Pepsi’s latest ad starring model Kendall Jenner is facing an intense backlash from Black Lives Matter activists, with some supporters threatening a boycott. The video depicts Jenner posing at an outdoor modeling shoot and then slowly getting distracted and enamored with a nearby protest, which she eventually joins. Activists feel that Pepsi has appropriated and misrepresented the Black Lives Matter movement in an attempt to use it for commercial gain, according to NBC News.
— Charles M. Blow (@CharlesMBlow) April 5, 2017
The ad opens with a man playing his cello on the roof of a building and then cuts to a scene of protesters. The protesters do not look serious or angry. Instead, they are smiling and holding up signs that say “peace,” “love,” and “join the conversation.” It is not clear what they are protesting or what their aim is, besides drinking Pepsi and dancing. The next scene depicts a Muslim woman photographer who is carefully examining photographs that she has taken. She gets frustrated and looks out the window. The cello player is looking out the window too, and they both join the protest, inspired to contribute their crafts to the movement. Kendall Jenner is shown modeling near the protest, which she notices as well. After making eye contact with the musician, she decides to join in. Of course, everyone who has appeared in the ad thus far has had a Pepsi in hand.
The chief issue that activists have with the Pepsi ad is the trivialization of protests. Real-life protests are more serious than fun because they are focused on real problems. Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson, who helped organize the Michael Brown protests in Ferguson, was especially bothered by this point.
“This ad trivializes the urgency of the issues and it diminishes the seriousness and the gravity of why we got into the street in the first place.”
Black Lives Matter activists like McKesson are concerned that viewers who see this ad may get the wrong idea regarding what protests are really about. Those who watch the ad may get the impression that these serious demonstrations are all fun and games, and not a solemn action taken in response to grave concerns about police violence. Others are concerned that Kendall Jenner is posing as something she is not. In a TMZ video, Black Lives Matter activist Johnetta Elzie shares her views on Jenner posing as an activist
“She is pretending to be someone like me, a woman in this movement.”
Another point of contention is the way that Kendall Jenner interacted with police. At the end of the commercial, Kendall Jenner is seen giving a can of Pepsi to a police officer. The officer smiles, drinks the Pepsi, and Kendall and the other protesters erupt into a jubilant cheer. Elzie comments on this point
“I could never hand the police a Pepsi, because if I hand them anything, if I move too fast, if they don’t see my hands at all times, if they don’t see that I just have a phone in my hand, I’m getting body slammed, or shot, or worse”
Young Black Lives Matter activists are not the only ones who have taken offense. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, Bernice King, weighed in on the matter. She tweeted “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi,” along with a photo of her civil rights activist father being pushed back by a police officer at a protest.
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) April 5, 2017
NBC News reports that Pepsi has pulled the ad in response to the backlash. The soft drink company issued an apology on Wednesday:
“We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”
This citizen-led boycott is not the first time that Pepsi has faced such threats. In 2011, a boycott of Pepsi was initiated over a Super Bowl commercial deemed by many to be racist, building support through a Change.org petition. After last year’s presidential election, many Trump supporters vowed to boycott Pepsi products after PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi expressed sadness over the results and allegedly commented that Trump supporters can “take their business elsewhere”. This comment turned out to be false, according to CNN.
It is unclear what effect this developing boycott will have, especially in light of Pepsi’s back-pedaling on the issue. Perhaps soda drinkers will forgive and forget once again.
[Featured Image by David McNew/Getty Images]