‘Blackwashing’: French art school in hot water after students made to look darker for US promotion

A French art school sparked a wave of criticism and has been blasted as racist after it digitally altered a promotional photo by retouching skin colors to simulate a class of more varied origin for promotion in the US.

Comparing the before and after photos of the students from Emile-Cohl art school in Lyon, eastern France, plays out like a bizarre liberal version of Spot the Difference’. On the left, the original, mostly white student body. On the right: the new, seemingly hip, diverse, and fake gang of interracial pals.

Looking attentively at the photo, you’ll see that a student in the first row, third from right, is given a tan. Also, a man in a black T-shirt has been darkened, as well as a woman in the fourth row.

One might wonder how that happened. It was initially the surprised students who discovered the altered photo and called the trendy discrimination “blackwashing” on Twitter.

Posted last week on the home page of the US website of the future school, the photo has since been removed. A spokesman for the school has denied “any intention to manipulate reality” in this photograph. According to Rue89Lyon (the website that first reported the news) these changes were apparently made by a US communication agency responsible for creating the website promoting the school in America.

Despite the removal of the photo, the changes quickly drew the ire of many on Twitter, with some calling it “unacceptable” and “shameful.”

“We can't stop progress!” one person quipped sarcastically.

"It's ridiculous," said another. "A hallucination."

French politician Francis Nizet called the artificial blackening "a form of rampant racism."

While many students bashed the school for its bizarre version of 'reverse racism,' others bashed the "intern from hell" who actually carried out the photoshop race-swap. 

"Frankly I find such a thing unacceptable in 2018," one said. Not knowing how to use Photoshop properly while newer versions even allow a novice to do better. It's a shame!!"

The barrage of criticism resulted in the school releasing a statement in which it apologized for the photo. It explained that it deleted the picture and broke the contract with “the site provider.”

"We don’t need to manipulate images to demonstrate our openness to the world,” it said

Some outraged students weren't buying it. "I was really appalled by this scam," said one commenter. "And by the fact that the management of the school refuses to assume its share of responsibility, putting everything back on the communication agency."

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