In September, Viola Davis became a L'Oréal spokeswoman, marking her first beauty contract at age 54—a big accomplishment, given how hard we are on people who age, especially when they're women. L'Oréal also celebrated the fact that Davis is the first-ever African-American woman to receive the "Triple Crown" of acting—an Academy Award, an Emmy and a Tony.
Late last week, Davis and L'Oréal released an unvarnished video, made by McCann Paris, that revisits the L'Oréal slogan, "Because you're worth it." These days, it's a statement that stands on its own: "You're worth it."
Advertising plays a great deal with what goes unsaid. We don't have a lot of time. And we are overrun by brands who want to say meaningful things, but who also want to appease mostly white people, and mostly white men, in boardrooms.
Subtext can be courageous, and it can be cowardly. We aren't much for subtext these days. If something matters, fed-up people prefer for you to say it instead of hedging. They are not interested in the rippling corporate consequences that brands have to balance, and they're right not to be. That is not their jobs.
L'Oréal's intentions for this video are obvious. Lots of brands want to commiserate right now. That's what brands do. But let's forget about the brand, and forget about the fact that those three words—"You're worth it"—have mostly been used to sell mascara and color-stay lipstick.
This is Viola Davis, and she is talking to you.
"The next time you hesitate before going after something you want, the next time you blush and brush off a compliment, the next time you doubt your place in the world, in the workplace, in your home or in your own skin, say these words to yourself: 'I'm worth it,' " Davis says, facing the camera. "And I know you will always say it like you mean it."
This message feels meant for someone who is perhaps very young. It is hard not to think of the role she played in The Help as Aibileen Clark, the housekeeper who repeatedly reminds a young white girl of her kindness, her smarts, her importance.
But it is also a message that cannot be divorced from this moment in time. On May 28, when this video came out, protesters mourning the death of George Floyd stood outside of Minneapolis' 3rd Police Precinct as it burned. Timing is everything in advertising.
Davis is a black woman in a country where blackness is not valued unless it can be exploited for entertainment or labor. When she says "You're worth it," she ripples through generations of white supremacy and disadvantage that black bodies inherit, then are asked to relive again and again.
The subtext here is, this is not about my self-worth. This message is a mantra and a spell for consistently devalued black bodies, a small something to remind you, despite all other evidence to the contrary, that you deserve to be here.
The value we attribute to ourselves isn't just up to us. We are social animals; our value is recalculated in real-time based on feedback—from friends, institutions, communities, strangers, the entertainment we consume, and jobs.
This moment is about our complicity in something we have always been aware of and haven't done enough about. It is our job, too, to signal the worth of black bodies and their right to be here, to feel safe—not just when they are talented and not just because we have friends or family who are black. We must value black bodies because they are people.
We must value them aggressively and with rigor, because our system is constantly lulling us back into a fundamentally racist status quo, where those tacitly exempt from the pursuit of happiness simply disappear.
Our biggest job at Muse is to represent creativity's natural diversity. Creativity can come from anywhere; it does not belong to a single sector or job description. But we haven't done the best job of ensuring, rigorously and aggressively, that black creativity is represented or that black voices are heard as often as they could be.
Credits: McCann Paris
Global Business Leader: Charlotte Franceries
Executive Creative Director: Julien Calot
Copywriter: Gerard Seifert
Strategy: Nicolas Skouras & Laura Simpson
Director: Julien Calot
Production: Phantasm - Olivier Muler
Agency Producer: Thibault Blacque-Belair
Post-Producer : Craft - Julien Gence
Director of Operations: Anne-Sophie Carbo
Business Director: Matthieu Vieille
Project Management : Nadia Lasfar
Chief Digital Officer : Pierre-Jean Bernard
Global Talent Management - Danielle Korn & Kimberly Kress