On Tuesday, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shocked the system and the nation by handily defeating 10-term incumbent Democrat Joe Crowley in New York’s 14th congressional district, an area that represents Queens and the Bronx. A Democratic Socialist who worked on Bernie Sanders’ campaign, the 28-year-old Ocasio-Cortez stood on her own merits, positions and energy, backed by a very well run campaign. She was outraised 10-to-1 and outspent 18-to-1 by Crowley, but her story resonated with the district—with many learning about her background from her breakout campaign film.
We’ve all seen the “my story” candidate ads (some of which are powerful and mold-breaking). But there was something decidedly different, intoxicatingly defiant but also accessible in this film. The aforementioned, fleeting hallmarks of empathy and authenticity are everywhere in this work. For all the talk of storytelling, the little more than two minutes in the film is a master class in compacting passion, honesty and, yes, empathy and authenticity into a compelling package. Ocasio-Cortez isn’t merely telling her story; she’s telling everyone’s story in the district.
One could very easily deconstruct the tight copy, the beautiful film craft, the pacing leading to an anthemic crescendo, the excellent structure. Yes, there are the trappings of political ads, but what makes this ad special is that there isn’t a full-service ad agency behind it. Ocasio-Cortez wrote it, and she relied on volunteers to coordinate the shoot and real people, including the candidate’s campaign workers, are present throughout.
The production company, Means of Production, a Detroit-based media production company brought the concept to life. The founders, Naomi Burton and Nick Hayes, both worked in the advertising business but struck out on their own to produce content that represents the working class.
“It just didn’t compute to us that the same people creating working-class propaganda are creating essentially propaganda for corporations,” Hayes told The Intercept, also noting that the project came in under $10,000. “For a lot of these political candidates, who have nothing to offer people … staging a whole thing and creating this whole kind of fake world is necessary because you’re working from nothing, you have nothing to work with.”
It will be interesting to see how this work becomes a springboard for the company with other candidates but in the meantime, there’s cause to celebrate. It may very well be challenging in America at the moment, but bright light is shining over New York 14, offering a glimmer of hope and a path forward for other candidates to be what their constituents expect: empathetic and authentic.