While one could fairly question how much influencers have given to us—as a species and a society—it’s undeniable that they’re real innovators when it comes to finding ways to be weird about race.
Whether it’s blackfishing or posting black squares on Instagram as though that somehow supports Black Lives Matter, influencers just have a knack for being thoroughly embarrassing. And now they have a new medium: a photo-editing app with a brand-new feature that allows users to make their photos appear as though they were “were born on a different continent.”
We can all see where this is going, right?
This week luminaries including Scott Disick, Brody Jenner and influencer Danielle Cohn, all of whom are white, have landed themselves in hot water by promoting the app Gradient and making use of its latest feature, posting their doctored likenesses on Twitter and TikTok to compare what they would look like if they were “from” continents including Africa and Asia.
As some social media users have pointed out, the filter is basically just a digital form of blackface, yellowface, etc.—another extension of the ongoing and ever-expanding uses of digital blackface online.
Jenner tweeted out an image that includes likenesses meant to appear as though they are from “Africa,” “Asia,” and “India.” (Despite its claim to make people look like they are from different continents, it appears to include filters for “India” and “Brazil” as well.) Disick, meanwhile, went with “Europe,” “Asia,” and “India.”
And Cohn posted a video to TikTok in which the app made her face appear as though she was from “Africa,” “Asia,” and “Europe.”
Gradient, as longtime users know, also includes less controversial (read: stupid) features—like one that identifies celebrities its users most closely resemble and another that can transform a selfie to look like an oil painting. One can even show you what animal you look like. Fun!
It’s unclear whether Jenner, Disick, or Cohn were paid to promote Gradient or its latest feature, and Gradient did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
It’s perhaps worth noting, however, that the Kardashian clan has shilled for Gradient before—specifically, promoting a feature that, per the app’s website, “can estimate your DNA ancestry with the help of latest AI techs! Simply upload your photo and our exceptionally accurate algorithm will analyze features of your face and tell your ethnic background.” (Hmm...)
But it was Macaulay Culkin who made the biggest splash for Gradient last October—when he used the celebrity look-alike filter and discovered his doppelgänger is, according to the app, Wiz Khalifa. Searches for Gradient spiked at that time to a degree that remains unmatched to this day. (I don’t make the rules but as far as I’m concerned this is bona fide proof that the Kardashians and Jenners’ power as influencers pales in comparison to that of the erstwhile Kevin McCallister—a lesson we would all do well to remember.)
YouTuber Jarvis Johnson, meanwhile, poked fun at the feature with a meme from The Office.
In any case, what more to say? This is just one more entry into the strange story of 2020—and for the annals of celebrity weirdness writ large. Let’s wait and see what fresh silliness awaits us tomorrow.