It’s 420. Snapchat suggests celebrating with blackface

Snapchat is known for having specialised filters to celebrate global days of significance – they recently had International Women’s Day and Easter filters – but with their 420 filter, they may be taking it too far.

420 – April 20, in the American way – is the day unofficially marked worldwide to celebrate cannabis culture, and Snapchat – ever on the pulse of what’s hot – has decided to commemorate it too.

The app has a filter available today only which features an overlay of the face of the legendary reggae star and icon Bob Marley. The app uses facial recognition to allow users to apply the image over their own faces, along with dreads and a beanie, and a graphic with Marley’s name and the Jamaican flag.


A video version plays snippets of Marley’s famous hits in the background. Most-followed Snapper Kylie Jenner posted a snap with the filter to her story early on Wednesday morning.



But we feel like something quite obvious is being ignored – the filter is a form of blackface, cultural appropriation, and totally problematic. As we’ve written before, blackface is nothing other than a form of dress-up. It is offensive. This is a caricature of a black person. 

Blackface is based on the notion of making black people look inferior. There’s no way for it to ever be something respectful. It was started in American minstrels shows in which white people would perform in blackface, portraying black people as lazy and playing up perceptions of black people as sub-human for the sake of laughs.

There’s something else wrong here too. This 420 celebration glosses over the cultural significance that cannabis has in the Rasta culture, where it is regarded as extremely sacred, and not just something used for a daily kickback. But besides that, Snapchat is reducing the legacy of a musical great to smoking weed.

And then there’s just the messiness of equating dreadlocks with weed. Remember last year, when Guilana Rancic said Zendaya must have smelled of “patchouli” and “weed” at the Oscars because she wore her hair in dreads?



We’re calling blackface on you, Snapchat.  

Not cool, Snapchat. Not cool.

Update:  A spokesperson for Snapchat told BuzzFeed that the Bob Marley lens was created in partnership with Bob Marley’s estate.  “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,” the spokesperson is quoted to have said. “Millions of Snapchatters have enjoyed Bob Marley’s music, and we respect his life and achievements.”