Pharell Williams Accused of Culturally Appropriating Holi with New Adidas Line

Pharrell Williams has come under fire for appropriating the Holi Festival, an Indian tradition celebrated every spring. The singer, designer and producer referenced Holi, renowned for its bright colors, in his new Adidas Originals collaboration.

On March 2, his "Hu Holi Powder Dye Collection" was pre-released, featuring an assortment of brightly colored sneakers and clothing. It was meant, according to the Adidas website, to show "Williams' creative flair for celebrating human diversity." The line was conceptualized after Williams traveled to India to attend his first-ever Holi Festival, hosted by Bollywood star and Adidas endorser Ranveer Singh. 

While Williams' line was intended to honor Holi, it was met with criticism. Hindu statesman Rajan Zed called out the collaboration for its "trivialization" of the religion's traditions, concepts and beliefs. "Inappropriate usage of Hinduism concepts or symbols or imagery for commercial or other agenda was not okay as it might be painful to many devotees," Zed wrote on his website.

Angry reactions surfaced on social media, too, with Twitter users accusing Williams and Adidas of "capitalizing" on a cultural tradition.

In a March 3 interview with India's NDTV, Williams talked of his admiration for Indian culture. "Their customs and the aesthetic of their customs are just as beautiful [as its people]," he said. "The Holi festival is the perfect example, people are literally throwing color around." 

Despite the response, Adidas insisted the goal of the Hu Holi Powder Dye Collection was to bring about "positive change" worldwide. "Adidas Originals and Pharrell Williams created Hu as a global platform to inspire positive change," an Adidas spokesperson told Newsweek in an email on Tuesday. "Hu was founded upon the principles of unity, equality, humanity, and color with an intention to explore humanity and celebrate diversity around the world. Together, Adidas Originals and Pharrell Williams use the platform to help tell stories of others from around the globe.".

Pharell Pharrell Williams was accused of cultural appropriating Holi Festival in new adidas line. Here, he's pictured attending Haute Couture Paris Fashion Week on July 4, 2017 in Paris, France. Getty Images

This isn't the first time Pharell has been accused of cultural appropriation. In 2014, he was slammed for wearing a Native American headdress on the cover of Elle UK. Amid a storm of angry tweets and hashtags, he quickly apologized: "I respect and honor every kind of race, background and culture. I am genuinely sorry."

At this time, Adidas has no intention of pulling or modifying the Hu Holi Powder Dye Collection, which will be on Adidas' website and in stores on March 16.  

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