Several Bollywood stars have been labelled “hypocrites” after speaking out against racism to lend support to global protests while promoting products in India designed to make people’s skin lighter.
The actors were also trolled and accused of “cowardice” for their refusal to call out the attacks on India’s minorities, mainly Muslims, while protesting against the killing of George Floyd in the United States.
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A series of A-list Bollywood actresses, including Priyanka Chopra, shared posts on social media to protest against the death of Floyd who died in police custody after a white officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
“End this race war here in the US, and around the world. Wherever you live, whatever your circumstances, NO ONE deserves to die, especially at the hands of another because of their skin colour,” Chopra, 37, posted on Instagram.
People were quick to call her out on social media for previously promoting an “intense fairness moisturiser”.
They also pointed at her role in a 2008 Hindi film, Fashion, in which she is ashamed of having sex with a black man.
List of Indian actors who are speaking on BLM and their fairness cream ads, a thread : pic.twitter.com/yUeRNLch6U
— anti pigeon (@aluminiummaiden) May 31, 2020
“Thanks for speaking out for black lives. But, maybe also stop supporting a skin bleaching cream which promotes anti-blackness,” one user replied to Chopra’s Instagram post.
Chopra, a former Miss World who became a star in both Bollywood and Hollywood, has said in past interviews that she regretted endorsing such a product as a young actress and that she is proud of her dark skin.
She was not immediately available to comment.
Shah Rukh Khan in Emami Fair and Handsome print ads over the years pic.twitter.com/XuP8EcN9ld
— Shah Rukh Khan Universe Fan Club (@SRKUniverse) September 25, 2016
Promoting ‘fairness’ creams
Actresses Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, Deepika Padukone and Disha Patani also faced criticism for their anti-racism social media posts while having featured in ads for skin fairness products.
India’s multibillion-dollar skin lightening industry has a host of products appearing to offer dark-skinned Indians a lighter, fairer and ostensibly “better” version of themselves, often endorsed by the Bollywood’s top actors.
After years of criticism and campaigns against such products, many brands moved to calling them “skin brightening”, “whitening” or “lightening” creams and face washes.
“Most brands no longer want to be associated directly with being termed as ‘fairness creams’,” said actor Abhay Deol, a vocal critic of fairness products and Bollywood’s support of them.
Been refusing ever since I was a VJ till now. Never endorsed a skin lightening product. https://t.co/uGB1vPyaGX
— Mahira Khan (@TheMahiraKhan) June 5, 2020
Critics say the film industry helps feed India’s obsession with fair skin and bias against darker faces, with many pointing out it fails to represent the diversity of Indians.
For example, actors from southern states where most people are darker-skinned are rarely seen in mainstream Bollywood films.
Your silence will not protect you. Doesn’t every life matter, human or animal? Muting any form of creation is against the universal law. We must unlearn and learn to be human again, express compassion and practice love.#AllLivesMatter #WakeUpWorld pic.twitter.com/Ixzq39ueJC
— Tamannaah Bhatia (@tamannaahspeaks) June 5, 2020
Last year, the film Bala featured the story of a woman who suffered discrimination because of her complexion, and actress Bhumi Pednekar had her skin darkened to play the role.
Social media users also questioned why Bollywood continued to write lyrics and dialogues that equated fairness with beauty.
Kangana Ranaut, a noted actress, spoke out against her Bollywood colleagues for promoting fairness products.
“These people, especially Indian celebrities, the successful ones … have been endorsing all kinds of fairness products and today shamelessly they stand and say black lives matter – I mean how dare they?” she told the BBC in an interview.
Indian-American comedian Hasan Minhaj took on Bollywood for the endorsements as well on his news-comedy programme Patriot Act on Netflix.
‘Cowardice to the fore’
Meanwhile, many in India also criticised the Bollywood actors for their silence when Indians face police atrocities and other forms of violence.
“So much respect for all the celebrities tweeting #BLACK_LIVES_MATTER. It takes courage to bring your cowardice to the fore when you tweet for American lives but can’t tweet for Indian lives,” tweeted Omar Abdullah, former chief minister of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state, now divided into two federal territories.
Others asked why the Bollywood actors do not take a stand on contentious issues such as the “anti-Muslim” Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed by the government late last year, or the protests and violence that followed after the passage of the law.
The CAA allows Indian citizenship for non-Muslim minorities from the neighbouring Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Critics say the law violates India’s secular constitution.
“So our starlets who did not even whisper about the anti-Muslim carnage in Delhi, the spate of lynchings, the citizenship bill, the arrests of academics and intellectuals are outraging with the hashtag #BLACK_LIVES_MATTER. PUKE,” journalist Rana Ayyub posted on Twitter.
Many social media users also called out the “hypocrisy” behind Bollywood actors expressing outrage over the death of a pregnant elephant in Kerala state, while maintaining silence on the imprisonment of activist Safoora Zargar, who was arrested in April despite being pregnant for protesting against the CAA.
Maybe animals are less wild and humans less human. What happened with that #elephant is heartbreaking, inhumane and unacceptable! Strict action should be taken against the culprits. #AllLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/sOmUsL3Ayc
— Akshay Kumar (@akshaykumar) June 3, 2020
The animal died last month after it reportedly ate fruit filled with explosives. Its death triggered a political controversy after right-wing forces attempted to communalise the issue by suggesting the culprit could be a Muslim, forcing Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to flag a “hate campaign” over the issue.
Zargar, 27, is accused of being a “conspirator” behind the February violence in the Indian capital, in which 53 people were killed.
She has been charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 2019 (UAPA), a stringent “anti-terror” law and has been denied bail thrice so far despite her health condition amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Where has the outrage and empathy we rightly felt at the death of the elephant in Kerala gone in the case of Safoora Zargar, the Jamia student held in an overcrowded jail at COVID time?” asked filmmaker Bedabrata Pain in a column titled Human Cruelty and a Tale of Two Pregnancies for The Wire news website.
Hypocrisy at its finest. Bollywood celebrities endorsing colorism and now using BLM as an accessory lashed out on social media about the devastating accident causing the death of a pregnant elephant. Funny how the same energy and outrage isn’t used to speak up for Safoora Zargar- pic.twitter.com/KKaHPA15MN
— Athira Pratap (@Athira_Pratap_) June 8, 2020