Star Wars actor John Boyega has announced his decision to step down as an ambassador for British brand Jo Malone London following the revelation that the company had cut him out of an ad shown in China.
Making the announcement on social media, the actor called the decision to cut him from the campaign without his knowledge "wrong" and one he could not condone.
Boyega told followers: "Their decision to replace my campaign in China by using my concepts and substituting a local brand ambassador for me, without either my consent or prior notice, was wrong. The film celebrated my personal story– showcasing my hometown, including my friends and featuring my family."
He continued to say: "While many brands understandably use a variety of global and local ambassadors , dismissively trading out one’s culture this way is not something I can condone."
The luxury fragrance and candle brand issued an apology to Boyega following reports in the Hollywood Reporter that the actor had been replaced in a repackaged version of the ad for the British brand with popular Chinese actor Liu Haoran.
The company expressed regret over the decision, calling the move a “misstep" in a lengthy statement to the Hollywood Reporter.
"We deeply apologize for what, on our end, was a mistake in the local execution of the John Boyega campaign," said representatives for the brand. “John is a tremendous artist with great personal vision and direction. The concept for the film was based on John’s personal experiences and should not have been replicated.”
The original ad was conceived by Boyega himself and drew on his personal story for inspiration. It included shots of a diverse cast, including his family members, and cutaways showing his hometown of Peckham in south London. The “London Gent” campaign was selected as the “Best Media Campaign" at the Fragrance Foundation Awards this year.
He said: “There’s a mixture of things you see me do in that film. You see me in a professional environment on a film set, then with family, and it’s about breaking free of the concept of ‘going back or returning to your roots,’ but more about the roots existing with this new side of my life.”
In the repackaged version, Chinese actor Liu can be seen hanging out with friends and riding a horse identical to the one Boyega rides in his version of the commercial.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, Boyega was unaware that his concept had been lifted and repackaged for a Chinese audience and only found it through social media. The company spokesperson told the Hollywood Reporter that it "immediately" moved to remove the edited ad, but acknowledged harm was still done.
“We respect John, and support our partners and fans globally. We are taking this misstep very seriously and we are working together as a brand to do better moving forward," the statement said.
In response to Boyega's decision to step away, the brand said it respected his decision and "wish him all the best."
This isn’t the first instance Boyega has been erased or minimized in the Chinese market. In 2015, promotional material for Star Wars: The Force Awakens featured images of the actor that were dramatically reduced in size despite being part of the main cast.
Online, people have criticized Jo Malone London and accused the brand of pandering to anti-Black sentiments despite expressing public support for the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd.
This is not comfortable to admit, but they replaced John Boyega to appeal to the anti Black Chinese market of consumers & it's sad. Keeping John Boyega in the advert (which he conceived & created) could help break the chain of anti Blackness. Just saying. https://t.co/pgqsSb4pnM
Put some respect on @JohnBoyega’s name!!! Jo Malone needs to take several seats for furthering anti-Blackness. Get it together.
Jo Malone clearly did not feel that a black man advertising their product would work in the Chinese market. That's blatant racism. #johnboyega #jomalone
One user highlighted the similarities by placing the two ads side by side and accused the brand of ripping off Boyega's creativity.
Crazy racism from Jo Malone. Not only did they replace @JohnBoyega, they ripped off his creative ideas and reshot his original film virtually shot-for-shot for the Chinese market. Edit: Original left - Racist right.
This is a beautifully shot, elegantly conceived, heart-warmingly personal advert - written, directed, produced & starring @JohnBoyega. It's disgraceful Jo Malone abused his work by re-shooting it w/out Black ppl & w/out his approval for Chinese market. https://t.co/13Ufp5h3Ku
Some people questioned the decision-making.
Whatever the thought process in Jo Malone deciding to edit John Boyega (who wrote directed and starred) out of his commercial short for use in China, it’s pretty clear there are no Black or minority voices in positions powerful enough to have an influence. I mean come the f*ck on
Boyega has been very vocal in using his platform to highlight systemic racism and has previously suggested that his outspoken position could be to the detriment of his career.
After delivering a rousing speech at a Black Lives Matter protest in London back in June, he told BuzzFeed News: "I'm just dedicating my life and creative time and everything into making sure that we are a part of something that's going to exist past protests — exists past us having moments of being excited and on fire to make change."