Is It Really Brownface? Ashton Kutcher’s Controversial Ad Pulled

19 comments
May 3, 2012 ‐ By

Brown face and racial hypersensitivity strike again in the case of Ashton Kutcher’s new Popchips ad campaign. Set up like the dating game, the online campaign for “World Wide Lovers Dating Service” features Kutcher playing a British weed head named Nigel, a Southern biker named Swordfish, and a Karl Lagerfeld-like fashion mogul. But it’s Kutcher’s impersonation of a 39-year-old Bollywood producer that has caused alarm because of the stereotypical Indian accent and “brownface” that go along with it.

Immediately after going viral, New York writer and entrepreneur Anil Dash demanded an apology for the “ignorance” of Internet ad spot, saying:

“I think the people behind this Popchips ad are not racist. I think they just made a racist ad, because they’re so steeped in our culture’s racism that they didn’t even realize they were doing it.”

In the clip, which has already been pulled due to the angered response from Dash, Brooklyn-based hip-hop group Das Racist, and several tweeters, Raj makes comments like:

“I’m Raj, I’m a Bollywood producer. I’m looking for the most delicious thing on the planet, like Kardashian hot … I would give that dog a bone.”

Though it’s easy to see where that type of caricature could ruffle a few feathers, a spokesman for the company insists there was no racist intent behind the ad’s creation.

“The new popchips worldwide dating video and ad campaign featuring four characters was created to provoke a few laughs and was never intended to stereotype or offend anyone,” the spokesperson said. “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.”

If Raj were the sole character in this ad then I would be more inclined to think it was a tad insensitive, but since Kutcher mimics several stereotypical types of personas in this ad, the backlash seems a little over the top. What do you think? Check out the ad here and let us know.

Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.

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  • Papillon

    The author said:

    “…but since Kutcher mimics several stereotypical types of personas in this ad, the backlash seems a little over the top…”

    But Indian is not a persona like hippie, biker, or whoever else Ashton was pretending to be. The whole joke seems to be that Indians are funny because their culture is different from ours. Just because you don the clothing and mannerisms of another race does not in itself a joke make! 

    It’s not like this is a skit where poking fun at this stereotype actually serves as a form of social commentary and we all learn something from it. It’s to sell frickin potato chips!

  • Papillon

    The author said:

    “…but since Kutcher mimics several stereotypical types of personas in this ad, the backlash seems a little over the top…”

    But Indian is not a persona like hippie, biker, or whoever else Ashton was pretending to be. The whole joke seems to be that Indians are funny because their culture is different from ours. Just because you don the clothing and mannerisms of another race does not in itself a joke make! 

    It’s not like this is a skit where poking fun at this stereotype actually serves as a form of social commentary and we all learn something from it. It’s to sell frickin potato chips!

  • justbeinghonest

    I’m mixed with south asian (indian) and afro-caribbean. My husband is pure south asian born and raised in India. This ad was not offensive, in my opinion. But I can tell you why Indians find it offensive. Because he used brownface. Indians are obsessed with white skin and the skin lightening cream industry in india is worth billions. Everyone lightens their skin there. It’s an absolute obsession. If he had just left his skin white and said and did the same things, Indians wouldn’t be offended. But the fact is, Indians are dark and they are black in my opinion. Some Indians are as dark as the dinka ppl of sudan. Especially the poorer indians who can’t afford to use skin bleach often.

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  • Janice Dee

    I was part of a group shown this commerical and asked to blog about it before it was released last week.  For this very reason I wouldn’t touch it.  I knew that this had the potential to be a problem.  The company was asked if they tested this with a focus group because of the depiction of the “Indian” persona.  The answer was yes and that is wasn’t a problem and my immediate thought was who were your particpants.  I really questioned the choice of Ashton as spokesperson for the product.  He is in that unfortunate and unenviable position of “Mr. Can’t Do Anything Right”  at the moment because of his affair during his marriage, so he was bound to be a lightning rod.  The spokesperson seemed as if the company were willing to overlook all of these issues because, well “He’s Ashton Kutcher.”  Well good luck going forth because just as I thought, the ad was a bust and I am so glad I didn’t affliate myself with it!!!!

  • http://www.tiffystacey.com/ Tiffy Stacey

    Wow major FAIL Ashton! You are not funny…

  • Nuttinyce

    Really?! Someone wasn’t doing their job if they thought this was acceptable. It’s 2012.

  • Hallie

    How as the ad offensive? He dressed up as other characters too. Indian men speak with that accent not a british accent even though they claim they speak with a british accent. 

  • Trisha_B

    People are too sensitive. Smh. If he did a black face, the black groups would have came out kicking & screaming that he’s being racist. & i would have said the same thing, people are too sensitive! Its comedy (even tho i didn’t find this funny). He didn’t insult anyone. Did he say anything that was stereotypical? If i’m not mistaking, a black basketball player did a white face. I didn’t hear people say anything about that. If they aren’t doing anything offensive, doing/saying stereotypical things then what’s the problem? Learn to laugh at yourself. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tiffanie-MadameGigglez-Thomas/665285721 Tiffanie MadameGigglez Thomas

     Well, i will say that yes there is a such thing as ‘brown face’ it is rather offensive because he is not of any Hindu or Arabian, or Pakistani, and so on. If he had done black or yellow face he would be in trouble if not just as much. Come on Ashton….

  • IllyPhilly

    I’m offended that it was suppose to be funny. ALL of it was just terrible. “comedy” is like the music game to me now. You don’t have to have any talent and you can do the same thing over and over and somehow still get paid.  

  • Ms_Sunshine9898

    are we really about to do this again? just because an actor emulates someone of another race for theatrical purposes and not to make fun of them does not mean their being racist. Stop being so sensitive and two face about race and comedy . . .

    • No Disrespect

      That makes no sense…the comedic aspect of what he is doing comes from the fact that he is a white male in brown face pretending to be Indian — he is, in fact, poking fun of a stereotypical version of an Indian man and, yes, it is offensive. It’s not about being sensitive, it’s about the fact that people need to stop promoting stereotypical versions of other cultures that they are not a part of and stay in their lane. I watched the commercial and it would have been just as funny and less offensive if they left out the “Indian.”

      • Ms_Sunshine9898

        No the fact of the matter is you are just sensitive. He wasn’t poking fun at anyone or anyone’s culture. He was pretending to be someone else for a laugh. The biggest sense of flattery is imitation. You are fooling yourself if you really think people are out to make fun of other races just because they emulate them. How many times have you sat back and laughed when black comedians poked fun at and teased white people or hispanics in a comedic act and doing every impression under the sun with the exception of putting on white make up – oh wait, that was done in white chicks, but i don’t recall and uproar about that either from the black community. another example of black people being hypocrites. you are a liar if you can really sit behind your computer and say you never have watched and laughed at any stand up comedy by a black person or dave chapel pretending to be a person of another race . . .

  • F3ral Anarchy

    america…say goodbye to comedy as we’ve known and loved. the days of the richard pryor, gene wilder, eddie murphy, dave chappelle etc gettin in make up to do comedy have come to end.  say goodbye to sketch comedy that was edgy and funny. we have become so politically correct and racially hyper-sensitive that those days are just long long gone….and it makes me sad.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/VHKJF6GA27DGA5IW76LZPAOVZ4 Lisa

    I’m offended (by the dog licking the chip and him eating it…ewww!)

  • thegoodluckpig

    i dont understand why we’re even asking if it’s really brownface. i think it’s incredibly problematic you say the backlash seems over the top considering had a black man been one of the characters Kutcher portrayed there’d be no speculation. it would be blackface and it would be offensive.  i’m not particularly offended but i’d never say someones response was unwarranted. 

    • Afro-Latina

      I totally agree with you THEGOODLUCKPIG! If ashton would have done a “black man”, there would have definitely been some controversy over that! Even though i am not Indian, I understand why they feel that way. I would be offended.  Because he’s portraying a stereotype, I understand why those who are Indian may feel this way. 

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