Meet Madison Avenue's "Acceptable Black Friend"

Last Updated Sep 27, 2010 9:43 PM EDT

Ever get the feeling that -- apart from Old Spice Guy -- there's only one black man in advertising? Turns out there is: actor Jamison Reeves, the bearded, bushy haired dude with trendy glasses. He's been in 40 -- forty! -- TV commercials, where he is generally cast as the non-threatening minority guy. He tells Adweek:
I'm the quirky guy with the glasses. Not the guy who's going to be in a fight. I seem like the type guys want to hang out with. I'm the one acceptable black friend.
In one year he did 14 different commercials. You can see his reel here.

A long time ago I said that if civil rights lawyer Cyrus Mehri was ever going to get his much-talked-about/never-filed race discrimination class action lawsuit off the ground, he would need to find a compelling anecdote to front the dry statistics about which ad agencies hired what percentage of minority candidates. Reeves could be that anecdote: How else to explain why Madison Avenue can only find one black man to film so many different spots, in the same style? That style, as Reeves puts it, is:

I don't think they see me as a black man. They see me as a non-threatening entity. I'll get called for a "black commercial," but I never book them. They don't think I fit into what is typically considered black. That means close-cropped Afro and darker skin than me.
Mehri's case is working its way through the Equal Opportunities Commission. Little is known about it. It will be years before it emerges and even then Mehri may not be able to file a class action case. It's a feeble showing given that we're talking about an industry that literally had a quota system -- enforced by the New York City Commission on Human Rights -- for hiring minorities until 2009.

But if you wanted a headline to describe Madison Avenue's attitude toward blacks, the fact that there's only one African-American who can make the casting cut is a far more convincing argument that attitudes in the business are entrenched than Mehri's own report into the issue.