The Problem With That New Pepsi Commercial

The ad Pepsi recently released starring Kendall Jenner has received backlash from many directions. If you haven’t seen the ad, I’ll give you a quick rundown. Jenner makes eye contact with a protestor who beckons her to come join. She’s in the middle of a photo shoot, but she throws the blond wig she’s wearing aside, wipes off her lipstick and joins the movement. A line of police stand in front of the protestors and Jenner walks to the front, crossing the gap between law enforcement and march goers, and hands an officer a Pepsi. He takes a swig, turns to the cop next to him and smiles. Jenner then leads the marchers away in victory, but I’m not sure what just happened or what they won.

The commercial is full of troubling themes, namely, it glamorizes people’s struggles. Preparing for protests is not filled with a bevy of soft drinks and confetti. The reason movements begin is because extreme injustice has occurred, and the effect of making a march seem like a party you might want to crash is disrespectful to what protesting has been used to achieve. This commercial misses the point entirely. Recent movements have begun because skin color can be a deciding factor for how you will be treated by some law enforcement officials, and by having a Caucasian person approach police as if to say, “If you’re nice, they’ll treat you fine,” is a mockery of what has begun these protests. Movements are not street parties and laughter. They are the result of generations of struggle which have led to people literally taking to the streets because they cannot be heard elsewhere.

One of the main concerns with the commercial, and there are a number, is the erasure of black women. The ad follows the common theme of writing minority people out of their own stories, when they are the main characters. We find ourselves being relegated to the sidelines of movements we have given life to, stories we have authored, and human rights marches that we began. The first time I watched the commercial I missed the black woman standing next to Jenner in one of the shots. She is tossed the blond wig Jenner wears, no eye contact is made, she is simply there to hold her wig so Jenner can be a part of the movement. To be honest I didn’t even notice her standing there the first time I saw it, but I wasn’t meant to. She wasn’t the focus of that scene or of the entire commercial.

Societally, we are too comfortable with this notion of pushing minorities to the side. It’s happened with the erasure of Asian men and women in recent Hollywood films.  We’ve seen it with the lack of opportunities for black women outside of maid’s uniforms, or the difficulty academy award nominee Dev Patel has had finding roles. I think it’s past time for minorities to be seen occupying the space of our own lives and movements. Don’t you?

[It appears Pepsi has removed the commercial and pulled the plug on it, though Kendall and Kylie still have it on their youtube page. The brand told The Daily Beast, it was “trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark, and we apologize.”]

Sherie James
Sherie James

Sherie James is the author of the debut novel, The Land of the Living, a story that follows the journey of a black girl wrestling with how the world perceives the skin she lives in across Ireland, Uganda, and India. Sherie earned a Master's Degree from the University of Chicago in social administration policy and international social welfare.

1 Comment
  1. Hey Sherie, thanks for giving voice to this important topic. Your statement, “We find ourselves being relegated to the sidelines of movements we have given life to, stories we have authored, and human rights marches that we began” was very powerful. Keep sharing your thoughts; I look forward to reading more articles from you in the future.

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