For model Zuo Ye, who recently featured in Dolce and Gabbana's deplored advert, the experience of being duped into the starring tokestic role was enough to “almost ruin [her] modelling career”.
You've probably seen it by now: the 40-second long depiction of Chinese culture, complete with a painfully patronising voiceover guiding the model through the eating of oversized Italian meals with cheap chopsticks.
TFBoys band member Wang Junkai stepped down from his role as Chinese brand ambassador for D&G and a number of other famous figures denounced the long-criticised creative decisions of the designer brand.
And Zuo herself also became a target for that anger.
Describing the shoot as “different from what [she] initially expected”, Zuo claimed in an apology on Chinese social media platform Weibo that she felt “uncomfortable” once it became clear what her role in the advert would be.
She said: “During the filming process, I was required by the director to laugh from ear to ear [and] laugh behind [my] hands.
“As the food given was all super-sized, I did feel embarrassed when holding chopsticks. At the same time, I was required to laugh in an exaggerated way, but I hate to laugh in real life.”
Following that Zuo claimed to have “received lots of attacks and threats online” as well as being harassed “through phone calls, email and online”, noting that part of the reason she initially signed on for the role was due to the opportunities working “with any top brand” overseas as a Chinese model would bring her.
But whether or not she knew is beside the point; the advert should not have been made. The more important question is this: why it is that people of colour are still tasked with making choices like these, just to sustain their livelihoods?
Ascribing Zuo a level of influence to the point of being able to convince a global fashion powerhouse to change its entire orientalist treatment is naive.
Control for productions like these lies firmly in the hands of creative teams – most likely dominated by white employees – who have been free to dream up these nods to racism unchallenged for years, either because there's no one there to object or because the few people who would do not feel supported enough to challenge the status quo.
Thankfully, consumers are slowly beginning to grasp the consequences of tokenism. It's not just harmless fun, nor is it just a matter of hurting people's feelings. As with Zuo, the fallout can ruin a career.