An actor in blackface portraying former President Barack Obama in a since-deleted Alitalia promotional video.

  • Alitalia, Italy's flagship airline, this week published a promotional video featuring an actor in heavy, dark makeup posing as former President Barack Obama.
  • People accused the airline of racism.
  • Alitalia apologised and took down the video on Wednesday, saying "it was never our intention to hurt anyone."
  • Before the apology representatives for the company had resisted critics and defended the video by claiming that the actor portraying Obama isn't white and that American tourists who saw them filming the video found it funny.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Italy's flagship airline has pulled down and apologised for a promotional video that featured an actor in blackface pretending to be former US president Barack Obama.

The ad, posted by Alitalia this week, featured a non-black actor in heavy makeup posing as Obama. The actor's nose, mouth, and lips were also enlarged, according to before-and-after shots of the actor posted by France's BFMTV channel.

The controversial ad had been part of a four-part series of social media videos advertising a new non-stop route from Rome to Washington, DC, according to The New York Times and Al Jazeera.

The other videos in the series included other actors playing President Donald Trump, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, the outlets reported.

Alitalia on Wednesday removed the video from YouTube, and said "it was never our intention to hurt anyone" in its apology posted on Twitter and Facebook.

"Alitalia deeply apologizes for the offense caused by the promotional video on our Washington route. It has since been removed," the company said.

"For our Company, respect for everyone is mandatory, it was never our intention to hurt anyone and we will learn from what has happened."

Alitalia initially defended its video before finally apologizing and removing it on Wednesday.

Prior to the apology, however, Alitalia had resisted accusations of racism and defended the video on Facebook, the Times, Al Jazeera, and VICE Italia reported.

After Leonardo De Franceschi, a media and cinema researcher at the University of Rome, complained about the "racist" marketing campaign on Facebook, an unnamed representative for the airline hit back by saying that the actor is not white, according to Al Jazeera.

"The actor we cast is not Caucasian, we used the makeup to change his facial features, not his skin colour," the Alitalia representative said, as cited by Al Jazeera. But the before-and-after photos of the actor, published in the video above, appear to contradict that statement.

According to VICE Italia, Alitalia's social media manager also responded to critics on Facebook by saying: "During the shooting we met many American tourists, everyone had a lot of fun with us but no one raised this issue."

Receive a single WhatsApp every morning with all our latest news: click here.

Also from Business Insider South Africa:

  • Sexy Socks versus Woolworths: This is what happens when your customers stop trusting you
  • A viral video shows a woman licking a tub of ice cream then putting it back in the supermarket freezer, and the brand has teamed up with police to try to track her down
  • Who is Christine Lagarde? The woman who rolled her eyes at Ivanka Trump is now set to take Europe's most important monetary position
  • Iran's president trolls nuclear deal signatories after breaching uranium stockpile limit: 'If you want to express regret and issue a statement, you can do it now'
  • Boris Johnson's links to soft drinks and tobacco lobbyists revealed after he