Michael B. Jordan Launches J’Ouvert Rum, Called Out For Cultural Appropriation

Michael B. Jordan is being accused of cultural appropriation as he seeks to trademark a centuries’ old festival name originating in the Twin Island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean.

On Sunday, irate Trinidadians dragged the Black Panther actor after news surfaced that he was launching his own rum called “J’Ouvert”, a prominent name associated with carnival in Trinidad and Tobago.

A video of the announcement was posted by Jordan’s girlfriend Lori Harvey, the stepdaughter of Steve Harvey.

“Congratulations on the launch of your rum baby!!! I’m so proud of you!!!” she posted on her Instagram account along with a photograph of the actor who stands in front of a logo which also looks oddly similar to the carnival logo popular for other established brands.

News of the rum caused Trinidadians to fume online as they claimed that the actor had no ties to the island. However, unconfirmed reports suggest that Jordan’s business partner is a Trinidadian, as some persons felt that if this was the case, they might be fine with Michael B. Jordan being associated with the name as his brand.

However, some carnival fans were back and forth on whether they accepted Jordan’s use of the term. According to one commenter, this goes beyond supporting black businesses. “Def not my place but supporting black workers and supporting black capitalism are two extremely different things. Better than many alternatives I can think of but that doesn’t make it inherently good.”

Others, however, decided that they were going to contest the trademark application. “the name, the name is a problem sir!!! How u goin trademark this? We need to contest this- this cannot pass.”

Snippets of the trademark filing online show that Jordan noted in his application that the word “J’Ouvert” “has no meaning in a foreign language.”

The application filed by Attorney Ryan Louis Shaffer is filed under the international classification 33 for Alcoholic beverages, except beers, distilled spirits, rum based beverages, rums.

A petition started online has since received almost 2500 signatures to block Jordan from receiving the trademark for the rum.

The petition asked the USPTO to dismiss the filing because it is a “fraudulent and inaccurate statement’, and that the final decision on the application of the trademark be paused so that foreign entities cannot use the name for the sale of rum. The petition also accused a local beverage company, Angostura Bitters, of not being transparent as their sample-sized drinks were seen in the promotional box with the rum sample and a shaker cup along with lemons posted by Lori Harvey.

Meanwhile, Trademark Attorney Matt Saunders at Saunders and Silverstein, a law firm based out of Massachusetts, pointed out that there might be more to the application filing than meets the eye, as the filing attorney Shaffer is also the head of business and legal affairs at Roc Nation. Roc Nation is a recording company owned by Jay-Z. It’s unclear what, if any, connection Jordan has with Roc Nation.

According to Saunders, “the applicant should be the owner. Ownership may be transferred, of course, and it’s possible there’s a good reason for the way this was done. It’s curious and worth keeping an eye on.”

On the other hand, the proponents of carnival continued to call on Jordan to do the right thing as they noted that the representation of the word “J’Ouvert” was a problem since it was also miseducating persons and misrepresenting a crucial part of Carnival culture in Trinidad.

Another story posted by Lord Harvey captioned “my new drink of choice,” gave a definition of the word J’Ouvert. The write-up read, “derived from the Antillean Creole French term meaning “daybreak,” J’OUVERT originated in the pre-dawn streets of Trinidad as celebrations of emancipation combined with carnival season to serve as the festival’s informal commencement. Crafted on those same islands, J’OUVERT Rum is a tribute to the party start.”

Trinidadians did not hold back on their criticisms.

“Michael B. Jordan never been to Jouvert or mass. But has the nerve to want to profit off West Indian culture and call it Jouvert rum,” one person commented.

The History of J’Ouvert

J’Ouvert is an element of carnival which is a celebration that begins with the commencement of the Lent season with carnival culminating on Ash Wednesday. J’Ouvert, in particular, is characterized by a party that features ash, powder, music, and dancing before dawn and peaks after sunrise.

J’Ouvert, which originated in Trinidad, has long been associated with emancipation street parties from 1838 when Africans, formerly slaves being banned from joining the Carnivals of their slave owners, were now free to participate in carnival.

J’Ouvert has now become something associated with carnival throughout the Caribbean and has become a source of pride and cultural expression for the countries that continues to celebrate it. In fact, the event is so widely known that countries like Trinidad and Tobago are sought out for their unique indigenous Carnival experiences.

Intellectual Property Lawyer at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Dr. Justin Koo, speaking about the matter on his Twitter account, noted that he hoped that this scenario with Michael B. Jordan brings about change with regard to the wider issue, which is that local Trinidadian brands need international trademark protection by the government of Trinidad and Tobago to ensure that the island’s cultural resources are not taken by foreigners.

Koo, however, noted since Trademarks are territorial, if the application is granted to Jordan, it would be effective in the United States, which won’t necessarily pose a problem for entities using the name locally in Trinidad and Tobago. There would, however, be an issue if those entities enter the U.S market with the same or similar products such as Jordan’s, which will not be good for Trinidadian brands.

It’s been a sore issue not only with Trinidad and Tobago but also countries like Jamaica which have had issues of foreigners using names like Jerk, Reggae, etc., which locals have a problem with as it isn’t authentic but gives that impression, aside from the fact that the benefactors of the brands happen not to be Jamaicans.

Meanwhile, Michael B. Jordan has not commented on the issue, neither has his attorney issued a statement.