*Noodle company Nissin has backtracked and apologized after critics slammed its ad that depicts tennis champ Naomi Osaka as white–ish, rather than biracial, as she is of Haitian and Japanese descent.
In the two “Hungry to Win” ads, the rising star appears whitewashed for the Asian market’s consumption. The anime-inspired cartoon shows her as having fluffy brown hair and pale skin.
Critics called out the sponsor for ignoring the 21-year-old’s Haitian-American heritage, even though Japanese culture has long valued lighter skin.
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“There is no intention of whitewashing,” Daisuke Okabayashi, a Nissin spokesperson, said. “We accept that we are not sensitive enough and will pay more attention to diversity issues in the future.”
ESPN reports that the animation clips that sparked the controversy were removed from the company’s website on Wednesday.
“We as a company put human rights first, and our stance of valuing diversity is unchanged,” Okabayashi said in a telephone interview with ESPN.
Osaka, who is currently playing in the Australian Open, says she has spoken with the company and “They’ve apologized,” she told reporters.
“For me, it’s obvious, I’m tan. I don’t think they did it on purpose to be whitewashing or anything but the next time they try to portray me or something, I feel like they should talk to me about it.”
Osaka, who was born in Japan, rose to fame after beating Serena Williams in the 2018 U.S. Open,
Williams, meanwhile, was defeated on Wednesday by No. 7 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic at the Australian Open.
Pliskova won 6–4, 4–6, 7–5, and advanced to the semifinals. Serena rolled her ankle and never recovered after being up 5-1 in the 3rd.