Hint: it’s wrong
Carlo Javier // Managing Editor
Pepsi’s latest Kendall Jenner-led commercial may have been intended to celebrate diversity, equality and the end of police brutality, but really though, it’s a classic stroke of the broad brush of white supremacy.
The ad clocks in at two minutes and 40 seconds long and depicts Jenner walking through a joyous, peaceful protest by a diverse group of people, only to see a line of policemen impeding their way. The protest is as multicultural as can be, featuring an Asian cellist, a Muslim photographer, a Lesbian couple, African dancers, a folk band and Skip Marley’s “Lions” playing in the background.
Jenner, decked out in full metaphorical white saviour gear, walks through the crowd, grabs an ice-cold can of Pepsi and hands it to a young police officer with an irresistible jawline. The officer cracks the can open and takes a sip, amidst the effusive cheers from the crowd.
There it is folks, the answer to ending police brutality – an ice-cold can of Pepsi in the hands of Kendall Jenner.
Naturally, the ad was immediately met with some harsh, and deserved, criticism from the Twitterverse, with some of the more memorable burns coming from Baltimore-based activist Deray McKesson, who tweeted, “If I had carried Pepsi I guess I never would’ve gotten arrested. Who knew?” and comedian Kumail Nanjiani who asked, “So we should just give Putin & Assad & Trump a can of Pepsi & everything will be ne?”
In response to the backlash, Pepsi delivered an official statement to Adweek, saying that the commercial is “a global ad that reflects people from all different walks of life coming together in a spirit of harmony, and we think that’s an important message to convey.”
Pepsi seems to have left out the part where these people from all different walks of life happen to be facing an obstacle constructed by an established authoritarian power (police), and that they needed a white woman – of astounding wealth and privilege – to swoop in and save the day.
Sure, give Pepsi its props for depicting a diverse community in a highly-funded commercial, but their tone-deaf conflict resolution narrative that is simply worlds away from the reality could not have missed the mark any further. By evoking imagery from the Black Lives Matter movement in their blue-washed nondescript street party to celebrate capitalism, they trivialize those who have and continue to put their lives on the line to resist police brutality.
The ad, which happened to be released on Apr. 4 – the 49th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination – is simply a reiteration of established values of white saviour ideologies, the very principles that have historically marginalized and abused people of colour, women, those holding non-Christian views and people from the LGBTQ+ community.
Despite the flack and online vitriol that Pepsi and Jenner have received since the release of the commercial, they did get one aspect right: realism. If anyone else had approached the cops, had it been a person of colour, or Islamic faith, or basically anyone not qualified with the exclusive rights of the White Privilege MasterCard, they would’ve been arrested, harassed, tasered, pepper sprayed and even shot. If this situation had been real, it would undoubtedly take a white person’s privilege to confidently and safely approach the police without the fears of brutal repercussion.
Intentions don’t always lead to desired results. Yes, Pepsi’s ad illustrates diversity, but its portrayal of Jenner in the archetypical white saviour role isn’t exactly supportive of its ideals of progressive thinking and equality. Perhaps Pepsi should reevaluate how they’re spending their millions before they give us a lesson on peace and equality.