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GAP Kids and Ellen DeGeneres have been making their "girl power" fun filled ads for a two years now, each ad showing kids of all sizes and, yes, ethnicities who aren't just pretty faces on a billboard but also are skater queens, drummers, dancers, DJ's, astronomers and little humanitarians. Check out the anthem video from 2015. This year the group modelling the ads are from Le Petit Cirque, a 8-12 year old circus group who know acrobatics and gymnastics and all sorts of neat tricks. They say "Kindness should be a law" and when they become president it will be. Aaaaw. Last years ad is seen above. Nobody complained about that one.
No, the ad that was accused of racism is this one, below.
It's a nice shot of the circus girls, who show off that they can hand-stand and lotus-legs at the same time (damn!) or simply bend their leg above their head as if they were made of rubber (whoah!), it gets all the girls into the same picture, and will be eye-catching on a billboard. I can see why the image was selected. Like the top image above the sizes of the girls in "space" taken up goes from small to taller, in order to fit well with whatever headline will appear on the left. To send the "we're totally chill best buds and that's our attitude" vibe one girl has her arm leaning on another girls head. Just like last year. The tall girl is also the base of the group, the strong one who lifts and carries the other girls, who have a unique physical trust with her, which is also apparent in this pose.
Except not quite like last year. This year the colours are reversed. The taller girl is white, and the shorter girl is black, and now the ad has touched a nerve. Last year it was the other way around, you see, and nobody cared then. Last year they weren't even circus group of girls who would naturally be so physically intertwined, instead they were just a bunch of girls crowded together for a shoot.
The usual suspects of activists turned journalists kicked up a fuss on Twitter, and soon there were long articles everywhere from HuffPo to BBC. As the author of the Huffpo piece explains that even if she herself found the ad pretty harmless: "The reality is that there are so few positive, powerful representations of black women and especially black girls out there that, frankly, it’s unsurprising that the photo would touch a nerve. That nerve, really, is where we should focus. That sensitivity, no matter how “over the top” it may seem to those who don’t get it, is still valid."
As a white mother raising a white child to be the best anti-racist ally she can be, it’s important to me to only support companies that value-positive messaging in their advertising. And while on the surface this GapKids ad seems to fit the bill, look a little closer, and it fails. Because I don’t want to support a company that only portrays positive images of white children. If there aren’t also positive portrayals of children of color, I want nothing to do with it.
Debbie Felix, a Gap Kids representative, apologized with this statement: "As a brand with a proud 46-year history of championing diversity and inclusivity, we appreciate the conversation that has taken place and are sorry to anyone we've offended. We are replacing the image with a different shot from the campaign, which encourages girls (and boys) everywhere to be themselves and feel pride in what makes them unique."
It was wise of her to add "and boys", lest the ad be accused for sexism next.
The tweet that started it all (because the billboards aren't up yet) is still on the Gap's Twitter account.
My reaction? I'm really disappointed that a girl circus group's national spotlight moment was ruined by a bunch of twats on Twitter. Welcome to the adult world, kids. It's true we literally never have any fun, ever. But hey, thanks Twitter-twats for reinforcing that everything a girl does is criticized from all angles. You might as well get used to it, little ladies.
— GapKids (@GapKids) April 2, 2016
The two girls so physically intertwined are actually sisters. The black girl, Lucy Dinknesh Lubensky, who is so very clearly a quiet shy girl as you can see in the pre-release video at The Mail, is Brooke Smith's daughter, and the taller girls is Fanny Grace Lubensky, also Brooke Smith's daughter. Looking at Brooke's twitter, it's apparent that she is quite annoyed with this whole thing.
they are sisters! https://t.co/eM1HjRqIdi
— Brooke Smith (@Iam_BrookeSmith) April 3, 2016
— Brooke Smith (@Iam_BrookeSmith) February 27, 2016