kendall jenner’s new pepsi ad appears to erase the black lives matter movement
Inspiring a furious reaction from online commenters, Pepsi have been accused of coopting the aesthetics of protest for profit and positioning a privileged white model as the saviour of civil rights movements in the struggle against police brutality.
Pepsi's new advert has caused widespread offence for coopting the aesthetics of activism to mimic protest marches and iconic images of Black Lives Matter activists in order to sell product. At a time of global protest, ongoing police brutality and corporate complicity, the concept of the advert is particularly tone-deaf.
Kendall Jenner stars as a model who is working at a photoshoot when she sees a protest march passing by outside the window. She is moved to ditch the shoot when a hot Asian guy playing a musician nods at her to join in - she does so, but not before throwing her wig in the face of the black stylist.
The cause of the protest is vague, but there are protest signs that say 'Peace' and 'Unity', CND logos, and one that says 'Join the conversation'. Kendall walks through the diverse crowd of protesters, picking up a Pepsi on the way, and handing it to a Police officer in a Police line that appears to be blocking the way of the march. When he cracks open the can, both protesters and Police erupt in cheers, as if the gesture had saved the day, alleviating tension between the two groups.
Critics of the advert note how problematic it is to position a privileged white model as the saviour of the day, somehow defusing the implied tensions of police brutality and racism with a can of soda. Many have also noted that the scene itself appears to resemble the iconic image of Iesha Evans standing her ground in the face of riot police at a protest against police brutality in Baton Rouge.
Pepsi's inclusion of an Asian man as a musician, a woman in a hijab as a photographer and a black woman as the stylist illustrates that considerations of diversity and inclusivity must reach beyond box-ticking casting exercises to additionally include people with diverse viewpoints and life experiences in the decision making process. If more of those decision makers had a stake in the issues and movements the advert coopts, and arguably erases, then perhaps this advert would not have been as offensive as it has proved to be.
In a statement addressing the controversy, Pepsi are unmoved, saying, "This is a global ad that reflects people from different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony. We think that's an important message to convey". Kendall has yet to speak on the matter.
To find out more about what the Black Lives Matter movement is really about, please head over to their website - especially if you have never done so before - and read about the aims of the movement, its founders, and guiding principles.
UPDATE: Pepsi have removed the advert, and have issued the following statement: "Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace, and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologise. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologise for putting Kendall Jenner in this position."
*This article was amended 6 April 2017
Text Charlotte Gush