In the video above, actor Michael Kenneth Williams headlines the new “Question Your Answers” brand campaign from The Atlantic, in which he plays different versions of himself, interrogating himself about whether, as a black actor, he’s being typecast, touching on topical issues (race relations, the USA’s political climate and more) in nuanced and poignant ways.
Created by Wieden & Kennedy New York and directed by David Shane of O Positive, the 2 1/2-minute short is The Atlantic’s first brand campaign in a decade, according to the good folks at Advertising Age magazine, and is being used to promote The Atlantic’s 160th anniversary this year.
“The Atlantic doesn’t like to pound their chest and claim they know everything,” said Wieden & Kennedy Creative Director Jaclyn Crowley to Advertising Age. “They really respect process and debate. Sometimes the best way to show something is through examples, so we presented the idea of having notable personalities confronting something they might have been surprised they struggled with.”
The agency considered several names and eventually selected Michael K. Williams as their star.
“If you think about actors with vulnerability, who really made you feel something, he was at the top of the list by far,” said Crowley. “He might play a tough gangster, but if you read about him and do research, you see he’s actually been fighting that his whole life. The writer on the campaign, Brock Kirby, is a big fan of him and knew this about him going in. We thought there was real tension there and something we could jump off of.”.
The director of the short film, David Shane, chimed in with how he worked with Williams to bring the various pieces together: “It was very important to Michael to name these ‘sides’ of him, and we spent a fair amount of time doing that… Michael 2 became ‘The Philosopher,” Michael 3 was, obviously, ‘The Gangsta,’ the one that nursed the most angry resentment, and Michael 4 was ‘smart-ass Michael,’ who stood at the margins of the scene, sniping. In between some takes, Michael played music through his headphones and it occurred to me – probably later than it should – that he was playing tracks for different characters.”
The Atlantic published the piece this morning with the hashtag #QuestionAnswers and the following: “At The Atlantic, we believe it’s never been more important to take on established answers with tough questions. Here, Michael K. Williams, of ‘The Wire’ and ‘The Night Of,’ wrestles with one of his own: Is he being typecast?”