The death of Trayvon Martin infuriated many people across the United States. During the George Zimmerman trial, many had a similar question to ask: What was so dangerous about a teenager with a pack of Skittles and a bottled drink?”
In 2013, hip-hop artist Tyler, The Creator directed an advertisement for PepsiCo, where Felicia The Goat—voiced by Tyler—assaulted a white waitress in a restaurant over a bottle of Mountain Dew. After fleeing the scene, Felicia’s car was pulled over by a black police officer, and Felicia pleaded with the officer to not check the trunk of the vehicle. The officer approached the trunk, opened it, and found it full of Mountain Dew bottles. Subsequently, Felicia was arrested.
At the police precinct, Felicia’s victim was asked to identify her attacker in a police lineup. Felicia was one suspect in the lineup—the rest were black men. Intimidated by Felicia, the victim decided not to cooperate with police detectives, refusing to identify the assailant.
Dr. Boyce Watkins wrote an article on the ad, called “Mountain Dew Releases Arguably The Most Racist Commercial In History.” In it, Watkins stated, “[o]f course, in the world of Mountain Dew, every single suspect is black.” He referred to those in the police lineup as “ratchety negroes” who “lean on well-known racial stereotypes.” Soon after, PepsiCo pulled the ad from its Mountain Dew Channels.
Tyler’s friends—Left Brain, Garrett Stevenson, Lionel Boyce, and Arrow—played the suspects in the police lineup. Some of them had roles on Adult Swim’s Loiter Squad. The show, which was fifteen-minutes full of sketches and pranks, starred Tyler and other members of the hip hop collective, Odd Future. Loiter Squad was on the air for three seasons. Dickhouse Productions—the same company responsible for MTV’s Jackass—produced the first two seasons of Loiter Squad.
In June, Tyler told New York radio station, Hot 97, that Dr. Watkins’ article costs him other business opportunities. Furthermore, Tyler stated that none of his friends in the Mountain Dew ad had criminal records. Currently, 3.2 percent of the United States population is either incarcerated, under parole, or probation.
Celebrities’ public lives are more exposed to society than those of common citizens. Since the rise of the Internet, private information is easily available to view. In 1989, Will Smith was charged with aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, simple assault, and criminal conspiracy. Those charges were eventually dropped, and Smith went on to star in nine movies that have individually grossed more than $100 million worldwide.
Bill Gates—the wealthiest man in the world—was arrested in 1975 for driving without a license and speeding. He was arrested again in 1977 for committing another traffic offense. In 1997, Gates and his wife Melinda, founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has become the largest philanthropic organization in the world. The foundation is committed to eradicating malaria and polio, while controlling the spread of HIV and tuberculosis.
Smith was 20 years old when he was arrested. At the age of 22, Gates had been in police custody twice.
Although Tyler has been arrested twice during his career—he was charged with vandalism in 2011, and inciting a riot at SXSW festival in 2014—an arrest record is not a definite indication on who someone is and who they will become.
Weeks after Tyler spoke to Hot 97 about the ad, an article was released that included what Dr. Watkins believes are 27 ways that black people are brainwashed from birth. On the list, Dr. Watkins says that by “Thinking that every black person who goes to prison is automatically a bad human being,” is detrimental to the black community. He also says that “[b]elieving that black people you see on white-owned TV networks are supposed to be leaders or role models,” is another problem.
On YouTube, there is a ‘Boyce Watkins’ channel, in which he has appeared in many of the 900-plus videos that have been uploaded. The channel has over 54,000 subscribers. YouTube was founded by Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim—none of those individuals are black. Granted, those three don’t own YouTube—YouTube’s parent company is Google— but Watkins’s theory of brainwashing is partly based upon the fact that black men are “positioned” on “white corporate” networks to negatively influence the black community. Dr. Watkins is using a company that in ways, fits the description of the media outlets that he believes are damaging black people from birth.
Furthermore, Dr. Watkins used YouTube to appear in a video where he displayed his displeasure with Black Entertainment Television (BET). BET was founded by Robert Johnson in 1980, and was sold to Viacom in 2001. BET was sold for $3 billion, making Johnson one of only nine black billionaires in the world. Johnson says his goal with BET was “to prove that African Americans can create wealth in every sector.” Johnson also believed that “quality entertainment was colorblind.”
After watching the Mountain Dew ad, people may have three questions that they believe are unanswered:
What was so dangerous about a teenager with a bottled drink?
What is so racist about an ad where black actors portray innocent black men?
And what does Robert Johnson think about goats?