Charlie Hebdo, the legendarily incendiary French satirical newspaper, has taken aim at the row over race relations engulfing the British royal family with cover art that depicts Queen Elizabeth II kneeling on the neck of Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.
The image, first released on Twitter last week under the title “why Meghan quit,” shows a wild-eyed and hairy-legged queen.
The former American actress, who married into the royal family in 2018, says in the drawing that she left “because I couldn’t breathe anymore.”
The image and phrase are references to George Floyd, a Black man who died after a police officer knelt on his neck during an arrest in Minneapolis last year. Floyd’s death set off protests against racism in much of the world, including France, where his last words – “I can’t breathe” – were a rallying cry.
The artwork depicting Meghan and the queen has been widely criticized by social media users from all over the world, with many describing it as disrespectful and racist.
Halima Begum, the chief executive of Runnymede, a British think tank that focuses on racial equality, tweeted that the cover did not “push boundaries,” but that it “demeans the issues” and caused offense “across the board.”
“This is disgusting,” Enes Kenter, a Turkish basketball player with the Portland Trail Blazers, wrote on Twitter. “Racism is NOT free speech.”
“Charlie Hebdo is a racist rag and has been for a very long time,” wrote Aurelien Mondon, a researcher on the far right at the University of Bath.
Some users dismissed the criticism, suggesting that it was predictable that Charlie Hebdo would take a controversial stance on the issue. Others expressed support for the French publication, noting that the weekly newspaper had been the target of a terrorist attack in 2015 that left 12 dead after it depicted the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
“Charlie Hebdo has more than earned the right to say what it likes in the way it likes,” wrote Matt Kilcoyne of the Adam Smith Institute, a British think tank, adding that it was also within bounds to criticize Charlie Hebdo in response.
The British royal family has been the focus of intense international scrutiny this month, following a landmark interview between Meghan and her husband, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, with Oprah Winfrey that aired last week. In the interview, the couple detailed their strained relationship with the royal family.
Among their complaints was that a royal family member whom they didn’t identify was concerned about the skin color of the couple’s baby. Winfrey later said that the couple had made clear the remark was not made by the queen or her husband, Prince Philip.
Meghan, whose mother is African American and who identifies as mixed race, also noted that she was the subject of intrusive and bigoted media coverage by Britain’s tabloid media.
First published more than 50 years ago, Charlie Hebdo has long had a big reputation despite its modest circulation. After the deadly attack on the paper’s offices in 2015, world leaders rallied in support of its right to freedom of speech, with many using the phrase “Je Suis Charlie” – I am Charlie – to show solidarity.