Wieden + Kennedy recognizes Juneteenth with thought-provoking film

Film from agency's Black affinity group Noir looks at the complexity of honoring the newest federal holiday

Published On
Jun 20, 2022

Editor's Pick

Two friends, a Black man and a Black woman working at a restaurant, peer out the window to observe a couple enjoying sips of coffee on a sunny morning. The latter have a break from the grind because It’s Juneteenth. The newest U.S. federal holiday, Juneteenth recognizes June 19, 1865, the date slaves in Texas were finally freed more than two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

“This is just weird,” the man observes to his friend. “We’re just giving everybody the day off now?”

From there, they go back and forth pondering the significance of the day, the woman noting how "it took years to get this on the books," and they riff on the potential for it to become yet another brand free-for-all. “I just wish people didn’t just celebrate that we have another day off, but we had the uncomfortable conversation as to why we had the day off,” the man concludes. 

Such are the points raised in a new film from Noir, the Black affinity group at Wieden+Kennedy New York, created with a host of other Black creative contributors from the production community. Titled “Juneteenth Thoughts,” it aims to be a catalyst for thoughtful conversation and dialogue around Juneteenth, how the holiday should be celebrated and by whom.

Wieden+Kennedy’s Tommy Woods, the lead creative and writer on the project, said the idea was inspired by an earlier Juneteenth when he and a friend had to be on the job. “[We] had a conversation about how ironic it was that we had to work while many of our white co-workers were partaking in the holiday,” he said. As they built on the idea further, it “only reinforced how common that conversation, or ones similar to it, are within the Black community.”

Though the film tackles a serious subject, lighthearted moments weave throughout. The friends go on to joke, for example, about what this day will bring. Juneteenth just became a federal holiday in 2021 and since the 19th is on a Sunday this year, the federal holiday is being observed on June 20.

“Are they really celebrating?” the man asks. “Or is it just another day off? A 10% off mattresses holiday!” 

“No, it’s 19% off Juneteenth savings,” the woman jokes. 

Such moments were an important, deliberate decision, according to Senior Strategist Donovan Triplett.  There’s a “tendency in the ad industry to treat Black topics with a sort of one-note brand of seriousness, [with] lots of intense statements or earnest spotlights,” he said. “The fuller picture of living life while Black is that we joke about everything. And it’s often conversational humor that helps us express or navigate our feelings on even the toughest topics.”

Triplett acknowledged that “there’s a natural Black vs. white that’s unavoidable when you’re talking about a holiday like Juneteenth,” but the team “also didn’t want ‘what white people need to hear’ to take up all the space.”

Production matters

The production was key to maintaining a balance of tackling important issues while also keeping the film relatable. “The challenge of presenting this idea was the complexity in the topic,” said Ray Smiling of Division 7, the film’s director. “There’s not really consensus around Juneteenth in the Black community, so it became an exercise in dialogue. Add on to that the sensitivity around the issue and it really became a situation where you start considering every single word and how it could be taken.”

Every element of the production had to be filtered “not just from a creative perspective, but a Black one,” added Woods. The greatest asset, he said, were the project’s multiple creative contributors, many of them Black, “that helped craft this to be more authentic at every step.” 

On the agency side, that included Senior Social Strategist Anwar Warner, Community Manager (and Creativity Awards Social Lead/Community Manager of the Year winner) Jade Smith, Content and Editorial Strategist Eno Oduok, Social Strategy Resident Ni’A Landon, Producer Zaynah Ahmed, Business Affairs Lead Ronald Brown, Project Manager Ariana Jefferson, Strategist Aiden Million, Account Executive Autumn Carson and Production Assistant Kareem Adeniran.

On production, along with Smiling, contributors included Director of Photography Philey Sanneh, Editor Eric Alexander-Hughes of Arts Academy and Sound MIxer T. Teressa Tate of Heard City.

“It’s a rare opportunity when an editor is able to let his work speak in such an explicit way, but this was one of those very special and rare occasions,” said Alexander-Hughes. “I’m very proud of all the hard work the team put in on this, and truly honored to have been a part.”

Wieden+Kennedy is sharing the film on its social channels today. The film encourages viewers to share their own questions around the holiday with the hashtag “#JuneteenthThoughts.”

“Even though the film offers some thoughts, hopefully it’s clear that there isn’t one answer to such a muddy topic and conversation,” Triplett said. “ We’ve all got to figure it out as we go along.”



Jun 20, 2022
Agency :
Wieden & Kennedy - New York

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