A while ago, McDonald’s asked me to do a few spots for a campaign called BLACK AND POSITIVELY GOLDEN. McD was changing its image to that of gold, the arches. Lewis Williams was the creative director and we’ve had a history of great, but troubled, work together. We have known each other forever and have history of ‘old school’ commercials. Lewis is one of the few left with a sense of integrity and honesty together with an understanding of good and hopefully great work. He was taking a risk by using me for this work since I wasn’t Black.
The commercials themselves were sketchy, dealing with McDonald’s giving out free stuff. I was asked to go to Chicago for an ‘event’ where a local McD gave out turkeys for Thanksgiving. It was a sad event with the people looking like the homeless that surround me in Venice.
I was supposed to film ‘staged’ stuff at the McDonald’s store that the agency would mix with submitted iPhone material from customers. Somewhere along the way, an idea of portraits came up and when I pressed for an idea of how they would fit, there were a lot of shrugged shoulders. I think the original thought was to have the people in situ, but I set up a studio in the McDonald’s shooting store garage, and put up an Irving Penn background.
I decided to film the selected actors in an elegant manner, reminiscent of the great pictures from the thirties in Harlem. The McDonald’s client chick had a meltdown saying this was a waste of time and her money but her money had already run out. She particularly freaked when I wanted an elegant corsage on an older lady as if she was going to church. I also wanted an adorable young man dressed in a prep school suit.
I got the prep jacket but I couldn’t win the corsage battle.
I shot the film in color, but I wanted it black and white and I sent the corrections, but they were ignored.
Rebecca, the agency creative director and I had discussed the black and white material and using it alone as I thought it was far more special than the idea that we were doing. We both came to the Nina Simone song, TO BE YOUNG, GIFTED, AND BLACK, even though it was an obvious choice and only applied to the kids.
Since the agency was satisfied with their original idea, I edited my preferred version, but only using the young kids, mainly because of the music. It worked extremely well and their faces were a tribute to the Black Community. You didn’t need anything else to tell this story.
The piece got little or no response…until BLACK LIVES MATTER.
Time goes by…maybe a year.
I get a version of my edit with the black and white being a little compromised and some pithy type, ‘explaining’ the images and a ripoff version of the song. Despite the compromises it’s pretty damn good.
The faces of the kids say it all.
The onliest place I ever seen it is on a McDonald’s website. I never seen it on air. I think it may be the bestest thing I’ve ever done.