Korean Café Criticized For Cultural Appropriation And Blackfishing

The café has been featured in K-Dramas “Tomorrow” and “Yumi’s Cells.”

If you’ve watched K-Dramas Yumi’s Cells or Tomorrow, you have likely seen the product placement (PPL) for café Mauritius Brown.

Ahn Bo Hyun (background) and Kim Go Eun (foreground) in Yumi’s Cells. | Tving & Studio Dragon
Tomorrow Episode 9. | MBC

Product placements and K-Dramas are almost synonymous. From the latest makeup and skincare products and Samsung Galaxy phones and, of course, Subway, it just isn’t a K-Drama without them.

Yet, real-life restaurants and cafés are part of K-Dramas too. Even Shin Ha Ri’s family restaurant in SBS‘s Business Proposal is a real restaurant called Goobne.

Goobne product placement in Business Proposal. | SBS

Like the rest of us, writer and producer Ray Liu has been watching MBC‘s new K-Drama Tomorrow. And again, he couldn’t help but notice the clear product placement for café Mauritius Brown.

From left: Yoon Ji On, Kim Hee Sun, and Rowoon in “Tomorrow” Episode 9. | MBC

So, he looked it up to realize just how problematic the café really is. Ray Liu is now calling out the café for “blackfishing” and cultural appropriation.

“Blackfishing” is a term coined by journalist Wanna Thompson in 2018. It is essentially when a non-black person attempts to present themselves as racially ambiguous, normally black, usually to profit off of it somehow. For example, influencers and non-black rappers are often guilty parties.

Blackfishing is a type of interpersonal racism that depicts Black people as stereotypes and portrays Black culture as a product.

— Medical News Today

Jesy Nelson (left) has been under fire for “blackfishing,”, especially after the release of her and Nicki Minaj’s (right) “Boyz” music video. | YMU

Likewise, cultural appropriation is adopting elements of a culture that is not your own. Thus it results in portraying others offensively and stereotypically. Many K-Pop agencies have received criticism for participating in this.

NTX’s “Kiss the World” concept photos faced backlash for including the members in other countries’ cultural apparel. | @NTX_Victory/Twitter

Ray Liu pointed out that the café Mauritius Brown was first featured in Yumi’s Cells. It has been marketed as a location worthy of photoshoots for Instagram.

Yet, that is what makes it all the more unsettling. Liu revealed that the café has no authentic ties to black culture despite its imagery.

Mauritius Brown is named after the small island nation Mauritius in East Africa, obviously. It just has added “Brown” at the end.

Sega music in Mauritius. | Bamba Sourang/OT Ile Maurice

Yet, no founders or owners of Mauritius Brown are either Mauritian or black. Instead, they are all South Korean. Still, they are making a profit off of others’ cultures.

CEO Park Jong Won explains the meaning behind the café’s name on the website, revealing that the brown sugar used for milk tea originates in Mauritius. Yet, he emphasizes that it is a “pure Korean brand that does not pay overseas royalties.” 

Hello? I am Park Jong Won, CEO of Seojin Co., Ltd. First off, I would like to thank you for visiting our ‘Mauritius Brown’ website.

Our Seojin premium milk tea brand Mauritius Brown, which uses brown sugar made from Mauritius, is the meaning behind the name of our company, and is a pure Korean brand that does not pay overseas royalties.

With the belief of providing premium milk tea that consumers have never experienced before, we have satisfied the diverse needs of consumers with healthy and luxurious taste, trendy ingredients, menus that cannot be replaced, and a hot place for Instagram photos.

Before the brown sugar milk tea craze, which received much popularity, we detected the global trend of brown sugar milk tea in advance and succeeded in launching a domestic brand. But our brand has suffered several crises due to our weak response to the rapidly fazing craze and complacent strategy during the time COVID-19 was in full-swing.

But we are going to get back up again and take a strong step forward. Now, even if it is a bit slow, we will take each step honestly and create a franchise brand success story in which the formula ‘Mauritian Brown= Safe Income’ is established.

Going forward, we will do our best to break away from the simple brown sugar milk tea brand and become a brand that spreads a healthy and happy taste. We ask for your continued interest and love. Thank you.

— CEO Park Jong Won

The logo is clearly an African woman in a silhouette with a traditionally worn natural afro hairstyle. There is also a VIP membership referred to as “Mauritius Crown.”

It is also ironic that a place named for Mauritius uses such obvious imagery of black women since Mauritius is actually known to be very multi-racial, with a majority being South Asian (especially Indian), Chinese, European, etc. So, it’s actually not a majority-black African nation.

Women in Mauritius.

So, netizens are calling out Mautirus Brown and attempting to educate on institutional racism.

Another netizen pointed out that not only is Mauritius Brown profiting off of cultural appropriation, but the logo may be plagiarized. It bears a resemblance to the one seen on old TCB hair care products.

Initially, some black K-Drama fans were excited by the inclusion of the café, seeing some minor form of representation. Unfortunately, it appears to just be another case of cultural appropriation.

Others are pointing out how troubling it is that a South Korean café can market off on black women’s aesthetics and likeness. Not only is the café not tied to one at all, but black people are often disrespected and discriminated against in Korea.

Black content creators who travel to South Korea share their experiences. Krys Tha Sis (@beyonceibnidas) is a black TikToker who shares highlights and experiences from traveling in South Korea. While most content is humorous, she sheds light on microaggressions and racism she experiences as a black woman in Korea. She recently recounted being turned away at a club because she was non-Korean despite their playing foreign music and even revealed she was touched when forced to leave.



♬ original sound – Krys Tha Sis

Likewise, biracial entertainers in Korea, such as Nigerian Korean model and actor Han Hyun Min has spoken about the racism he has experienced.

Black fans of Korean content, such as K-Dramas, are disappointed but not surprised by the recent inclusion of Mauritius Brown due to its problematic nature. Yet, recently, many dramas have been criticized for their portrayal of foreigners or straight-up cultural appropriation.

SBS’s Penthouse also received criticism for cultural appropriation and racism during season 3 after introducing a new character who… well, look for yourself.

Park Eun Seok in “Penthouse 3.” | SBS

Most recently, tvN‘s new K-Drama Sh**ting Stars received serious backlash just after its premiere due to its portrayal of Africa. Read more below:

K-Drama “Sh**ting Stars” Just Premiered But Is Already Facing Criticism For Two Major Reasons

Source: Ray Liu