Snapchat’s new Bob Marley filter prompts ‘blackface’ backlash

Happy 4/20 day everybody! To celebrate, Snapchat teamed up with the estate of Bob Marley, and the results were … unfortunate.

Snapchat created a lens that makes your face look more like the legendary musician’s by adding Marley-like features — a cap, dreadlocks, a beard and darker skin. Amusing? Probably for some users, but it comes with some really awful historical associations. The lens prompted a number of users to point out that it’s basically the contemporary equivalent of blackface.

To be fair to Snapchat, this isn’t something the company did on its own — it was sanctioned by the Marley estate. (Other things the Marley estate have approved include Bob Marley-branded marijuana and a 4/20-themed mix on Spotify.)

Plus, this kind of thing isn’t totally unprecedented. MSQRD offered lenses that put Obama and Snoop “masks” over your face — but the lenses appear to be gone, post-Facebook acquisition (it still has a “rasta” lens that doesn’t change skin color). You could also argue that the mask approach is less icky than actually darkening the appearance of someone’s skin.

In a statement, Snapchat seems to be standing behind the partnership:

The lens we launched today was created in partnership with the Bob Marley Estate, and gives people a new way to share their appreciation for Bob Marley and his music. Millions of Snapchatters have enjoyed Bob Marley’s music, and we respect his life and achievements.

Additional reporting by Brian Heater