Fernando, a Stockholm-based stand-up comedian and actor, was cc'd on an e-mail from the flat-park furniture giant's UK-based casting company to his Stockholm agent.
“He can't be black for the Greek market Sorry,” the e-mail read.
“I was sad and angry,” Fernando, who doesn't want his surname published, told The Local after SVT first broke the story. “It's common that these things happen, saying it to your face, but not actually to get it in an e-mail.”
But Tracie Saban, one of the owners of the casting company, Crocodile Casting, said that Fernando was in fact put forward for the job, along with another black actor and an Arab man despite not fitting the brief, “just to expand it a bit”.
“We saw his video upload and put it on our link which we sent to our client,” she said. “He knew he was put forward for the job, so for him to say that is a lie. Nobody got the job. It was cancelled in the end because of script changes.”
In early November, Ikea began looking for Swedish actors who could star in an advert to be broadcast in Greece before November 24th, the date of the so-called “Black Friday” shopping festival.
“The actor needs to be really good at comedy, with a dry sense of humour,” the brief read next to a link to the Youtube video below.
Although the brief seemed to specify a white person who would suggest a more stereotypical image of “Sweden” to a Greek audience, Fernando thought he met enough of the requirements to apply.
“I said, so I'm a stand-up comedian, and I sent a link to them of my showreel,” he said.
A day later, Fernando was included in the e-mail to his agents.
Saban denies his claims that Crocodile casting was “not polite” when Fernando rung to complain.
“My partner was almost in tears. She spoke to him for an hour on the phone,” she said. “He got his apology on bended knees. We felt so bad that he felt that that was a racist comment. It wasn't at all, it didn't come from any bad place in our heart, because we're not like that.”
She said that after the phone conversation and an e-mail of apology, Fernando had seemed happy until he went public three months later.
Ikea told SVT that the company had indeed included skin-colour suggestions in the brief for the advert.
“Sometimes you are looking for a blond man. Sometimes you are looking for a dark-haired woman, an Asian one or a South American,” Jakob Holmström, the company's press spokesman, explained.
“There's nothing unusual about that in itself. What's unfortunate is the way this was formulated when he got a rejection.”
Fernando's agent Fia Hammarström, who is part-Thai, said she was considering dropping Fernando for going public with his complaint.
“This will hurt other people in the agency as well,” she said. “I have 42 people in my agency and I know how the casting companies work, and they will be afraid to take him in.”
Saban said her and her partner were upset at the way “a very snappy e-mail with bad grammar” had been used to stir up a media controversy.
“It's been misconstrued and exaggerated to make us look like racist casting directors, which we're not because we push for all inclusive casting all the time, especially in this country, we're always saying 'can we bring multi-ethnic people in?'.”
She said this even applied to the Greek market. “We've done loads of commercials for Greece where we cast black actors,” she said.
Fernando said Ikea's press office had been very understanding, but he had wanted to speak out because he found it frustrating that advertisers and drama producers in Sweden so rarely cast black actors in ordinary roles.
“They say they want a Swedish actor, and I came here when I was six years old, so I don't know what more I can do to be Swedish,” he said. “It's 2018, we are living in a multicultural country. So what is a Swedish actor? Is it a white actor?”
Ikea in 2012 was criticized for removing women from pictures for its catalogue issued in Saudi Arabia, and has faced criticism for a catalogue aimed at orthodox Jews in Israel.
But it has also won plaudits for adverts which break down stereotypes and prejudices.
Its Hooray! To the Wonderful Everyday advert, which came out last November, was praised by Michelle de Leon, the founder of World Afro Day, which celebrates wild afro hairstyles, because it “shows a black family and their curly, kinky, afro hair, living the good life”.
She wrote in The Guardian that the advert had been the first that made her and her daughter “feel good to be black and British”.
“If this is a watershed moment, it's been a long time coming,” she said.
Here's a video of Fernando made by his agent, Hammarstrom.