He’s among the biggest stars in Hollywood and is considered by many as one of the sexiest men alive. However, when Chris Hemsworth was accused of cultural appropriation, some fans were quick to turn on him. But he later made amends with a heartfelt apology.
Actor Chris Hemsworth launched his career on television soap Home and Away in his native Australia. But after a three-year stint starring as hunk Kim Hyde, Hollywood was calling. So, Hemsworth relocated to the U.S., where he quickly climbed the ranks in Tinseltown.
In 2009 the Melbourne-native landed a small role in J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. However, it wasn’t until 2011 that Hemsworth bagged his most famous role to date. Because it was then that he was cast as Thor in the latest Marvel movie franchise.
Outside of his film work, Hemsworth also used his fame and influence to establish himself as a philanthropist. He is particularly interested in helping underprivileged kids and, alongside his brothers Liam and Luke, he is an ambassador for the Australian Childhood Foundation (ACF).
The foundation provides care for youngsters who have experienced domestic violence or abuse. In 2015 Hemsworth told the The Sydney Morning Herald that becoming a father had inspired him to help other children. “[It was a] no brainer to sign up as an ambassador to the ACF,” he said.
So, with Hemsworth seemingly very aware of social issues, it came as quite a surprise to many of his fans when he made a potentially offensive faux pas at a New Year’s Eve costume party in 2015. And the concerns related to cultural appropriation.
Cultural appropriation occurs when members of a dominant culture adopt aspects from a minority culture. Such elements can include hairstyles, items of clothing and even ways of speaking. This sort of appropriation does not occur via a mutual interchange between groups and is instead seen a show of dominance over the oppressed.
Dr. Adrienne Keene is the founder of the Native Appropriations blog, which covers issues of cultural appropriation. Describing the act in simple terms, in 2015 she told EverydayFeminism, “You are pretending to be a race that you are not and are drawing upon stereotypes to do so.”
So, when Hemsworth’s party antics were deemed culturally insensitive, some of his fans were quick to call him out. They were upset because the actor and his wife, Elsa Pataky, had both worn Native American costumes to the Lone Ranger-themed bash.
After Pataky posted an image from the party on Instagram, many social media users took to the site in order to condemn the couple. “This is so disappointing to see,” wrote one. “Native Americans are real, their culture is real.”
Meanwhile, another user added, “Oh no, Thor has gone and effed up with this cultural appropriation.” There were others who agreed that the outfits were insensitive, with one posting, “Can’t put into words how wrong this is.”
Following the backlash, Hemsworth made no comment about his blunder. However, more than ten months later, the actor took an opportunity to speak out when he voiced his support of the Standing Rock protests, which broke out at North Dakota’s Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
Locals, most of whom are Native American, were angered when the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline was approved. The pipe would run between Southern Illinois and the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota. Many protesters feared that the project would threaten the reserve’s access to clean water from the Missouri River and also disturb ancient burial grounds.
Consequently, some protesters decided to start a camp in order to resist the pipeline’s construction. Within a matter of months, the group had expanded to thousands of people. And it was then that Hemsworth came out in support of the people of Standing Rock.
In an Instagram post shared in October 2016, Hemsworth posed alongside Taika Waititi, the director of Thor: Ragnorak. In the image, the men hold a sign stating: “We stand with Standing Rock” alongside the hashtags “#WaterIsLife,” “#NoDAPL” and “#MNIWiconi” below.
In the accompanying caption, Hemsworth wrote that he was “standing with those who are fighting to protect their sacred land and water.” And in doing so, he added that he wanted to finally speak out about the cultural appropriation that he’d been accused of.
“I would also like to take this opportunity to raise something that has been bothering me for some time,” the Aussie actor explained. “Last New Year’s Eve I was at a ‘Lone Ranger’ themed party where some of us, myself included, wore the traditional dress of First Nations people.”
“I was stupidly unaware of the offence this may have caused and the sensitivity around this issue,” Hemsworth added. “I sincerely and unreservedly apologise to all First Nations people for this thoughtless action.”
“I now appreciate that there is a great need for a deeper understanding of the complex and extensive issues facing indigenous communities,” Hemsworth concluded. “I hope that in highlighting my own ignorance I can help in some small way.”
So, while Hemsworth could have ignored the furor surrounding his cultural slip-up, he decided to face the backlash head on. And while it would have been better not to have made the mistake in the first place, his sincere apology seemed to appease some of his fans. “Legend who knows the difference between wrong and right,” one wrote on Instagram.