Is a New European Union Ad Racist? Controversial Video Campaign Is Pulled

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The European Commission was forced to recall a video ad promoting the expansion of the European Union amid allegations that the content was racist.

In the style of a bad Quentin Tarantino knockoff, the video called “Growing Together” depicts three men of different ethnic backgrounds menacing a Caucasian woman. As the heroine walks through an abandoned warehouse, an Asian-looking man appears showing off serious kung fu skills. Soon a second aggressor is seen levitating toward her, wielding a sword and wearing traditional Indian dress. Finally, a bare-chested black man breaks through a door and tumbles toward the woman displaying the Afro-Brazilian martial-arts style of capoeira.

The woman calmly clones 11 copies of herself who surround her would-be assailants. Outnumbered, the three lay down their arms and passively sit cross-legged, accepting their defeat. She then transforms into the 12 stars of the E.U. flag. As the scene fades, a slogan appears: “The more we are, the stronger we are.”

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Reaction to the ad, which cost $167,000 to produce, was swift. It was pulled days after its premiere. Raoul Ruparel of independent think tank Open Europe told the Guardian that “a video which shows a white female being threatened by foreign men with weapons” was “in dubious taste and judgment.”

Stefano Sannino, director general of the division that produced the ad, believes its critics did not understand the message. In a statement, he wrote: “The clip featured typical characters for the martial arts genre: kung fu, capoeira and kalaripayattu masters; it started with demonstration of their skills and ended with all characters showing their mutual respect, concluding in a position of peace and harmony.”

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The selection of opponents won’t be lost on many. China, India and Brazil represent three of the bloc’s geopolitical competitors. Intentional or not, the ad conveys a message that a serene “Europe” can subdue her foreign foes.

Immigration and race have long been hot-button issues for the E.U., but the ad fiasco comes at a time when feelings are running particularly high. During a televised debate Tuesday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told voters that France has “too many foreigners” as he unveiled plans to cut the number of immigrants by 80,000 if re-elected.