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Chinyere Ezie, a civil rights lawyer and social justice activist who specializes in constitutional litigation, was shopping in Manhattan after "a very emotional visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture including an exhibit on blackface" when she passed the Prada storefront.
What she saw there prompted her to make a rare public Facebook post and start a hashtag, #Stopblackface and #BoycottPrada. Her post went viral quickly.
I don’t make a lot of public posts, but right now I’m shaking with anger.
Today after returning to NYC after a very emotional visit to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture including an exhibit on blackface, I walked past Prada’s Soho storefront only to be confronted with the very same racist and denigrating #blackface imagery.
I entered the store with a coworker, only to be assaulted with more and more bewildering examples of their Sambo like imagery.
When I asked a Prada employee whether they knew they had plastered blackface imagery throughout their store, in a moment of surprising candor I was told that *a black employee had previously complained about blackface at Prada, but he didn’t work there anymore.*
History cannot continue to repeat itself. Black America deserves better. And we demand better.
So who or what is this super-kawaii character? You could find him on Prada's US website when you searched for Otto & Toto, the red one is Otto, the green one is Toto. They are "inspired by the image of the monkey, one of Prada's most iconic logos"
There are seven creatures in all, Disco, Socks, Fiddle, Otto, Toto, Scuba, and Spot. They are created in the Prada labs, "each exhibit supernatural powers and a few glaring quirks", the story goes.
Raised in isolation within the austere confines of Prada Labs, each has a triangular Prada heart and a checkerboard patterned brain. Other Prada codes featured prominently in the Pradamalia morphology include metal studs, ombre tones, polished wood, printed lips, and the iconic Saffiano leather.
The main launch clips show how they escape the labs, just in time for the holidays so they are available in stores now. A keyring with Otto would be $550, and clearly targeted at those who have a lot of spending money and a fascination for cute trinkets.
The Pradamalia fantasy charms didn't spark accusations of racism when they were initially released a month ago, despite being prominently featured in fashion media, but now that social media users have seen it, many people took up the hashtag and accused the character of "sambo-like" imagery and blackface. Some recalled the logo of Coon Chicken Inn, and other caricatures of the 1920s. Others think it's a homage to Kay Bojesen's monkey, due to the teak wood and the shape of the arms. And the fact that it is actually described as a monkey, or rather a robot-monkey created in a lab, which may explain the helmet.
Prada launched these characters on Twitter with a tweet that read: "#Pradamalia specimens (and best friends) Toto and Otto were designed after the image of #Prada’s oldest mascot: the monkey." and a clip of the monkeys dancing. You can barely see this tweet in Googles webcache now.
Once the hashtags took off, Prada scrambled to do something about it, the Otto & Toto characters from the Pradamalia collection have been removed from being directly accessed at the Prada website (though at press time they still show up in search), and the characters are being removed from stores. Prada's official social media has been cleansed of all images and video clips that introduced the Otto & Toto characters, while their Twitter account sent this apology:
"The Pradamalia are fantasy charms composed of elements of the Prada oeuvre. They are not intended to have any reference to the real world and certainly not blackface" Prada Tweeted on Friday, "Prada Group never had the intention of offending anyone and we abhor all forms of racism and racist imagery. In this interest we will withdraw the characters in question from display and circulation."
I do believe this means those expensive trinkets will fetch even more on eBay now.