What happens when five bad-ass female athletes and five up-and-coming writers get together to produce a video series? Poetry in motion.
That’s the premise behind Under Armour’s stunning new ad campaign featuring female athletes, released Wednesday.
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Starring ballet dancer Misty Copeland, long-distance runner Alison Désir, stuntwoman Jessie Graff, sprinter Natasha Hastings, and taekwondo champion Zhang Lanxin, Under Armour’s campaign “aims to demonstrate — not simply say — how these athletes are above gender roles, above labels and above conventions,” the company wrote in a statement.
In the video series, the athletes move about in mostly empty spaces — forcing the viewer to focus on the athlete and not the background — accompanied by spoken word poetry by up-and-coming writers and musicians: Saul Williams, Aja Monet, Kojey Radical, Dominique Christina, and Aristophanes 貍貓.
“We wanted to tell relevant, global stories that tap into a truth that any woman can see and resonate with,” Adrienne Lofton, Under Armour’s senior vice president of global brand management, told Teen Vogue.
Copeland, the first African-American woman to be named principal dancer at the American Ballet Theater, twists and turns in a fashion more reminiscent of contemporary, interpretative dance than traditional ballet.
“The systemic structure built to keep me in place is the stage I dance on: black and woman,” Saul Williams says in a voiceover for Copeland’s video.
The ads, according to Lofton, were initially inspired by the 2017 Women’s March, which saw more than 1 million marchers take to the streets around the world in January to celebrate and empower women worldwide. But they also address a phenomenon all-too-common in the professional sports world, where women are always judged in relation to their male counterparts.
“Frustratingly, it’s industry norm for a female athlete to be compared to their male counterpart,” Lofton told Teen Vogue.
Just last month, this scenario played out in the world of professional tennis. When asked about legendary tennis star Serena Williams, retired male player John McEnroe besmirched her accomplishments on account of her gender.
“If she played the men's circuit she'd be like 700 in the world,” McEnroe said on NPR.
This type of repartee, of course, has repeated itself many times over the course of athletic history, including famously in the 1973 tennis showdown between tennis players Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, nicknamed “Battle of the Sexes.”
The Under Armour ad series is more than just a celebration of women athletes, but of diversity, and globalism, as well.
Copeland, Hastings, and Désir are black, Graff is white, and Lanxin is Asian. Poet Aja Monet is an American of Cuban-Jamaican descent, rapper Aristophanes 貍貓 hails from Taiwan, and musician Kojey Radical is British.
“It wasn’t about featuring our biggest athletes, it was about getting out the most diverse and interesting stories that could create this reframing of what success looks like when it comes to women as a whole, not just female athletes,” Lofton told Teen Vogue.
And if the videos that came out of this synergy are any proof — it worked. Together these athletes and musicians are paving the way to a future, in advertising and elsewhere, that sees women for who they are, not for what men see them as being.