Outrage Watch: 'Empire' is at the center of a new controversy
Welcome to Outrage Watch, HitFix's semi-regular rundown of entertainment-related kerfuffles. Not anxious enough already? Get your fix of righteous indignation below, and stay posted for outrage updates throughout the week.
"Empire's" Jamal Lyon (Jussie Smollett) is PepsiCo's latest pitchman -- and that's not going down well with public health advocates.
In a lucrative deal with the sodamaker, FOX has signed on for a "massive integrated-advertising campaign" that will see Smollett's character -- a rising R&B star -- score an endorsement from Pepsi in a storyline that will bleed directly into a splashy new 60-second ad for the soft drink. The commercial, which is set to be unveiled during the show's mid-season finale (slated to air on Dec. 2), will be seamlessly incorporated into the episode's plotline. As part of the deal, Smollett will also be taking over Pepsi's official Twitter account on Wednesday.
“In the midst of a skyrocketing diabetes epidemic that affects African-Americans as much or more than any other ethnic group, to be advertising Pepsi cola on ‘Empire’ is a public health tragedy,” Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, told TheWrap. “We know that these sugary beverages are a leading contributor to diabetes. This is not the time to be selling liquid sugar on the top rated show on television.”
Underlining Goldstein's concerns are statistics cited by his own organization that show a higher rate of soda consumption by African-Americans than by any other ethnic group, not to mention a higher risk of diabetes for African-Americans than for non-Hispanic whites -- the former of which makes up a large portion of "Empire's" viewing audience. Statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), meanwhile, show that African-Americans have the highest rate of obesity among all ethnic groups (47.8%).
“Soda consumption is going down overall, so it would make business sense for [Pepsi] to really reinforce their product with their core users,” Jennifer Harris, director of marketing initiatives at the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, told TheWrap. “The issue with that is that their product is hurting their core users. So it’s probably good for their bottom line, but it’s not good for the black community."
Critics on Twitter have also been sounding off about the deal -- including New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum, who is calling on her followers to voice their outrage:
3-ep-long integrated Pepsi ad upcoming on Empire. SPEAK UP AGAINST THIS—networks care about what audiences say: https://t.co/JCLUhEMXBu— emily nussbaum (@emilynussbaum) November 19, 2015
One conversation that could never appear in a Pepsi-soaked episode of Empire: https://t.co/lr9xFU1qtm— emily nussbaum (@emilynussbaum) November 19, 2015
Here's a taste of what "Empire" viewers can expect on December 2:
Happy holidays, everybody. Now have some water.