At this point, everyone knows how much time and money goes into Super Bowl commercials. In addition to the $7 million NBC charged for a 30-second spot, ads can cost millions more to produce. The advance planning involved doesn’t always allow for controversy to pop up. However, we all knew the game was in February, so there was plenty of time to not offend Black people during Black History Month.
Disney+, which has a Celebrate Black Stories tab on its home page, didn’t get the memo. Just one week after Asian American actress/comedian Awkwafina once again didn’t apologize for using a “blaccent” in her stand-up and movies, the streaming network featured her in its weird GOAT-themed Super Bowl commercial.
As we previously reported at The Root, in a statement posted on her Twitter on Feb. 5, Awkwafina wrote “As a non-Black POC, I stand by the fact that I will always listen and work tirelessly to understand the history and context of AAVE, what is deemed appropriate or backwards toward the progress of ANY and EVERY marginalized group. But I must emphasize: To mock, belittle, or to be unkind in any way possible at the expense of others is: Simply. Not. My. Nature. It never has, and it never was.”
As expected, this didn’t go over well, with many users calling her out on the non-apology. And I’m going to be honest with you: As offensive as it is that she used a very specific (i.e. Black) personality to get famous, then seemingly dropped it once she reached the mainstream, Awkwafina is not the hill I want to die on.
For me, I’m more upset that Disney didn’t use this Super Bowl commercial opportunity to highlight all of the great Black programming on the streamer. We all know you have Avengers: Endgame, but how about letting the world know they can watch Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, starring Brandy and Whitney Houston, too? Or what about a shoutout for Ruby Bridges, The Proud Family, Red Tails or Cool Runnings? And while we’re here, move that Celebrate Black Stories tab up higher on the home page, so it’s more visible.
Apparently, Disney+ decided none of this mattered to their plans, because it proceeded with airing its big game ad starring Awkwafina—and goats.
The spot featured the actress, who stars in Raya and the Last Dragon and Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, walking through the Disney+ offices, which are filled with the network’s GOATs—as in Greatest of All Time—of programming. But instead, it was actual goats dressed like famous Disney, Marvel and Star Wars characters.
The whole thing just felt tone-deaf and super awkward. Maybe they couldn’t get anyone else to be in the ridiculous ad. You own the rights to the characters Disney, you could just show Woody and Simba, instead of featuring goats dressed like them. It seems like the company really wants everyone to focus on the goats and not Awkwafina, because all press materials feature the animals and not one photo of her.
The silliness of the commercial aside, it just felt like the easiest thing in the world for Disney to ask one of the many Black actors from its movies and TV shows to be in a Super Bowl ad airing during Black History Month.
That said, this was a huge miss for a company usually laser-focused on PR and its public persona.