Sesali Bowen is an Entertainment Writer at Refinery29. All opinions are her own.
Kendall Jenner is the star of Pepsi’s new “Moments” campaign, joining an elite list of celebrities who have partnered with the soda company, including Beyoncé and Britney Spears. But unlike previous moments of glory with a blue can, Jenner’s spot has been tinged with controversy. The “Moments” campaign shows Jenner joining a passing protest and bridging a gap between police and the community when she hands a police officer a can of Pepsi.
Unlike many people on Twitter, I'm not angry with Jenner. She's young and lives in a Calabasas bubble. I'm more upset with what I see as a missed opportunity. In my opinion, these movement protests shouldn't be reduced to the point of caricature for the sake of selling soda. They aren’t street festivals or parties. They aren’t fun and they aren’t supposed to be. Don’t let the pussy hats at the Women’s March make you think any differently. When Black people march, we’re angry, we’re hurt, and we’re drinking water to stay hydrated. We are almost always mourning death or injustice against people in our community. Popular romanticization of the movement is part of the reason why it was cool to be seen as “standing with Hillary,” even though what happened in the voting booths on November 8 told a completely different story about where the country’s actual political allegiances lie.
Let’s keep it real here. The spike in the number of protests this country has seen over the past few years is largely the result of localized movements for Black lives. I believe that to reductively use this imagery as a marketing tactic is absolutely another example of the appropriation of Black culture. The appropriative nature of the ad explains a lot of the anger — albeit misdirected, in my humble opinion — toward Jenner. She comes from a family that can’t untangle themselves from claims of cultural appropriation. What's most disappointing, however, is that this was a missed opportunity to represent what actual solidarity can look like. I’m extremely tired of decontextualized calls for “unity” and “togetherness." They reek of condescending moral superiority that completely sidestep holding oppressors accountable for the messes they make. That is not allyship.
Pepsi has since pulled the ad, explaining the company "did not intend to make light of any serious issue." But here’s how I imagine Jenner's role in the “Moment” do-over: We can keep Jenner in a photo shoot on the sidewalk since it's clearly fiction and not real life. She sees a protest marching pass and asks someone how she can help. That person whispers something in her ear and we see Jenner making a phone call. It's to her accountant, and she wires funds to provide legal defense to arrestees and hire a rapper to perform at the end of the protest — she is a Kardashian, after all. She takes a refreshing sip of Pepsi, for a job well done. The end. That would be the kind of inspirational example of meaningful support we need right now.