Maurice Ashley, the first ever Black chess grandmaster, is the subject of the latest film from Hennessy in its "Wild Rabbit" series. In a campaign that reunites agency Droga5, director Daniel Wolfe of Somesuch and narrator Nas, who all worked on previous spots for the brand, the brand depicts how the Brooklyn resident became a protégé of The Black Bear School, a legendary group of street chess players, and then went on to achieve his elite ranking in the strategy game.
The campaign, kicking off today, comprises several elements, including long-form content, short-form TV ads and a documentary that takes more of an in-depth look at Ashley's rise to success.
A two-minute film recreates the Black Bear School in the early '90s, featuring the clothes, art and and locations of the time based on archival photography and conversations with surviving members of the group. According to Droga5 Creative Director Thom Glover, parts of the films were shot on cameras and film stocks from the period. The street art that appears in many of the shots are all originals, created by Brooklyn graffiti artist David “Chino” Villorente, a legend of the era.
Music is also key. “The mixtape approach to the soundtrack touches not only on the hip hop of the era, but also the jazz and soul records the older members of the Black Bear School used to play during matches, before crescendoing in an extract from Mozart’s Requiem, a key element of the soundtrack to 'Amadeus,' the study of the development of the mind of another genius, and Maurice’s favorite movie,” says Alexander Nowak, Global Head of Art, Droga5.
The campaign also includes a series of short-form ads that bring to life the “Lessons of a Grandmaster," illustrating the lessons Ashley learned through playing chess and drawing parallels to strategies that can be used in everyday life, like using patience as a "weapon" and defeating your opponent by "becoming" them.
Previous "Wild Rabbit" subjects include the spot's narrator Nas, cyclist Marshall "Major" Taylor, boxer Manny Pacquiao and speed demon Sir Malcolm Campbell. “The eighth installment of the Wild Rabbit campaign comes at a time of momentous social significance, and the relevance of Ashley’s story—his mental agility, intellectual integrity and ability to harness intellect to move the game forward – provides inspiration to all the thinkers, visionaries and doers who continue to propel a more inclusive future,” says Giles Woodyer, senior vice president, Hennessy U.S.