Pepsi, in an attempt at cultural relevancy, released a tone-deaf ad featuring Kendall Jenner attending an ambiguous protest marked by a sea of white faces holding vaguely worded signs like "Join the Conversation." The ad opens with Kendall mid-photo shoot sporting a metallic mini dress, a blonde wig, and a bold lip. A musician gives a slight chin nod to Jenner, an implicit invitation to leave the set and join the march. With a coy, knowing look, she strips the wig from her head, wipes off her maroon lipstick, and is magically transformed into the woke girl, sporting double denim and a cool girl vibe. Winding her way through the crowd, she makes it to the front lines. She then offers a Pepsi to a police officer, who pops it open and takes a long swig. The already carefree crowd takes on a Coachella-like vibe — there is dancing and clapping and a joyous show of group spontaneity.
On their YouTube channel, Pepsi described the ad as "A short film about the moments when we decide to let go, choose to act, follow our passion and nothing holds us back. Capturing the spirit and actions of those people that jump in to every moment and featuring multiple lives, stories and emotional connections that show passion, joy, unbound and uninhibited moments."
Twitter erupted, but unlike the carefree crowd, it was an irruption of ire and sarcasm. Critics were quick to point out the similarities between the shot of Jenner handing the coke to the officer and the iconic image of Iesha Evans, the black woman in the long sundress whose image was captured as she stood facing riot police in Baton Rouge.
Taryn Finley, who is a Black Voices Associate Editor at the Huffington Post, followed this side by side picture with a tweet saying, 'Kendall Jenner gives a Pepsi to a cop and rids the world of -isms. Y'all can go somewhere with this tone-deaf, shallow and over-produced ad.'The sarcasm quotient was high, with many taking to twitter to express the absurdity of the ad.
Others, like Khaled Beydoun, a law professor and critical race theorist at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, attempted to explain the negative reactions to naysayers.
Pepsi is standing by the ad, at least for now, saying it's a "global ad that reflects people from different walks to life coming together in a spirit of harmony...We think that's an important message to convey."
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Miriam Mosher graduated from Smith College before moving to New York where she is a writer by day and beer maven by night. She is a proud feminist, a champion of the semicolon and an avid thrifter. See more from Miriam at Bushwick Daily and Two Cities Literary Review.