Was Bob Marley born on April 20? Is there an upcoming Bob Marley tribute or a biopic releasing soon? Hm, none of the above.
“Right,” I thought to myself when I logged on Snapchat at midnight, “it’s 4/20.”
It’s National Weed Day across the country, where marijuana remains mostly illegal. It’s the day where people bond over weed, man. And on 4/20, Snapchat decided to create a filter where, when used, Bob Marley’s face is pasted over yours with animated dreadlocks and a cap.
There’s something quite off here, right?
I then proceeded to close Snapchat, open Twitter, and sought out what people had to say about the filter. A couple of tweets were already trickling in –some criticizing Snapchat’s move while other users found the filter fun and “hilarious.”
The following morning, more articles, opinion pieces, Facebook statues, and Twitter updates flooded my timeline in response to the Bob Marley filter. It wasn’t all good. In fact, and rightfully so, none of it was.
In an article by The Guardian, Alex Hern wrote, “The social media company is being accused not only of introducing the digital equivalent of blackface, but also for the timing of the filter: it appears to have been introduced to mark 20 April (or 4/20), an important day in weed culture – but nothing to do with Bob Marley himself, outside of the musician’s own involvement with marijuana.”
Snapchat’s filter of reggae singer, songwriter, musician, and guitarist attempted to honor him on 4/20, but achieved the complete opposite. The filter Snapchat released brutally reduced Bob Marley and his legacy to smoking weed. Bob Marley’s use of cannabis held a deeper meaning, very much tied to his conversion from Catholicism to Rastafari faith. Yes, he supported the legalization of the drug, but that’s not all he stood for. He’s not to be considered some sort of spokesperson for 4/20, and Snapchat shouldn’t have decided to capitalize on that.
Although Snapchat was granted permission to use Bob Marley’s image for the filter, “That permission doesn’t make the feature less racist. Marley was the voice of poor people and black liberation in a space where very few artists ever have access to, a distinction that deserves due respect.” (Michael Arceneaux for The Guardian)
Michael Arceneaux also writes, “If there’s any constant with respect to social media and the internet, it is that somebody is going to do something incredibly stupid and racially insensitive.”
Snapchat, in no way or form honored what he contributed to the world and the music industry, but rather reinforced the notion that blackface is an acceptable form of entertainment. It ridiculed not only Bob Marley’s memory, but also people of color who are told time and time again that the color of their skin isn’t beautiful or accepted.
Kurt Wagner for re/code wrote in an article that “…Snapchat is not the only company to run with a product like this — it’s just the only one to get lampooned for it. As my colleague Johana Bhuiyan was quick to point out, Masquerade, an app with a similar facial distortion feature that was gobbled up by Facebook last month, has also used a Marley filter like this. FaceYou, a Baidu app to show off its artificial intelligence technology, had a filter for President Barack Obama.”
Here’s what Twitter had to say about Snapchat’s 4/20 Bob Marley filter:
Snapchat didn’t take the filter at any point throughout 4/20, despite crticism from users and the media.
And here’s what Snapchat had to say to The Guardian about the filter:
“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.”
If the Snapchat lens was created to give people a “new way to share their appreciation for Bob Marley and his music,” why not publish the lens on any other given day? As one of the Tweets above mentioned, Snapchat didn’t make a Bob Marley filter on his birthday or Black History Month in February. Two months earlier, rather than later on April 20 would have been a more respectful and appropriate time to honor Bob Marley, his music, and his legacy.