New documentary gives a raw look at the Black experience in advertising

Black advertising professionals discussing the film Black Madison Avenue

Black Madison Avenue, from VMLY&R and New York Festivals, gathers the fewer than ten Black ECDs at advertising holding companies to talk candidly about their experiences.

There are less than ten U.S.-based Black executive creative directors at all of the major advertising holding companies. 

That stark inequity is the subject of a documentary from VMLY&R and New York Festivals called Black Madison Avenuedebuted on Wednesday.

The documentary gathers all of these executives in a room to candidly discuss their experiences in advertising – from overt racism at work to preparing the next generation of BIPOC employees for what they are likely to face as they work their way up the ladder.

The project was led by Walt Geer, executive creative director of experience design at VMLY&R. 

In addition to Geer, participants in the documentary include Andre Gray, executive creative director at Grey Group; Kaleeta McDade, global executive creative director at Ogilvy; Patrick Bennett, executive creative director at Momentum; Perry Fair, global executive creative director and director of entertainment at McCann; Shannon Washington, SVP executive creative director at R/GA; and Sherman Winfield, executive creative director at VMLY&R. 

In addition to the visual starkness of being able to gather all of the industry’s Black creative executives on two couches, the three-part documentary features a raw, open perspective about the Black experience in advertising.

“Being able to talk to people who are just like us and had the same experiences, it was the most welcoming and warm feeling probably any of us have ever had,” Geer said. “It’s not often in our roles that we meet people who do what we do, have experienced what we've experienced and gotten to the level of success we have. It felt really amazing.”

The documentary was shot by New York Festivals. All of the ECDs featured and their supporting agencies will amplify the documentary on social media. VMLY&R is also hosting a virtual screening event on Friday, where global CEO Jon Cook will speak. 

Geer hopes first and foremost that executives from holding companies and agencies see the documentary, because change can only happen with top down support. 

“To sit and be a fly on the wall for some of the most senior Black executives and creatives in the U.S., that's a conversation not many people get access to,” Geer said. 

He also wants the film to inspire and empower the next generation of Black talent to understand that they are not alone, and keep pushing them to achieve their highest career goals in the industry.

“Advertising can change the world,” Geer said. “My hope is that people can see that anything can be achievable. Frankly, sometimes it means working hard. Change means continuously raising your voice and hand. While that's a struggle, this is how we move the needle forward. Some of us have to push.”

Watch the documentary here.

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