Genealogy website Ancestory.com has pulled an ad that depicted a white man romantically pursuing a black woman during the era of slavery in the American south.
Titled 'Inseparable', the spot was part of a wider campaign from the DNA testing company and showed a pair of 'lovers' attempting to covertly run through the streets to find a secret spot.
When they arrive somewhere secluded, the man is shown pulling a gold ring from his pocket and telling the woman: "Abigail, we can escape to the North. There's a place we can be together across the border. Will you leave with me?".
The screen then fades to black and text appears addressing the viewer: 'Without you, the story stops here.' The woman in the ad has no dialogue.
ooooh my god LMAOOO who approved this ancestry commercial??? pic.twitter.com/Isy0k4HTMA
— manny (@mannyfidel) April 18, 2019
The website was forced to take the short film (which was seemingly targeted towards biracial people) out of circulation on YouTube and TV, after online critics slammed the brand for what they perceived to be the portrayal of a revisionist version of history.
Many pointed out that the commercial was set in an era where black women were subjugated and raped by white slave owners and said the ad ignored the power dynamic between owners and slaves.
ancestry dot com: how can we overly romanticize & create an irresponsible, ahistorical depiction of the relationship between white men & black women during the period of chattel slavery that completely disregards its power dynamics & the trauma of sexual exploitation? https://t.co/s5BqnoSg9x
— Clint Smith (@ClintSmithIII) April 18, 2019
Who approved that ad? I mean... I know there’s no “cute” way to discuss chattel slavery as part of our ancestry but there were BETTER ideas than this right? https://t.co/xCuHjw4DKB
— M’BlockU (@rodimusprime) April 18, 2019
I have so many questions about this @Ancestry commercial. 1) Is she his slave? 2) is this a real story? 3) is she his slave? 4) did this test well in focus groups? 5) who were in these focus groups? 6) was there no other scenario that could illuminate the value of DNA testing? https://t.co/lOBzueu3JZ
— Melissa Murray (@ProfMMurray) April 18, 2019
It was removed from Ancestry's YouTube page on Thursday (19 April), more than two weeks after it was first uploaded.
In a statement, the brand said: "Ancestry is committed to telling important stories from history. This ad was intended to represent one of those stories. We very much appreciate the feedback we have received and apologise for any offence that the ad may have caused."
Noel Voltz, an assistant professor of African American history at the University of Utah, told the Salt Lake Tribune that the ad was “incredibly problematic.”
“It’s messy,” she explained. “[The brand] is hinting to something that’s really a history of sexual exploitation and disempowerment.”
Though questions have been raised about the creative agency or team responsible for the ad, Ancestry.com hasn't addressed these points.
The controversy comes amid a spate of brands missing the mark when it comes to trying to embed themselves into culture.
Just weeks ago, Burger King New Zealand was accused of "racism" after it used chopsticks as a comedy vehicle to promote its Vietnamese chicken burger.
At the start of the year, Dolce and Gabbana found itself facing similar criticism after its 'DG Loves China' campaign was accused of trivialising the country’s centuries-old culture and depicting Chinese women in a racist way.
In 2017, Pepsi infamously used imagery associated with Black Lives Matter protests to push soda in a Kendall Jenner-fronted ad.