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Alitalia airline apologizes, removes ads featuring Tunisian actor in blackface portraying Barack Obama

The "outrageous" ad was part of a series of commercials released by the Italian airline to promote its newly-opened nonstop flight from Rome to Washington D.C

An Italian airline has been forced to issue a public apology for its tone-deaf and insensitive ad campaign that featured an actor dressed up in blackface playing the role of former US President Barack Obama.

Alitalia, the flagship airline carrier of Italy, received severe backlash online over a series of new commercials they released to promote its newly-opened nonstop flight from Rome to Washington D.C., according to CNN.

The video, which was uploaded on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, was promoted with the hashtag #WhereIsWashington and saw four actors playing the parts of four US presidents — current President Donald Trump, his predecessor Obama, Abraham Lincoln, and the country's first president George Washington. 

But social media users took issue with the fact that the actor who was cast as Obama was not black, and was, in fact, reportedly Tunisian, terming the ad "outrageous."

"This @Alitalia video showcasing a silent blackfaced "Obama" is reprehensive on so many levels: racism, extreme provincialism, willful ignorance of facts, lack of historic knowledge," one user posted.

Alitalia initially pushed back against the criticism and defended the video, insisting that there was nothing wrong with it because the Obama actor was not Caucasian and that "makeup was applied to highlight features."

The ad featured actors portraying four presidents, including one who was dressed up in blackface to play former president Barack Obama (Source: Twitter)

However, the doubling down by the company only made matters worse, with many threatening to boycott the airline. By Wednesday, July 3, they took down the ads from its social media pages and issued a hasty apology.

"Alitalia deeply apologizes for the offense caused by the promotional video on our new Washington route," they tweeted. "For our company, respect for everyone is mandatory, it was never our intention to hurt anyone and we will learn from what has happened."

But the damage had been done. "I was about to purchase a flight to Rome in Alitalia for next month but I have decided it would be best to fly @airfrance or @lufthansa after this ad. Just completely disgusting," one person wrote. 

"My husband and I travel to Italy 2 or 3 times a year, 1st or business class. Alitalia, I can assure you that we will never fly on your airline again. There are so many other, better choices. If you can’t see the offense this ad would cause, you are ignorant & shouldn’t be flying," a second tweeted.

Alitalia isn't the only Italian company that has found itself in hot water over the issue of blackface either.

Gucci had to similarly backtrack and issue an apology in February after it promoted a black sweater that included a balaclava knit top that resembled blackface when worn above the neck.

Just two months prior to that, Prada had to pull a keychain and a line of accessories that featured a character with brown skin and exaggerated red lips off the shelves because of its resemblance to blackface.