Last week, actress Priyanka Chopra, like many celebrities, shared a lengthy Instagram post on the Black Lives Matter movement.
“There is so much work to be done and it needs to start at an individual level on a global scale. We all have a responsibility to educate ourselves and end this hate,” she wrote alongside a picture featuring the words, “I can’t breathe”.
“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.”
There's just one problem, as critics were quick to point out – in the past, Chopra has endorsed skin-lightening creams. The Quantico actress was previously the face for a Garnier cream that promotes "fairness plus dark spots reduction".
The BLM movement has opened the door on conversations about race, skin colour and privilege, and not only in America. People around the world are seeing this as an opportunity to talk about problems within their home countries.
In India, the movement has opened up a conversation about discrimination on the basis of skin colour, with many calling for its citizens to confront biases. And that includes calling out celebrities who have supported the BLM movement while simultaneously profiting off and endorsing skin-lightening products.
In 2017, Chopra stated that she regretted endorsing skin-lightening treatments. However, it didn't spare her from a wave of criticism following her BLM post. “Weren't you the face of Garnier's fairness cream advert? Bet you made a good sum by feeding into anti-blackness,” read one such comment.
"Thanks for speaking out for black lives. But, maybe also stop supporting a skin bleaching cream which promotes anti-blackness," read another. The star has, at the time of publishing, not made any further comment on the issue.
However, Chopra is not the only Indian celebrity to have been called out for showing their support for the BLM movement. Actress Disha Patani, who put up a post saying “all colours are beautiful”, was reminded of her endorsement of a Ponds BB cream that delivers “instant coverage plus spot-less fairness”.
Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, who shared a quote by Desmond Tutu that states: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,” has been the face of L’Oreal’s White Perfect Re-Lightening cream. Its tagline? “Flawless. Spotless. Pearl perfect fairness.”
Stars such as Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Vidya Balan, John Abraham, Preity Zinta, Shahid Kapoor and Genelia D'Souza have all endorsed fairness products in the past.
Other Bollywood stars who have voiced opinions on BLM have been accused of also benefiting from an industry that typically favours lighter skin tones. In Bollywood, “brownfacing” – the act of darkening a star’s skin tone when playing characters from disadvantaged backgrounds – is common, while lighter skin tones are preferred for lead roles.
Over the years, several dark-skinned actors have spoken out about getting sidelined for big roles because of the colour of their skin.
In light of the brewing controversy, it was Abhay Deol's posts that resonated with online audiences. The Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara star called out cosmetics companies promoting skin-lightening products while adding the pertinent question: "Do you think Indian celebrities will stop endorsing fairness creams now?"
He also shared tactics used by these cosmetics companies in the past.
“Fairness creams in India have evolved over the years, from being fairness creams to now using euphemisms like 'skin brightening / whitening', or 'lightening creams'. Most brands no longer want to be associated directly with being termed as 'fairness creams’. So now we have brands selling 'HD glow', 'white beauty', 'white glow', 'fine fairness', and so on,” he pointed out.
The move has been hailed by celebrities and fans alike. Kubbra Sait, of Sacred Games fame, commented with her experience of refusing to associate with products that had anything to do with lightening the skin.
Most recently, Kangana Ranaut backed up Deol’s sentiments about the hypocrisy of celebrities supporting BLM while having promoted such products themselves.
"[Bollywood celebrities] have been endorsing all kinds of fairness products and today, shamelessly, they stand and say black lives matter. How dare they? Why is no one asking them? What about these million-dollar deals that they have been doing with all kinds of fairness products and how come now suddenly black lives matter?" she asked in a BBC interview.
Ranaut is among a growing number of Indian stars who have actively refused to endorse fairness products over the years.