How the Oscars and Super Bowl Are Reckoning With Missteps Around Diversity

Both brands had PR crises in the years following Kaepernick taking a knee and #OscarsSoWhite

jennifer lopez and shakira onstage together
Jennifer Lopez and Shakira's halftime performance made some fans proud of their heritage while others felt enraged.
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Though the Super Bowl took place on Feb. 2, some are still upset over what their children saw during a supposedly “family-friendly” Super Bowl halftime performance by Jennifer Lopez and Shakira.

Brands of all sizes, including the NFL and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, continue to reckon with authenticity and diverse representation in their campaigns. Part of that process is grappling with the fact that some viewers might feel isolated, offended or misrepresented, potentially leading to a PR crisis.

We saw this when Hallmark flip-flopped over the same-sex Zola ad it ran (then removed, then ran again based on who it was receiving pushback from).

The NFL did not respond to a request for comment, and the Academy declined to comment.

Making a genuine effort

Ever since Colin Kaepernick took a knee in 2016 during the national anthem as a protest against systemic racial oppression and police brutality, the NFL faced loud backlash and harsh criticism. When he subsequently went unsigned in 2017, it sparked allegations of racism and put the NFL in a position of trying to regain viewer trust. Ultimately, the league partnered with Roc Nation on this year’s halftime show and got two Latina artists to perform in part because many black artists declined the offer to perform in solidarity with Kaepernick.

Some felt it was an inauthentic makegood. Others reveled in newfound representation.

Angela Henao, director of regional communications and PR at DDB Latina, was one of those who basked in Latina pride.

“What I saw, and what through my own words and interpretations I passed down to my children, was what the power of music, art and talent have to bridge borders, gender and cultural stereotypes,” Henao said, “and furthermore, the power to connect people.”

Alison Trope, director of undergraduate studies at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and director of The Critical Media Project, said it’s difficult to say what is authentic versus inauthentic, given the corporate lens.

“There is always a careful balancing act going on. Certainly, some of this is about preserving the brand, about looking good, or as Roland Marchand put it, giving the corporation a soul,” Trope said, adding companies view these acts as part of the bottom line.

In spite of the controversial baggage that the Super Bowl LIV halftime show and the Oscars brought with them, both events involved actors, singers and personalities that made conscious choices to not shy away from actual issues.

Jennifer Lopez donned a reversible feathered cape with an American flag on one side and the Puerto Rican flag on the other while Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” played, a choir of children stood in lit cages and Shakira channeled both her Colombian and Lebanese heritage through her dancing, singing and celebratory trill, the zaghrouta.

These choices, while upsetting to some, also resonated deeply with other viewers.

Righting the wrongs of #OscarsSoWhite

The Oscars, which aired Feb. 9 and have also grappled with the fallout from #OscarsSoWhite, are dealing with something similar.

janelle monae holding a ton of flowers surrounded by women of color dressed in white with flower crowns

Per Trope, while she believes that #OscarsSoWhite was on some viewers’ minds, she’s certain the Academy had the hashtag at the forefront of its marketing strategy.

Many steps were taken to show inclusivity. Hair Love, the moving short film about a black man who must do his daughter’s hair for the first time, won an Oscar; Janelle Monáe opened the Oscars with a song that explicitly calls out the Academy for being “so white”; Parasite, a Korean drama that hinges on class tension and greed, was the first foreign language film to earn the Best Picture award; Idina Menzel sang songs from Frozen 2.

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