapchat, a privately owned, venture-backed start-up that’s rapidly increasing in popularity among younger uses, specializes in visual images that can be manipulated and expire rapidly. It offers many filters to add to selfies, like rainbow tongues, top hats and skeleton bones.
Snapchat did not respond to a request for comment. Some news outlets reported a statement from the company that read, “Millions of Snapchatters have enjoyed Bob Marley’s music, and we respect his life and achievements.” The lens “gives people a new way to share their appreciation for Bob Marley and his music.”