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Ava DuVernay, Theaster Gates chair Prada diversity council after blackface outrage

Blackface: A cultural history of a racist art form

Italian brand Prada said Wednesday it is forming a diversity council to "elevate voices of color within the company and fashion industry at large" — a move that follows accusations of racism in the luxury fashion world. Two Americans, artist Theaster Gates and film director Ava DuVernay, will chair the council, Prada said.

The group will work to develop "diverse talent" and create more opportunities for students of color, the luxury fashion house said.

Gates said his work "amplifies the voices that have been absent from the broad cultural conversations" and he was happy to work with Prada to help make the company more "reflective of the world today."

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Ava DuVernay and Theaster Gates Getty

Prada apologized in December and immediately withdrew bag charms that resembled black monkeys with exaggerated red lips. Critics said the charms recalled the blackface caricatures that long propagated racist stereotypes in the United States.

A spokesperson with Prada Group, Prada's parent company, told CBS News at the time they "abhor racist imagery" and removed the characters in question — part of the designer's "Pradamalia" collection. 

"The Pradamalia are fantasy charms composed of elements of the Prada oeuvre. They are imaginary creatures not intended to have any reference to the real world and certainly not blackface. We abhor all forms of racism and racist imagery. We will withdraw all of the characters in question from display and circulation," the Prada Group spokesperson said in December.

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Prada's website featured these "Pradamalia" characters, which sparked criticism for resembling blackface, before they were removed in December 2018. Prada.com

The fashion world controversy intensified after a similar misstep this month by Gucci. Another prominent African-American director, Spike Lee, said he would wear neither Prada nor Gucci until they included black designers.

"Prada is committed to cultivating, recruiting and retaining diverse talent to contribute to all departments of the company," said Miuccia Prada, CEO and creative director. "In addition to amplifying voices of color within the industry, we will help ensure that the fashion world is reflective of the world in which we live."

She said the initiative would "help us grow not only as a company, but also as individuals."

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