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Where’s Woke When You Need it? Cardi B’s Reebok-Themed Shoot Rankles Fans

Another day, another ill-advised instance of cultural appropriation.

Many fans and critics of hip-hop sensation and provocateur Cardi B went from hyped to disgruntled with the artist’s release of her new sneaker capsule with Reebok.

The Cardi B x Reebok collection featured a reimagining of the brand’s iconic Club C sneaker, which dropped on Friday in white, black and red. While stock sold out quickly, an exclusive first look at the collection in a photo shoot for Footwear News (a sister publication to Sourcing Journal) managed to rankle swathes of shoppers across the web. The magazine’s cover depicted Cardi, clad in a strapless red gown by Georges Hobeika, as the Hindu goddess Durga, lovingly caressing a shoe using two of her 10 arms.

Shortly after the magazine’s cover went live, the Twittersphere was abuzz with critiques of its art direction and the WAP artist’s depiction of the deity.

“[B]asically, cardi b posed as goddess durga for a reebok photoshoot, while holding a shoe. i think u can figure out why this is disrespectful af,” tweeted @1991FineLine. “[A]pparently it was to ‘pay homage’ but it’s literally cultural appropriation.”

“I wanna dare cardi b to actually release THAT picture alongside Durga’s picture in india. [A]nd then face the reaction with a straight face,” wrote Twitter user @GucciLordStyles.

Some users also noted that shoes are prohibited in Hindu temples, making the image’s use for the hawking of sneakers a particularly offensive display. The goddess Durga, many also noted, is never depicted “bare-bodied.”

While the shoot also featured a Dali-esque black gown by designer Christian Siriano with wildly surrealistic proportions, even that sartorial choice could not distract from the internet’s ire.

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Just one day after its virtual debut, the publication issued a statement that it would be “reworking” the cover, and deleted an Instagram post promoting the image with a caption that likened Cardi, whose real name is Belcalis Almánzar, to Durga, calling her “a dominant female voice at a critical time.” A new cover image shot by Jora Frantzis appeared Wednesday, showcasing the Siriano gown with a caption taking “full accountability” for not being considerate of “certain cultural and religious perspectives.”

Cardi B in a gown designed by Christian Siriano.
Cardi B in a gown designed by Christian Siriano. Jora Frantzis / Footwear News

“It is important that we learn from this example and are sensitive to this sort of religious imagery when creative discussions are taking place in the future,” Footwear News wrote.

On Wednesday, Cardi B also took to the ‘gram to offer her own apology to fans. “When I did the Reebok shoot, the creatives were telling me that I was going to represent a goddess that represents strength, femininity, and liberation, and that’s something that I love and that I’m all about and I thought that it was dope,” she said.

“But if people think I’m offending their culture or their religion, I want to say I’m sorry,” she added. “I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful. Maybe I should have done my research.”

Reebok has thus far declined to wade into the fray, though it seems that the brand had little influence on the direction of the shoot.

The incident harkens back to a moment in June of last year when reality-star-turned-fashion-mogul Kim Kardashian West revealed the name of her much-hyped shapewear line, and offended Japanese people in the process.

While it feels like Skims has been a part of the style lexicon for much longer than a year given its ubiquitous presence on social media feeds, the line of shaping undergarments and lounge apparel was once slated to be called Kimono. Kardashian West only opted to change the name after initially announcing its debut to public outcry.

The mayor of Kyoto, Daisaku Kadokawa, even weighed in on the matter, imploring Kardashian West to drop the trademark and explaining the kimono’s significance in Japanese culture. The brand launched with its current moniker that September.