On June 20, 2021, American actor Michael B. Jordan was accused of cultural appropriation by angry citizens of Trinidad and Tobago for naming his new rum “J’Ouvert.” The rum came in a box set that displayed a schematic of the island nation, a written reference to Trinidad, and a description of J’Ouvert as a local “celebration of emancipation and Carnival.” These elements caused an outbreak of outrage among Trinidadians on Twitter, who criticized Jordan for his lack of understanding: “How are you going to trademark this?” and “Who gave him permission?” and “Has he ever been to Trinidad, or even played J’Ouvert?” Ultimately, a petition was created with the aim of stopping the trademark process, with even the rapper Nicki Minaj telling Jordan to change the name.
Dr. Justin Koo of the University of the West Indies and an intellectual property specialist clarified matters for Twitter poster, writing, “If the trademark for J’Ouvert rum is granted, this does not mean we can no longer say the word J’Ouvert, this does not mean we cannot write J’Ouvert, this does not mean we cannot throw J’Ouvert parties anymore. In relation to the J’Ouvert rum trademark application, if that is granted all that it means is that in the context of the United States of America where the trademark was filed, no-one else can sell rum or any confusingly similar product under the name J’Ouvert.” He added that a US trademark would be relevant in Trinidad and Tobago only if it was approved by the Intellectual Property Office on the island or if the brand became very famous internationally, in the US, or in TT. Paula Gopee-Scoon, Trinidad’s Minister of Trade and Industry, expressed “extreme concern” about the intellectual property issue, however.
Following all the outcry, Jordan made the decision to forego the name “J’Ouvert” and rename the rum. He posted to Instagram what he heard about the controversy and said he never had any intention to offend or hurt a culture that he loves and respects and “hoped to celebrate and shine a light on.” He noted that during the last few days when he had become aware of the objections of Trinidadians to the name of his rum, he had been doing “a lot of listening, a lot of learning, and engaging in community conversations.” He went on to write, “I hear you & want to be clear that we are in the process of renaming. We sincerely apologize & look forward to introducing a brand we can all be proud of.”
Michael B. Jordan, 34, is the star of several high-profile films, including Fruitvale Station (2013) and Creed (2015), and appearing in the critical role of Erik Killmonger in Black Panther (2018). He also appeared in Red Tails (2012), Chronicle (2012), That Awkward Moment (2014), Fantastic Four (2015) and Just Mercy (2019.) In 2020, Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and People magazine gave him the title of Sexiest Man Alive. The New York Times ranked him 15th on its list of the 25 greatest actors of the 21st century. Jordan directed a short film, The Angel’s Share, for the rum company Bacardi, and he owns Las Lap, a rum bar in New York.
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