Swedish actor rejected for IKEA ad because he’s black
In November, the Swedish furniture giant commissioned a casting agency to hunt for Swedish actors for an advert to be broadcast in Greece ahead of the Black Friday shopping bonanza, SVT News reported.
“In this industry you write that you want a person who looks ‘Nordic or European’ if you want a white actor. But there was nothing about it [in the ad],” Fernando, a Stockholm-based actor and stand-up comedian, told the newspaper.
He recorded a video of himself and submitted his application for the role, hoping for the best. According to Fernando, the following day he received an email from the casting company, based in the UK, which read: "He can’t be black for the Greek market. Sorry."
The message was apparently meant to go to Fernando's agent, and the actor himself was taken aback.
According to Fernando, the casting agency later told him that such a blunt answer was down to human error, and that the message was written by a staff member under stress.
Ikea confirmed to SVT that they had indeed included skin-color requirements for the ad.
"Sometimes you are looking for a blond man. Sometimes you are looking for a dark-haired woman, an Asian one or a South American," Jakob Holmstrom, the company's press spokesman, said. However, the company admitted that it was indeed “unfortunate” to formulate the rejection this way.
Fernando's agent, Fia Hammarstrom, who is part-Thai, meanwhile told the Local that she was surprised by the actor going public with his complaint and was even considering dropping him.
“It's not a good text,” Hammarstrom said, referring to the email from the casting agency. But she warned that her client’s move could backfire and “hurt other people in the agency as well.” What’s more, it could cost him a job in the future as potential employers might have serious doubts before hiring him.
Fernando remained adamant that his decision to go public was the right thing to do.
"This is bigger than me. I'm not doing it for me. I'm sick of this. My colleagues in the industry are sick of this."
In 2012, Ikea came under fire for airbrushing out images of women from its catalogue issued in Saudi Arabia, known for its ultraconservative rule.
The company was forced to apologize, saying: "We should have reacted and realized that excluding women from the Saudi Arabian version of the catalogue is in conflict with the IKEA Group values."
The company has also won plaudits for adverts which break down stereotypes and prejudices.
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