Implicit racial bias is deadly.
"A black person is three times more likely to be killed by the police in America, too often when armed with nothing more than a candy bar." It sadly comes to the surprise of no one that there is an implicit bias in the police force in some parts of the world, including the US – and the recent events with George Floyd prove just as much. It is a deep problem that requires reformation, conversation, discussions and policy changes. But too many voices still go unheard.
To try and tackle the issue, Courageous Conversation Global Foundation has launched the Not a Gun petition with a powerful film campaign putting viewers in front of the shocking truth – that a black man in America could be killed for just carrying a pack of Skittles on himself. We wanted to get Behind the Idea, and so we reached out to Kevin Foley, director at Rakish, to ask him more about the concept and the message behind the campaign.
What was the brief?
The brief opened with a simple question: “What if holding a candy bar could get you killed?”
From there, page-by-page it broke down the brutal numbers of implicit bias against Black people and POC in America. The stat you see at the end of the film when we cut to black, the outrage and shock you feel – that is exactly the reason why I wanted to be involved in the project.
The end goal of the brief wasn’t awareness, but policy change.
How did the initial brainstorming phase go?
Looking back, the original script was more of a starting place. The ending of the film wasn’t fully flushed out and to Rony and Tony’s credit at GS&P, that allowed for a ton of creative latitude on my side and a great bit of collective collaboration.
This film was their own personal experience growing up Black in America so for me, the film had to be grounded in their truth. 100% message and emotion. I didn’t want the film to be overly technical or polished so the approach right away was observational, real and honest. The camera had to be invisible. I felt the story could be super powerful if we made the audience feel something is wrong, rather than showing them. As soon as we landed on the misdirect around the chocolate bar / gun reveal, I knew we had something powerful.
Tell us more about the concept. Why was it the right choice?
You have two key moments in the film. The first takes place when our protagonist meets the store attendant. After two white customers ask and receive the NowBar, he asks for the same exact thing but with a different result. As the chocolate bar morphs into a gun in real-time, we introduce the metaphor but it’s sleight of hand. It never overshadows the moment. And as our protagonist leaves the store, we build tension and claustrophobia through tighter focal lengths and a handheld camera approach.
You’ll also notice that we never make it about the cop, he always stays in the shadows. And the final scene, when he turns around, arms raised, hands trembling - you catch a piece of the bar. It was never a gun. Implicit bias is deadly.
What was the production process like? How long did it take, and what was the biggest challenge?
PSA budgets always present their own challenges but legitimately everyone pushed past those limitations because we all believed deeply in the idea. Our biggest hurdle was shooting night-for-night in the summer and only having 8 hours of shooting time. We had a solid amount of dialogue to capture in the store with multiple looks and I didn’t want to compromise anything. When Mike Gioulakis joined the team as the Director of Photography, we sat down before the tech and really drilled down on the concept. With sunrise our hard out, we made the decision right then to shoot the entire film with a natural handheld aesthetic.
What’s the main message of the campaign and why does it matter?
I think it showcases the hard juxtaposition of two Americas. In Black America you can be killed for carrying a cellphone (Stephon Clarke), cigarettes (Eric Garner), a wallet (Amadou Diallo), skittles (Trayvon Martin), a $20 bill (George Floyd) and lose your life.
Why will the final assets resonate with consumers?
I don't think it's on me to say. We shot this in the summer of 2019 and it was finally released late February 2020. I always thought that this would resonate because racial bias is not a new issue, but with the attention that this topic is now rightly getting, my hope is that the message is more powerful now than it ever has been.
What is one unique fact about the campaign that will help it cut through?
Unfortunately, this story is not unique. If anything is to cut through, it should be the final statistic at the end. It's truly shocking.
What do you hope it achieves for the brand?
One goal. To sign the petition. What Courageous Conversations is trying to achieve is exactly what the U.S. needs right now; re-education and reform within the police.
How satisfying is it to see it out there after so much hard work?
I'm satisfied that between myself and Rakish, Rony and Tony at GS&P and the team at Courageous Conversation Global Foundation, we've made something we can collectively be proud of and that could hopefully drive change. This was a unique project in that a lot of people got behind it for the passion of the cause, so while it is satisfying, the fact that we have to make these films and tell this message isn't.