Shame On You, Uma Thurman

by Celeste Mora

Today, I am not proud of Uma Thurman. I thought she was kickass in Kill Bill, Volumes I and II. I related to her cold-but-lovable character in Gattaca. Hell, I even sat through a tired "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" plot to see her in My Super Ex-Girlfriend. But now, she has decided to appropriate not one, not two, but almost a dozen cultures in only the most horrendously offensive of ways. So, what grand purpose could possibly warrant the appropriation of almost every major world festival? Uma Thurman poses as different cultures in a calendar advertising liquor.

That's right, Uma Thurman, who once hosted the Nobel Peace Prize Concert, has chosen to take part in the "Worldwide Celebration" Campari Calendar this year. A better name for this so-called "limited-run" and "high-fashion calendar" should be the "Erasing People of Color by Appropriating White Interpretations of Their Holidays."

Uma sits in repose with the necessary Campari drink in the January photo — in a black wig. She may not be wearing yellow-face, but she is clearly trying to impersonate a Chinese woman in this shot. In another photo (supposedly depicting a Japanese cherry blossom festival in April), she is wearing a kimono. This kimono is not from the runway (although I'm not giving them a pass on cultural appropriation), it was "made for [the] shoot." So, in order to extend their imperialist appropriation of culture beyond the limits of the already-racist fashion industry, Campari fashioned their own kimono. And Uma agreed to wear it.

Image: Campari Group

The sting of this cultural ignorance is doubled by the fact that Uma is on the board for a charity to preserve Tibetan culture. I realize that the Tibetan, Chinese, and Japanese cultures are wildly different, but if she is interested in preserving any culture other than her own, she should know the harm in mocking its neighbors. She serves on the board of the Tibet House, which "is dedicated to preserving Tibet's unique culture at a time when it is confronted with extinction on its own soil" and has His Holiness the Dalai Lama as its patron. Why, then, did she feel it mock Chinese and Japanese traditions, when she works to preserve Tibetan traditions through her charity work?

But Uma's colonialist appropriation of culture does not stop in Asia. In February, she wears a seemingly simple red dress in a spread about the Zanzibar Music Festival, but on her head is some attempt at a tribal headpiece. And behind her stands a woman of color being used a prop, fading into the back of the frame. Just a reminder to Campari, people are not props.

Image: Campari Group

Once again, Uma has worked with a charity that benefits the neighbors of the culture she mocked. She appeared in a series of ads for USAID's campaign to provide assistance to the Horn of Africa. Tanzania may not be a part of the horn, but it borders the countries that do. The hypocrisy of appearing in an ad to help African people, then allowing a person to be portrayed as simply a thing is staggering.

Worst of all, when Uma was asked about the calendar, she said:

"There is nothing more enjoyable than a celebration and I feel confident that people around the world will enjoy the worldwide celebration which the Campari Calendar provides.”

I know this is probably said out of ignorance to the people she has erased by taking their cultures as costumes, but I don't care. Uma, you should have said "no" when asked to join this project. You should have said "hell no!" Your career could have taken the blow. Because you did not, you participated in a horrendous display of white privilege.

As a fellow white American who wants cultural appropriation and erasure to stop, I say: Shame on you, Uma Thurman.

Image: Campari Group