Before we get to the content of the video, let me give you a little background on radio nova and the video.
Radio Nova used to be one of my favorite radio station when I lived in France. Their selections of songs were very diverse, ranging from gentle bossa nova to contemporary alternative rock.
Its customers expect to hear songs that originate from singers whose music sensitivities are different from most of the French radio stations.
Their marketing department likely figured that a substantial portion of their listeners is from the French black community and they probably would like to attract more of them.
As a result, they asked an advertising group to produce a video clip that would promote their philosophy.
The campaign resulted in several video clips, some of them were very creative and received quite well. However things went terribly wrong with one of the video. The following clip is quite graphic so if you are sensitive to violent acts, I would advise you to not watch.
(h/t to afrostyly)
(Feel free to tell Y&R that the spot was not well-received by the majority to Bernard.Barnett@yr.com)
If you cannot watch the video, here is a short description:
The video opens with some intermittent cries of pain. The camera then zooms out as if coming out of the open mouth of a young black man who is visibly in excruciating pain while a white bearded man is whipping his naked back.
The whipping goes on for about 20 seconds and ends with the words:
“ Une chose est sûre, ce sont bel et bien les hommes blancs qui sont à l’origine du blues” (Literally it translates as: “one thing is for certain, it is definitely white men who ignited the blues”).
Now that sentence can be read in a lot of ways and I believe it is the producers’ intent to leave it with multiple possible interpretations and by the same token create a buzz with the controversy that would likely follow.
I will let you be the judge of what they meant exactly. You should know that Nkamany’s friend was so upset after watching the video that she called him in tears and asked what he was going to do about it.
Evidently, I cannot be certain of the intent of the producers. I can imagine that they wanted to emphasis the point that the blues genre was born out of the suffering of the black community during times of hardships in the United States and that the pain of black people were induced by action of slave owners.
The point is that this video should have never been made or authorized.
It is already extremely offensive to exploit the plight of a community during times of suffering for commercial purposes. On top of that, they purposely linger on the cries of the young black man to make a lasting impression on the viewers and potentially trigger an emotional response, a reaction of anger and sadness.
In addition, when the clip makes the vague statement that white men were “definitely to be credited for the creation of blues”, it suggests 1) the crass generalization of white men as torturers of black people and 2) torturing for the benefit of musical creativity.
Nkamany was certainly not amused by the video clip and the ambiguous play on words so he wrote a letter to the producing company, Young & Rubicam, and demanded that action be taken to resolve this unacceptable production.
This is where it gets even stranger.
Y&R first reply was to say that your objection is dully noted and will be referered to the power-to-be. Another email came a few days later explaining that there did not seem to be much of an outrage because of the video and that the intent was not to offend anyone, especially the black community (Nkamany pointed out in this letter that as a black person, he found the airing of video clip unacceptable). Yet, the company added that since there were still a few people who have objected to the video, they decided to NOT use the video anymore.
This withdrawal begs the question: if they really thought that the video’s intent was not to offend and if there were so few people voicing their displeasure, why was the video pulled from the website so quickly?
Is there any doubt that if were this commercial subtitled in English and aired in the US of A, or anywhere in Africa, the outcry from the public would have been so strong that the mainstream media would have picked up on it ?
Would the company have gotten away without issuing a public apology?
As Nkamany said, this also begs another question: what are the associations in charge of the defense of minority rights doing in France? Why are they not demanding an apology? Isn’t the fact that this story has not received any attention whatsoever symptomatic of the current state of the conversation about race in France?
France is proud, and rightfully so, of the fact that race is never mentioned in public affairs, there is no such as affirmative action for job employment or housing. It is, in theory, completely color blind. Yet, as the United States is as close as ever to having a black president, France is still years away from electing a minority candidate at the highest position in public affairs.
Maybe it is time for minority association to quit sleeping at the wheel and get to work (does SOS racism still even exist ?).
If they don’t stand up for themselves, they are the only to blame that this kind of video is can be aired for a while in France and would not even be considered for publication anywhere else.
UPDATE: the following is the email that was sent to Nkamany by Y&R:
I promised to write to you again in response to your complaint about the Radio Nova campaign when I heard from my colleagues in France.
I have now received the information below. You will see, I hope, that your interpretation of the spot is directly contrary to the one that was intended and that, indeed, it was commissioned to create.
Also that very few viewers misunderstood, while the majority reaction was overwhelmingly favourable.
The spot was withdrawn in deference to those very few objectors. It seems to me, given the explanation below, that both the client and the agency have operated throughout from the highest of motives and with the utmost respect. I share their sadness that their good intentions have been misinterpreted in a few instances.
Best regards. Here is the information from my French colleagues (please excuse the imperfect English and the untranslated French, but I wanted to give you the response exactly as it came to me). Best regards. Bernard Barnett