McKenzie and Andrade on Black Culture in Media: A Podcast with E.B. Moss - Part 2

By Insider InSites Podcasts Archives
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Episode 27 of the Insider InSites podcast was such a compelling conversation around black culture in media that the little companion "topline" transcript of the conversation I usually create has turned in to a two-part article.  I hope you'll listen to the entire episode -- available right here as well as via Spotify, iHeartRadio, GooglePodcasts, Apple, Stitcher and TuneIn -- but if reading is more your thing then please read both Part 1 and Part 2 of the recap with two talented MediaVillage journalists. 

Phil McKenzie (pictured top right), a cultural anthropologist and expert in influencer marketing, and Ainsley Andrade (pictured top left), an entertainment critic with a background in the arts himself, discuss programs like The Neighborhood, black-ish and Atlanta; and cultural authenticity, which is written up in Part 1.  This topline of the rest of the conversation is on the Super Bowl ("to be in, or not to be in..."), Black Panther, the opportunities for multicultural creators in audio, and more.

E.B. Moss:  A recent MediaVillagearticlebyFrank Washingtonof Crossings TV talked about the importance of accurate measurement of diverse media audiences, writing that "... if manufacturers, retailers, content creators and media platforms do not have a multicultural strategy ... we are committing economic malpractice."  This is interesting, Ainsley, apropos your article on ads in the Super Bowl.  You wrote, "... while I wanted to come away feeling like advertisers 'got it,' so to speak, I got a much stronger impression that they were issue-dodging ... Representation-wise, it was a mess.  I barely remember a handful of commercials starring people of color."  

Ainsley Andrade:  It felt like there was an underlying tone of divisiveness, like nobody wanted to touch any of the real topics.  During the National Anthem many players, mostly of color, had their hands up by their neck instead of putting their hand over their heart ... like that's all they have left besides taking a fine or not being able to play.  And then nobody was really touching the topic at hand.  Usually advertisers go out of their way to really push some kind of theme.  The one who really did it was Google with The Hundred Billion Words ad.  Normally there's more of that, especially at a time when everything feels so divisive ... this time it all felt like everybody was being very laissez-faire.

Moss:  What about the lack of diversity in the spots themselves; are we seeing any progress?

Phil McKenzie:  I don't know why people are even spending money on Super Bowl Ads.  I don't know anyone in my world who watched that game.

Moss:  Well, it's the whole scale story, right?

McKenzie:  I was watching Twitter.  I didn't watch the game at all -- I don't watch the NFL -- and a lot of people were ragging about not watching.  I think if you're an advertiser and you're in media, you have to feel that, right?  Like it's your job to understand that the current is not moving in that way.  If you're building out your budgets for the next three to five years in terms of a strategy, that's not really where I would say it makes sense to spend your money if you're saying this audience is important, because the audience is shifting away from that.  So, it's not so much about whether or not you have to make a political stand on this.  It's more understanding -- like the article by Washington -- that the growth is coming in multicultural spaces, and a big chunk of those audiences is shifting away from this spectacle called the Super Bowl.  If you're a media planner or strategist, it seems it would behoove you to understand where that audience is, and what's important to them and speak to that, rather than dumping an ad in a game that fewer and fewer people are going to engage with ... and if they are engaging with it, they're engaging with it negatively.

Moss:  Where, then, to place more inclusive advertisements?

McKenzie:  Well that's a different thing, but they kind of go hand in hand.  Is it just, you got the right sprinkle of different colors in the commercial or is the messaging speaking to audiences in a way that they're going to get it?  Those are two really different things.

Andrade:  I wouldn't totally say that.  I could definitely get behind some portion of that sentiment, but I feel like seeing people who look like you is super important.  I'm a big gamer and for a long time when you could create your own character it was 90 percent white guys, and if it was [a character] of color it was all the same hair that the white guys had.  Seeing somebody who looks like me in a really slick, high-end car commercial, like a Jaguar or a Benz type, like something they'd put Matthew McConaughey in and seeing someone like Idris Elba instead, that would draw a little bit more of my attention.

My issue with the ads that happened during the Super Bowl was more that everybody seemed to have babysitters.  Like, you got Cardi B and Little John ... but Steve Carell also had to be there.  You had 2 Chainz, but he had to be there with Adam Scott.  The big news was that Travis Scott was doing the halftime show, but he was on stage for two minutes and then he vanished.  I feel like it just all goes back to this stuff with Kaepernick, and the NFL has already kind of made some moves that one could very strongly argue makes them seem like they don't support this particular plight of people of color ... and then you're not even representing us in a way that made sense to me.  Then you've got these ads where when we do get black people, they're like, but here's this white guy, so it goes down easier.  That's what it felt like to me.

McKenzie:  I think audiences are more sophisticated than just representation being a function of what we see.  I think back in a funny way to Atlanta in its first season.  They did an episode where Paper Boi was being interviewed on a talk show.  And then within that show they had a bunch of different commercials.  But every ad was stereotypical: a Dodge is going down the street, there's a cool black guy, then a woman gets in the car, like there are all these different contrived ads that we've all seen before.  I think they were making fun of the idea that if you just sprinkled a little brown on it, I'm going to forget that this is corny.

Moss:  Phil, you wrote aboutBlack Panther, which had a complete cross-section of audiences who loved it across the board.  

McKenzie:  Definitely. And, beyond the fact that it was a historically huge crossover hit, like third or fourth grossing movie of all-time type of hit, it also highlighted very different opinions as to who's really the hero in the movie.  That's a serious conversation.  It's a Malcolm, Martin, Marcus Garvey-type of conversation in the black community and I think the fact that they were able to get that nuance and make that a real part of the conflict shows what happens when the creators and the team are empowered to create something that's going to be, if an overused word, authentic.

Andrade:  Black Panther's goal wasn't to pander, it was to tell the story rooted in real black culture.  That's all I mean by representation.  Like, don't just give me a black guy in the group or have a role that was written for a character that would probably have been white and just give that to a black guy, but somebody who feels real to me.

Moss:  Are there any exciting projects you're looking forward to?

Andrade:  Personally, I'm looking forward to more stuff like Dear White People on Netflix.  The movie was dope, and the way they transitioned into the show was really dope and I think that kind of goes back to what Phil was saying about authenticity.

Moss:  Phil, where do you think black culture and media is going in the next five years?

McKenzie:  I'm really excited about audio spaces.  When I look at podcasting for example, Desus and Mero came out of podcasting.  Now they've got a Showtime deal.  Or 2 Dope Queens with HBO.  We need to have more and more of these voices; it's just vital throughout media, not just in the branded marketing world that we're talking about, but even in journalists' faces.  When you're not getting people there who can authentically speak to stories, the coverage suffers.

Moss:  Yes, then that birds of a feather mentality kind of obfuscates truth and facts.

Andrade:  There's always an audience for whatever you're pushing.

Moss:  So, it's authenticity, accessibility, and obviously the need for greater inclusion across all forms and resources.

McKenzie:  And cut checks.

Andrade:  I'll second that.

McKenzie:  And give people a longer leash.  You need time to build audiences and get people on board but I feel the issue with the studios is that they don't see the bottom line.  I guess what they feel is like [we're] a niche demographic.

Andrade:  I watch stuff from BBC all the time and it almost shocks me how much nobody cares that some particular character is black.  Like being black doesn't play into this black lady character as a police officer.  She's just a police officer.  Why is it so easy over there?  

McKenzie:  It's the mundanity of the experience in a way: you want to just have these things be assumed.

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