Netflix's newest documentary White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch is the latest must-see exposé to make it to the global trending charts, and it features a Filipino professor sharing how he himself once experienced discrimination from the company.
The documentary, currently the number one film in the United States and in Netflix’s Top 10 in 29 countries, explores how the popular fashion brand cashed in on an "all-American" image and reportedly relied on exclusion and discriminatory practices to define what made a “cool kid” in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
The docu features interviews with executives, models, and former employees, including Dr. Anthony Ocampo, a Filipino-American associate professor of Sociology at the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.
Ocampo was one of the respondents in the iconic class-action lawsuit filed against the fashion brand. He is also the author of The Latinos of Asia: How Filipino Americans Break the Rules of Race, and Brown and Gay in LA: The lives of Immigrant Sons, coming out this fall.
I remember I told my parents and I told close friends and they very much agreed with me that it was f**ked up.
In the documentary, former employees disclosed that most people who worked for A & F were hired for the job on the basis of their looks, were reportedly ranked on the basis of “how cool they looked,” and were routinely fired if they didn’t meet a certain “white” brand image.
“It seemed super explicit. I went to the store. I spoke with whoever was working there and she said, ‘I’m sorry. We can’t rehire you.’ And I asked, ‘Why not?’ And she said ‘My manager said we can’t rehire you ‘cause we already have too many Filipinos working at this store. I was like ‘Are you serious?’ And she looked pretty uncomfortable and she was like, ‘Yeah’,” said Ocampo in the Netflix documentary.
“At no point did I ever say that I was Filipino so that was a guess on the part of the person that worked there that I was Filipino,” he added.
Ocampo, along with eight other plaintiffs filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against A & F for not hiring them because “they weren’t white enough.”
“I was really pissed off. Like, I was enraged and it never went away. And so when I was invited to be part of the lawsuit, I thought, ‘Oh, okay. Here’s an opportunity to call out Abercrombie on their bullshit of trying to say they’re an all-American brand, and yet how they’re maintaining this image of All-American is to hire a bunch of white folks and fire a bunch of people of color,” said Ocampo.
“I remember I told my parents and I told close friends and they very much agreed with me that it was f**ked up.”
Abercrombie & Fitch hired & fired employees based solely on their looks.— Netflix (@netflix) April 25, 2022
White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch is now streaming. pic.twitter.com/geHKyVlXdD
In a Twitter Spaces discussion following the airing of the documentary on Netflix on Tuesday (April 26), Ocampo, now 40, shared that he started working for the brand when he was 18 years old as a way to fit into a school where A & F “felt like it was the uniform of most of the white kids.”
The former A & F employee also shared additional insights that didn’t make it to the docu about the reported culture of racism embedded within the larger category of Asian American community when he worked there over 20 years ago.
Our ongoing evolution has been so rewarding, and we want to be clear that the recently released documentary is not reflective of who we are now.
According to Ocampo, there were a handful of people of color that would make their way to the front or were “cool enough or white adjacent enough” to work the cash register, but they tried their best to hide their identity.
“I do think it was really interesting that the particular folks of color that they would choose would be the ones that would do their best, at least in the store that I was in, would do their best to distance themselves from their ethnic and racial identity. It was as if like, yes, I have brown skin, but I'm just as American as you,” said Ocampo.
“I remember distinctly like there were there was one Filipino guy I remember but everything about him screamed. ‘Like, please don't associate me with Filipino culture. I am just as American as you,” he added.
While he didn’t know how to process it at the time, Ocampo said that: “It’s like this institutionalized space where like if you if you act a certain way that minimizes who you are as a whatever - Filipino, Asian American – you can get rewarded for that by this company in that in that very very subtle way,” he added.
As the documentary was released on April 19, Abercrombie and Fitch released a statement to say that it is now "focused on inclusivity."
CEO Fran Horowitz said: "At Abercrombie & Fitch Co., we live by our purpose and show up for our customers, associates and partners on their journeys to being and becoming exactly who they are."
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"Our ongoing evolution has been so rewarding, and we want to be clear that the recently released documentary is not reflective of who we are now. We own and validate that there were exclusionary and inappropriate actions under former leadership. Since I became CEO in 2017, we’ve overhauled Abercrombie and transformed with intention into a place of belonging. We've evolved the organization, including making changes in management, prioritizing representation, implementing new policies, re-envisioning our store experiences and updating the ﬁt, size-range and style of our products."
"We’re focused on inclusivity - and continuing that transformation is our enduring promise to you, our community. Because without you, we wouldn’t be who we are now. Thank you for being on this journey with us," said Horowitz.
White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch is currently streaming on Netflix.