How Black People Are Brutalized in the Streets, and Marginalized in Advertising

Director Meena Ayittey on her two striking new films

In a pair of challenging films, Great Guns director Meena Ayittey turns her lens on two aspects of the black experience: racial violence, and the role of diversity in creative industries such as advertising.

Ayittey's 70-second film "Mama," which lives online, sizzles with anger and indignation. Visceral images of U.S. police brutality charge across the screen, accompanied by audio from an impassioned speech by Arkansas Sen. Stephanie Flowers, who begins: "It doesn't take much to look on the local news every night and see how many black kids, black boys, black men are being killed."

Black Lives Matter - Mama

Flowers continues, her voice rising, as we watch footage of Rodney King, George Floyd and others suffering at the hands of law enforcement. "I am a mother," she says. "And I have a son. And I care as much for my son as y'all care for yours. But my son doesn't walk the path that yours does! I have feared for my son's life!"

It's a wrenching indictment of the blood-stained status quo, an assault of words and images designed to dispel indifference and ignorance with the force of a nightstick.

"The footage that we see of regular shootings of unarmed black men in the USA was more powerful than anything that I could film myself, so I wanted to make that the main focus of the film," Ayittey says. A black woman based in the U.K., she has a portfolio that also includes Flint, an award-winning short about racism in Britain, and brand work for Canon, Hugo Boss and Amazon.

"I wanted to catalog the murders of these innocent people in a way that doesn't shirk away from the real violence that people in our society are experiencing," she says. "The fury of the speech by Sen. Flowers held the exact level of intensity I wanted. Her words expressing her anguish for her son's life had a profound impact on me."

"Both the media and police in the USA often dehumanize these victims," she adds. "I wanted to reverse this. I wanted people to remember that George Floyd, Philando Castle, Rodney King, Eric Garner, Michael Brown Jr. and all the victims of police brutality had mothers. And to feel that insurmountable and devastating loss that anyone would feel after the murder of a family member." ("Verify My Humanity," a multimedia initiative from two U.S.-based Black advertising professionals, likewise seeks to "re-humanize" victims of racial violence.)

Separately, Ayittey developed a second passion project, Black Creative: Race and the Advertising Industry, consisting of candid interviews probing the challenges Black people face in the marketing business.

Here's a preview of the hour-long film:

Black Creative - Trailer

"I had the idea for the 'Black Creative' project in mid-2019 after the agency I was working for at the time held a talk about the need for diversity in the creative industry," Ayittey says of the documentary, for which she's currently finalizing distribution. "I looked around me to confirm what I already knew: I was yet again the only black face in the room. It had gotten to the point where I had repeatedly heard the word 'diversity' so often that it had lost all meaning. For me, the word diversity implies an 'assortment' or 'sprinkling' of something new. Whereas I felt, and still feel, that what advertising really needs is real structural change."

She initially planned to keep the film to under five minutes. "However, as I reached out to people such as Trevor Robinson and Sereena Abassi, people who were equally as passionate about the representation of Black and Brown people in the creative industry, the project took on a life of its own."

Though stylistically worlds apart, "Mama" and "Black Creative" cover similar ground. Each exposes difficult, often painful truths and seeks a context for understanding and reconciliation.

"I felt as though what the industry needed was the voices of these Black and Brown who were so largely underrepresented," Ayittey says. "Everyone I spoke to knew firsthand what it was like to be a person of color in a predominantly white space. They could share their experiences and also advise on the best way to go about bringing positive change."

"The murder of George Floyd followed shortly after," she says. "This resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, and our collective need to hear stories from Black and Brown people, is an important moment in history for us. Somehow this film feels even more relevant now than when I originally conceived it."

The following creative professionals appear in Black Creative:

Sereena Abassi
Worldwide Head of Culture and Inclusion
M&C Saatchi

Jo Arscott
Global Creative Consultant

Trevor Robinson OBE
Owner, Quiet Storm

Ete Davies
Chief Executive Officer
Engine

Jo Ogunmukon
TV Producer
Havas

Clifford Buerty
Production Runner for Film and TV

Magnus Djaba
Global President and CEO
Saatchi and Saatchi

BeBe Kiffin-New
Founder and Executive Producer
The Little Content Shop

Helen Powlette
Executive Producer
Sky Creative Agency

Nosisa Majuqwana
TV Producer
VCCP

Stacia Akaba
Executive Producer
Big Buoy, Big Chop

Amber Saunders
Freelance Film Editor

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David Gianatasio
David Gianatasio is senior editor at Clio Awards.

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