At the 2017 Emmys, Issa Rae had just been named CoverGirl’s latest face. Issa was asked about what working with CoverGirl meant to her in almost every red carpet interview that night.
“I remember just being in high school, seeing the ads, but you never, ever imagine 'someday I could be a CoverGirl.' It's a huge honor and I consider myself an awkward black girl, so if awkward black girls can be CoverGirls, then anybody can be."
That’s what Issa told E! News. Issa never imagined she could be a CoverGirl because when Issa was in high school, women who looked like her weren’t the ones starring in beauty ad campaigns. Lana Ogilvie, Tyra Banks and Queen Latifah were the few black CoverGirls in the 90s and early 2000s but their skin tones are significantly lighter than Issa’s. That shouldn’t matter but it does. I’ve written before about colorism in the beauty industry and why representation in the business of makeup matters. Not only is it important for obvious reasons like making sure no women feel erased or ignored but it’s also lucrative. Just ask Rihanna. At this point, every beauty company in the world should be striving for inclusivity. It should be the standard.
So, cut to decades after the era of Lana, Tyra and Latifah and now Issa Rae and her real-life best friends are starring in CoverGirl’s latest ad and I am OBSESSED with it. The ad is called “Shade for Shade” and it shows off some of the colours in CoverGirl’s 48-shade lipstick line called the Exhibitionist Lipstick. Issa and her IRL besties, Devin Walker, Megan Lawson and Abenet McMullen, head out for a night on the town. The ad shows them applying final makeup touches in the car, as you do. This scene is so familiar. Every group of girls has acting out this scene at some point in their lives, whether it was in your girl’s car or in the back of an Uber.
The idea came from CoverGirl global CMO Ukonwa Ojo (a walking example of why representation matters on an executive level as well) and here’s how she explained the concept to Fast Company:
“We want to show what it’s like getting ready in the car to go out… We asked her if she’d like to do it, and Issa and her girlfriends loved the idea. We shot this thing, and they’re acting like they would act, and that context is so important, real, and inspiring. It’s also attainable. These are real women, and if they can do it, so can you.”
This is not your mother’s makeup ad. There are no longing stares off into the distance. There are no stiff, forced lines to camera. That’s exactly how Issa wanted it. She tells Allure that her only stipulation was that she and her girls had to be real because she isn’t a “serious makeup girl.”
"My friends are funny as sh-t and they wear makeup. Those aren't mutually exclusive things."
This is great work. Issa knows herself well and she knows how she’s going to be able to sell this product with authenticity. That authenticity lies in her humour. If Issa was just rolling around in a field whispering “easy, breezy, beautiful,” no one would believe her. Instead, she’s showing us a situation that women of all shades can slot themselves into and feel reflected. Issa and her friends are all beautiful, dark-skinned black women and they’re showing off a variety of bold, badass lipstick shades. I want them all. This commercial got me. Take all my money.
Issa also put in the work by doing a bunch a press surrounding the launch of her campaign. Read more of her interview with Allure here and click here for what Issa told Elle about being a CoverGirl.