We Must Lift Up Young BIPOC Creatives in Advertising and Branded Content

It's key to the evolution of the industry

I've been in this game of advertising and branded content for over two decades now, and I'm happy to say I've seen some changes. That said, while we've come a long way, we have a long way yet to go. My entire career has been about lifting up diverse voices, so I feel I'm uniquely qualified to provide some context and reflection on the reality of the industry in the present moment.

Along with my longtime friend and collaborator, Julien Christian Lutz, professionally known as Director X, I founded the production company Fela amid a global pandemic and at the height of protests in 2020. In that context, and as Black creatives ourselves, we felt it was important to be the agents of change we wanted to see. We had previously run production companies under larger umbrella corporations where we were routinely tokenized and ultimately felt constrained from reaching our full potential. Because of this, we understood the need to own and operate our own production company holistically. Empowering BIPOC directors, along with being allies to and supporting female directors, is Fela's continued mission. It also needs to be the industry's collective responsibility.

It's true that since 2020 many initiatives have sprung up to support diversity and inclusion; however, there's still much to be done year round to highlight the role that Black creatives have played in shaping this country and our industry and to get more Black directors behind the camera and as executives in the C-suites of corporations. After all, advertising helps shape culture, and culture comes in all shapes, sizes and colors.

Lifting up fresh and marginalized talent through mentorship is key to the evolution of our industry. Director X and I take our mentorship roles seriously, seeking to raise up the next generation of storytellers who will continue to define culture. Providing a broad web of connections to these young talents from personal networks will spark new opportunities for developing skills. Some of the most incredible creative experiences have emerged when taking risks on new directors, giving someone new a chance. Karena Evans, LeSean Harris and Emma Higgins are a few examples of the talent we've given guidance and mentorship.

And when I talk of mentorship, I don't necessarily just mean uplifting creatives and industry-related mentorship. Mentorship in everyday life and the community at large is needed as well. We all learn by example, really. We will all benefit others if we do what we can where we stand.

The opportunities opening up for BIPOC creators—both established and emerging—are encouraging. Talent is all around us, they just need a place to shine. The up-and-coming talent Fela is known for introducing to the advertising landscape continually goes on to succeed. Traditional apprenticeship models work—bringing new talent up on set with established directors is an important part of the process. A company will be a standout creative force because of them, not in spite of them.

Prior to the peak of the George Floyd worldwide protests, the door at traditional advertising agencies wasn't always open to new creative voices. Though things shifted to some extent when discussions of anti-Blackness and systematic discrimination were brought to the forefront of the public consciousness amid widespread protest, I'm still skeptical of the degree of meaningful change that has unfolded since.

While it's exciting that our underrepresented directors have been invited into rooms they couldn't previously access, more often than not it's for Black History Month or International Women's Day. It's still an uphill battle for them to be considered on the broader stage for opportunities that aren't identity-specific. Moreover, these projects are often underfunded. By widening their outlook to consider underrepresented directors for more work that isn't heavily identity-focused, they will tap into a huge reserve of underutilized talent; but, to speak on my experience working within these identity-focused projects, frequently the creative teams are not representative of the culture being depicted. In order for real change to happen, it has to happen from within. When representation is reflected in all facets of our industry, then real change will come.

We're in a prime position right now to continue championing content for the underrepresented and fostering the development of today's and tomorrow's storytellers. At Fela, our core strength lies in having the innate ability to tell culturally relevant stories authentically, which is exactly what the future of advertising needs. Who will join us?

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Taj Critchlow
Taj Critchlow is co-founder/managing partner of Fela.

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