Does the #NationalityChallenge on Instagram border on cultural appropriation or not?

Karishma Jangid
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Does the #NationalityChallenge on Instagram border on cultural appropriation or not?

“How would I look like in different nations?” is a question that content creators across the globe are asking themselves right now. The result is #nationalitychallenge.

An app called ‘Face Play’ has given rise to this trend where influencers use a filter that virtually dresses them up in the outfits of different countries, giving their face a hint of different origin people. All you have to do is scan your face and use the appropriate filter. The effect is such that a single video shows an influencer dressing up as an American, a British, an Indian, a French, and so on. The filter by Face Play has found popularity amongst content creators on Instagram too. There are more than 10.5K posts with the hashtag #nationalitychallenge on Instagram and this is proof of how viral the trend has gone. 

While the trend is popular on Instagram without a doubt, does it border on being slightly problematic? The filter further propels the idea of ‘cultural appropriation'. What is cultural appropriation though, you ask? It's the often unacknowledged and/or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, and so forth of one society by the members of another society. This takes a controversial turn when members of a dominant society resort to inappropriate adoption of traditions of minorities.

For instance, remember when popstar Cardi B posed as the Hindu goddess, Durga on the cover of a footwear news magazine holding a shoe in her hand? Indians were beyond outraged. The magazine had reportedly suggested on Instagram that Cardi B was paying “homage" to Maa Durga, who they said is comparable to the rapper because the latter “is a dominant female voice at a critical time" in this world. However, this did not sit well with Hindus across India who were enraged at the “cultural appropriation”. In a case closer to home, actress Shehnaaz Gill had uploaded a travelogue when she visited Jammu and Kashmir. In the video, she was dressed up in traditional Kashmiri attire. However, it was criticized by many for the cultural appropriation of Kashmiri traditions. 

Coming back to the recent #nationalitychallenge, while one may not have an ill-intention, we feel like the lines are blurred when it comes to what and who represents which culture. In fact, one facet of the trend is also that it allows you to visit so many cultures virtually. This also presents us with a good opportunity to learn about cultures across the world.

However, for instance, if an American displays Indian attire in a manner that the latter may find offensive, it might spark a backlash. Similarly, if an Indian uses the filter to wear the traditional attire of Kazakhstan with zero knowledge of the country's traditions or values, it has the potential to offend the citizens of the said country. 

We reached out to content creators to know their opinion on the trend.

Content Creator Jissa Paul says, "I think #nationalitychallenge is a very good challenge where you don’t only represent your country but the other country as well through a video. I liked the thought of the trend."

When asked whether this trend borders on cultural appropriation, Jissa says, "It’s only for entertainment purposes. I agree that some people may get offended. However, we, as content creators, never mean to hurt anyone’s feelings; we are only trying to entertain the audience." 

Digital Creator Sukriti lists the benefit of the filter used in the trend saying, "If in any of my videos, I wanted to look like a person of a nationality other than Indian, I would have to use various elements and get my makeup done accordingly. However, this filter makes it very easy what would have been otherwise a time-consuming work."

Sukriti could not attempt the #nationalitychallenge but she believes that the trend is not derogatory. She says, "Nobody wants to demean or look at any other culture inappropriately. Every type of content holds the potential to offend someone. However, we need not be so serious as filters are made for the purpose of having fun."

Video creator Shubhangi Anand echoes similar sentiments when she says, "I was scrolling through the 'explore' section and there were so many videos on this trend. I felt like I should try it out too and show something different to my audience; something other than my usual content. The response was amazing as well. My audience was engaging and interactive."

Shubhangi too agrees that the intention of the trend is not insensitive. She says, "No, I really don’t think so. It’s a fun trend meant just for entertainment. This trend is not exploitative or disrespectful in any manner."

Here's how Instagram is using the #NationalityChallenge filter!

While the trend continues to rage on Instagram, and the perspectives differ, it won't harm us to keep in mind the sensitivity of the nature of the filter and that each culture demands and deserves respect. What are your thoughts on the #nationalitychallenge filter? Tell us in the comments below.

Also Read: In times of Omicron, we have yet another fleeting trend in the form of ‘hello wordl’

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