Italian airline Alitalia has apologized after facing backlash and accusations of racism for an ad that featured an actor wearing blackface to look like former President Barack Obama. 

The New York Times reported the ad was part of a series of videos posted on online this week by the airline with the hashtag #WhereIsWashington, to promote a new nonstop flight from Rome to Washington, DC. 

Three other ads were posted with actors dressed as Donald Trump, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, according to The Telegraph

The airline announced Wednesday night it would be removing the ad and "will learn from what has happened."  

"Alitalia deeply apologizes for the offense caused by the promotional video on our Washington route. It has since been removed," the airline said in a statement. "For our Company, respect for everyone is mandatory, it was never our intention to hurt anyone and we will learn from what has happened." 

Before the apology, however, the airline pushed back against accusations of racism and defended the video following comments on its Facebook page, according to the New York Times and Al Jazeera. In one response to a Facebook comment, a representative wrote that the Obama actor was not Caucasian and that "makeup was applied to highlight features," the Times and Al Jazeera noted.

Before-and-after photos of the actor, posted by France's BFMTV, showed the actor's nose, mouth and lips were also enlarged for the video, Business Insider noted.  

Other companies in recent months have pulled products after similar criticism. Earlier this year, Italian luxury fashion brand Gucci apologized for selling a turtleneck that social media users said resembled blackface in its design.