Kendall Jenner, Pepsi, and the power of Black Twitter
For reasons no one can comprehend, Pepsi thought it would be a good idea to feature Kendall Jenner, as the age old archetypal white savior (as if we needed anymore of those), in the form of a social justice activist in their latest commercial.
In case you missed it: The advertisement featured a protest as the backdrop - modeling itself after the numerous protests of the Black Lives Matter movement. In the advertisement, Jenner is seen getting ready for a photoshoot wearing a platinum blond wig and dark lipstick. She abruptly throws off the wig and forcefully removes the lipstick with her hand as she begins to walk outside as if she’s on the runway. As she walks, she receives praise from the crowd of people of different ethnicities.
Jenner then walks up to the line of police officers who are standing in front of protesters, and offers one of them a Pepsi. After she does this, everyone erupts with excitement. Police officers included are clapping and ecstatic.
There are many issues that I see with this ad, the following being just a few:
- It trivializes decades long protests and social justice movements.
- It gentrifies protesting (which I didn’t even know was possible).
- Jenner is cast in the role as the white savior.
The fact that one of the signs during the protest said “Join the Conversation” with no indication of what the conversation is, is very problematic. At this “protest” for whatever “conversation,” there are two black males dancing and people playing music in the middle of street. I’ve never seen a protest like this anywhere in MAH LIFE. Pepsi trivializing protest as something that is just a group of people dancing, singing and playing music is disgusting.
Another problem with the ad, is how does Jenner represent any of the groups of people that protest in reality? She’s extremely privileged, rich, white and a culture vulture. Her effortlessly handing a Pepsi over to the police officer, demonstrates that racial tensions may just be a matter of cops being thirsty. The ad puts both Pepsi and Jenner in the role of proxy for peace by appeasing the police officers. Meanwhile, NO ONE offered the protestors a drink. The oppressed aren’t helped in this ad, they are only the background.
Having all eyes on Jenner in the ad only emphasizes her white privilege which allows her to shift from glam photoshoot to helping the protestors. Her privilege positions her as the ONE to reason with the officers by giving them a Pepsi and ignores those actually affected by police brutality in the process. The fact that one of the main images from the commercial is of Jenner standing in front of the officer, in the same position that Leshia L. Evans stood when she was detained in Baton Rouge further demonstrates how off base this add was. Jenner is praised and everyone celebrates her for getting the cops to back down, when in real life, Black women lay their lives on the line everyday to silence and handcuffs.
After the commercial dropped, Black Twitter erupted with criticisms.
Everyone from Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, Bernice King, to Jimmy Kimmel spoke out against the controversial and insensitive ad. “The fact that this somehow made it through, I can’t imagine how many meetings, and edits and pitches, and then got the thumbs-up from who know’s how many people is absolutely mind-boggling,” said Jimmy Kimmel.
On Wednesday the company released a statement:
Pepsi's "apology" led to another round of tweets criticizing Pepsi and Jenner. As it was clearly more about Jenner, than the many people they offended and their making light of systemic issues. Jenner isn’t the victim. She was present and could have walked away at any time. The true victims are Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Philando Castille and everyone else who has lost their lives to police brutality in the United States. The protests the commercial attempted to imitate were not celebrations they were mournings of the lack of value America places Black life. Maybe if Martin would’ve had a Pepsi instead of Skittles he would still be here. Or, if instead of Garner saying “I can’t breathe”, he asked the officer if he needed a Pepsi, he would still be alive. This IS the problem with the ad - it makes the struggle look as if it’s for naught.
The ad is no longer available on the official Pepsi Twitter and Facebook pages. Maybe after this incident, Pepsi and other brands will think about attempting to profit off civil rights issues as they develop their ads and marketing content.
Images: Twitter, GIPHY, Pepsi