Today the Black interwebs erupted in a bit of an uproar surrounding a new ad campaign by Alicia Key’s HIV/AIDS organization, Keep A Child Alive. The new campaign aims to raise awareness for the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa by photographing stars in “traditional” African dress with the tagline, “I Am African.”

Sounds cool, right? Well…not so fast. Some find the ads disrespectful to the diverse cultures of Africa.

The ads feature Sarah Jessica Parker, Richard Gere, Liv Tyler, Heidi Klum and Seal, Gwyneth Paltrow, Elijah Wood, Iman, Tyson Beckford, Lucy Liu, and Lenny Kravitz, among others. The celebs are shown adorned with tribal face paint and traditional “African” headdresses, and stare longingly into the camera.

So why are the celebs playing dress up, instead of just lending their star-power and substantial cash to the fight against HIV/AIDS?

Well, according to the Keep A Child Alive website, it’s simple: “Each and every one of us contains DNA that can be traced back to our African ancestors.”

Hmm. True, but…I still feel some type of way about celebs dressing up in traditional African garb to mug for the cameras—even if it’s for a good cause.

Today, CLUTCH Content Manager Geneva S. Thomas underscored the awkwardness of the ad campaign in her piece for AOL Black Voices.

Thomas writes:

“Seems we could use that message to help bring attention to a number of issues, like, say, racism, but oh well. The campaign is meant to spread awareness about the AIDS epidemic in Africa. It’s a noble campaign, an epidemic is an epidemic — the more awareness around it, the better. Still, the photographs raise some questions. For starters, why is it necessary to pose a formulaic African aesthetic in order to be compassionate?”

While I commend these celebs for stepping up to fight HIV/AIDS, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how off-putting this ad campaign is. As The Root mentioned, why couldn’t the ads emphasize the need to support the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic simply on the basis of being human? Moreover, I wonder if the ad’s creators even considered how this depiction—of celebs looking vaguely “African”— would play out with our brothers and sisters on the continent and in the Diaspora.

There is no denying that any assistance to combat the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa (and around the world) is definitely needed. However, these ads seem to serve as more of a distraction rather than catalyst for change.

What do you think of the “I Am African” ads? You tell us!


  • Frederica Mussolini


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