An In-Depth Look At Cultural Appropriation In Hollywood And Society

Cultural appropriation has been defined as, ”a sociological concept which views the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture as a largely negative phenomenon”, and the term has been thrown around quite a bit throughout this past year.

Nadine Leopold runway fashion show
Nadine Leopold wears a headdress in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show 2017. David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock

With that being said, keep in mind that 2015 has unofficially been dubbed the year that,“everyone was offended”.

In recent months it has become quite apparent that tensions have risen all over. While there are endless reasons for this spike in hostility it’s become painfully apparent that society has become a bit on edge.

Specifically within the fashion community it seems as though cultural appropriation has become the hot topic of discussion.

During Fall 2015 fashion week, Chanel Creative Director and Head Designer, the legendary Karl Lagerfeld, came under scrutiny after a photo was posted by Livid Magazine on Instagram of a Caucasian model wearing what is commonly known as a durag. The caption beneath the picture read, “What are your thoughts on this Chanel urban tie cap?”

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Shortly thereafter the internet lost its collective mind.

A few hours after the picture was posted Actress Reagan Gomez, tweeted, “Wait, this is a Chanel Du-Rag???? Chanel made this??” From there tweeters and bloggers took to the internet to express their disapproval.

In fact, there was so much outrage that the LA Times came out with an article the same night the picture was released explaining that, “No, Chanel is not making and selling ‘urban tie caps,’ despite all the social media buzz”.

Unfortunately that did not stop the misinformation to spread like wildfire sparking debates on cultural appropriateness, appropriation and exploitation.

While there were quite a few articles with varying perspectives, no one ever brought up the 2003 film, “Malibu’s Most Wanted” starring Jamie Kennedy. The film was about a Caucasian teen raised in the suburbs but thinking that he’s far more urban than he actually is. Throughout the film it showed him wearing a durag yet no one seemed to find that offensive.

The film grossed $12,000,000 opening weekend and $34,000,000 in total.

It seems as though the Chanel mix up was the catalyst which ignited an appropriation debate that’s been going off ever since.

cultural appropriation in fashion industry
Gigi Hadid in dreads for Marc Jacobs, Gucci models in Sikh-style turbans, Victoria’s Secret angels in Native American headdresses. – Getty Images

Valentino was caught in the cultural appropriation crossfire for his Spring 2016 show where he had a distinct African theme, 91 looks featured on the runway and less than ten black models. Critics claimed it crossed into appropriation territory, not because of the theme, but because of the hairstyle he chose for the models.

Shortly after the show debuted Senior Editor for fashion news site Fashionista, Alyssa Vingan Klein penned an article entitled, “Let’s Discuss the Hair at Valentino’s Spring Show”.  Another article featured on Refinery29 entitled, “The Thin Line Between Fashionable & Offensive” discussed the cultural appropriation topic in it’s entirety.


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In the piece Senior Editor Phillip Picardi interviewed the author of the blog Afrobella, Patrice Grell Yursik where she explained, “Cornrows originated in Africa and the Caribbean — their very name indicates agriculture, planting, and labor. In Trinidad, we call them ‘cane rows,’ because of slaves planting sugar cane.

They are an intrinsic part of the Black tradition for both men and women or, as Davis puts it, ‘They’re part of our cultural and artistic vocabulary.”

Klein later explained “When that culture is co-opted by the fashion industry, there’s bound to be outrage.”

Related: The Misconception Of A Dark Skin Woman In A Light Skin World

Celebrities such as Kylie Jenner and Miley Cyrus have also been criticized for their hair choices, and in Jenner’s case, description of said choice. The now 18-year-old was blasted for describing her cornrows in a tweet describing a photo posted to her Instagram account that claimed she had taken “bold braids to a new epic level”.

The photo featured the caption, “I woke up like disss” and was immediately followed by backlash.

Kerry Perry cultural appropriation
Katy Perry has been called out for cultural appropriation several times over the years.

Hunger Games actress Amandia Stenberg responded to the photo with the comment, “@novemberskyys when u appropriate black features and culture but fail to use ur position of power to help black Americans by directing attention towards ur wigs instead of police brutality or racism #whitegirlsdoitbetter.”

Over the course of the past year or so, black women have made it very clear that it is not appropriate for Caucasian women to attempt styles associated with the black culture. Quiet as kept, the fact remains that there is a level of hypocrisy associated with the spiel that’s been given so many times.

Black women are equally guilty of cultural appropriation.

While it may not be openly discussed on social media and on blogs the appropriation of the Caucasian culture by blacks is nothing new. In fact the term “negropean” was developed within the black community and is defined as, “a person who either deliberately, or unconsciously betrays their own group by participating in its oppression.

Cultural Appropriation of Native American Heritage
Getty Images / Phil Walter

More times than not the subject is in regards to hair. Hair in the black community has been a touchy subject for years and is deep rooted in slavery.

Brianna Ruffin, a writer for Quora explains, “during slavery, black people with lighter skin and curly hair were more likely to be house slaves, whereas black people with darker skin and kinky hair were relegated to the fields.”

Over the centuries women have attempted to get hair like Caucasian women. From straightening combs to perms to weaves to wigs, black women have been doing it for centuries. It doesn’t always have to do with hair though. In other more extreme it can take a dangerous turn. Some women unhappy with themselves have turned to bleaching cream in an attempt to chemically and permanently change their complexions.

The irony in the whole situation is that it’s become a one sided conversation.

Caucasian women do not outwardly call cultural appropriation, and there is a good chance that if they did they would be attacked for calling out the blatant hypocrisy. All the while this taboo is not discussed within the black community on nearly as wide of a scale as a Caucasian women wearing cornrows or a durag.

Ultimately, the technological age has given everyone a platform to express and vocalize their opinions while steering clear from blatant truths, hypocrisies and taboos. All the while turning people into hypersensitive creatures who appear to take everything to heart and find offense in everything.

Cultural appropriation has become a term applied to anything that seems like it could be racially offensive and would require an apology shortly thereafter. It’s the term that’s said to let you know you’re going to need your PR firm to start drawing up the apology sooner than later.

The reality is, that whether we like it or not, in today’s society everyone takes from everyone’s cultures.  We live in an age where information is shared from all around the world at a lightning fast pace. We are constantly consumed by influences on a conscious and subconscious level which in turn are reflected in our appearances, interactions etc. It’s almost humanly impossible to not be influenced by another culture in some aspect at this point in the progression of society.

People have become so oblivious to the obvious that cultural appropriation has blended in with society so seamlessly that we’re now at a  point of hypocrisy.

To bicker and argue over who had certain styles first in order to defend why others shouldn’t have a part of it can only be a valid argument if everyone stuck to their own culture’s standards of beauty, societal norms and styles on a constant basis.

Since that isn’t the case then the entire argument is based on hypocrisy, but unfortunately with the current state of affairs and tensions rising on what appear to be a constant level, it’s no wonder no one can see the nothingness this argument is rooted in.

Whether people would like to see it or not, we’ve become far more culturally intertwined than we’d be willing to admit. In my opinion it’d be much more productive to discuss similarities rather than bicker over differences.

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Elizabeth Johnson
Ms Liberia PA, Ms Liberia US 2nd Runner-up, 1/2 of YoAfrikaa, GodMade. Writer for FabKuktute & UrbSocietyMagazine. I create and curate conteng about beauty, fashion, industry parties, events, and more. Stay Tuned!

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