Japanese Food Company Pulls Ads After Accusations of Whitewashing Tennis Champ Naomi Osaka
The maker of Cup Noodle and Top Ramen, Japan’s Nissin Foods, has pulled ads featuring biracial tennis player Naomi Osaka after critics said they “whitewashed” her natural skin tone.
The “Hungry to Win” campaign, drawn by manga artist Takeshi Konomi, according to Washington Post, depicts the 21-year-old 2018 U.S. Open Champ — who was born in Japan to a Haitian father and has dual U.S. and Japanese citizenship — and fellow athlete Kei Nishikori swinging their racquets.
As American writer living in Japan, Baye McNeil, described the advertisements to Sports Illustrated, saying, “she looks totally like a white woman in the ad … It was very whitewashed.”
On Wednesday, the company pulled the campaign, released earlier this month, from YouTube due to the backlash, the Japan Times reported.
“Nissin Foods Group operates under the respect of fundamental human rights, ensuring that gender, race, age, nationality, or any other values are taken into consideration in accordance with all our business practices, including our advertisement activities,” Nissin said in a statement provided to PEOPLE.
“The characters were designed with the intention to replicate the world of the anime series as much as possible,” the statement continued, saying that the company consulted Osaka’s reps in Japan before releasing the ads. The drawings, however, were not shared with her U.S. reps before they went public.
“The current situation creating social controversy is not what we had intended, and therefore have decided to stop the campaign,” the company concluded in the statement.
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When asked about the ads on Thursday, the Grand Slam winner said she’s been in contact with Nissin, according to Associated Press.
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”I’ve talked to them. They’ve apologized … I’m tan. It’s pretty obvious,” she said, according to Sports Illustrated, adding that she doesn’t believe the ad meant to ”whitewash” her.
”But I definitely think that the next time they try to portray me or something, I feel like they should talk to me about it,” she told reporters in Melbourne, where she’s currently competing in the Australian Open.
During Thursday’s semifinals, Osaka beat Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, Sports Illustrated reported.
Reps for Osaka did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Osaka’s superstar status in the U.S. was solidified when she beat Serena Williams in the U.S. Open women’s singles finals in September 2018. Much of the aftermath of that game was dominated by Williams’ verbal disagreement with chair umpire Carlos Ramos, who she called a “thief.” She was later issued three violations, including one for breaking her racket. Critics called the punishment sexist, asserting that men regularly get angry on court without being penalized.
Osaka told PEOPLE at the time that she wasn’t nervous playing Williams, 37, “because I played her once before. The reason why I would be nervous was because I’ve never played a finals before. Otherwise, when I stepped onto the court I felt completely fine. When I play, I feel like a different person so I felt pretty comfortable.”
She then addressed the controversy, saying she “didn’t really know what [it] was about.”
“I felt like so much went on. I feel like I’ve never won a Grand Slam so everything feels really new,” she added. “I’ve been surrounded by my mom and my dad this entire time and we’ve been celebrating.”
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