Embrace of the Serpent

Facebook has reconsidered its prudish refusal to promote a paid ad for Oscar-nominated film Embrace of the Serpent after first rejecting it on the basis that images of an indigenous man walking through the Amazon in a loincloth constituted “excessive skin.”

Following several days of protest by Oscilloscope, a production company that is helping to distribute the Colombian film in the U.S., Facebook reversed course and said it would allow the ad after all.

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"Our team processes millions of advertising submissions each week, and there are times we make mistakes," Facebook's Customer Service Department told Oscilloscope in an unsigned message Tuesday. "This video does not violate our ad policies. We're sorry for the error, and would allow this to be boosted on Facebook if resubmitted."

Companies like Oscilloscope regularly pay Facebook to promote sponsored content on users’ feeds. Depending on how much money goes behind an ad, it can reach tens of thousands or even millions of additional users.

Dan Berger, Oscilloscope's president, told Fusion his company had run several other Facebook ads for the film, but ran into trouble with their latest spot—a 30 second trailer that includes a few quick shots of an indigenous shaman’s buttocks.

“I’m glad they’ve reversed the decision,” Berger said. “But I do think the original decision was rather asinine. And considering this is not the first time this has happened with them, it should have been easily avoidable.”

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Facebook has previously come under fire for banning sex-ed images and photos of mothers breastfeeding their children.

The company’s "Ad Integrity Team" initially told Oscilloscope that its trailer for Embrace of the Serpent violated Facebook's policy of not showing images with “sexual undertones”—a claim that Oscilloscope said was like “equating National Geographic with Playboy.”

Embrace of the Serpent tells the story of an indigenous medicine man who leads western explorers into the heart of the jungle on two journeys in search of a sacred plant. The two journeys take place 40 years apart.

The Colombian movie is one of this year’s nominees for Best Foreign Language Film and has been widely praised not just for its production quality, but for introducing audiences to an indigenous perspective on nature and showing the rough, colonization of the Amazon.

Berger said his company plans to screen Embrace of the Serpent in 150 movie theaters across the U.S., and could increase that run if the film does well with American audiences. The film premiered last week in New York and L.A.

“It’s doing phenomenally well,” Berger said. “We sold out most shows in New York over the weekend.”

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Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.