Last month, the bare backside of a voluptuous Black woman popped up in my Facebook feed. Wearing a white G-string and stilettos, she sauntered up a small staircase toward a stripper pole. My eyes couldn’t turn away, as cutaway shots of other lithe women began to play in rapid succession — all of them performing exotic dance tricks, pole swinging, and booty popping. When I finally turned the volume up, I realized that this wasn’t a music video.
“Did we get your attention?” an exotic dancer asked.
Over the next minute, seven professional dancers from Atlanta explained the importance of voting in this year’s elections. They zeroed in on specific issues— from police brutality to criminal justice reform to job training in various trades — all without mentioning a political party or candidate.
I quickly realized that this political spot was not targeting me, a middle-class African American woman who’s voted in every election over the past two decades. The aptly titled “Get Your Booty to the Poll” clip — directed by Angela Barnes, a Black woman — sought to reach an oft-forgotten constituency: Black male nonvoters. With more than 400,000 YouTube views, several reaction videos, and coverage on news broadcasts and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, the ad has gone viral. And while we may never truly know the video’s impact in a pivotal election season, it’s clear that the clip got a rise out of folks.
“I’m just a 40-something-year-old mom who wanted to figure out how to make the world better for her kids,” says Barnes, an Atlanta-based director whose credits include Moesha, House of Payne, and Atlanta. “I want their lives to be good. I want their lives to be safe. I don’t want them to have to deal with the racist stuff that Black men deal with.”
According to Pew research, women turn out to vote at higher rates than men across all races. But the gap is the largest between Black men and women: 10%, dating back to 2000. The disparity is even larger in the state of Georgia, where 63% of Black women voted in 2016 compared to 49% of Black men. That’s exactly why Barnes spent $12,000 of her own money to attempt to engage registered nonvoters, partnering with the Black Male Voter Project (BMVP) to define the target market and fine-tune the message. And what better way to reflect authentic Atlanta culture than exotic dancers?
After Barnes shot the ad in July, she screened it for more than 50 Black men at an Atlanta event organized by BMVP the following month. Participants were first shown a Barack Obama and Joe Biden campaign ad, then “Get Your Booty to the Poll.” No one could recall much of the first ad; the second one, Barnes says, got a standing ovation.
“We are trying to make Black men feel visible and help them understand that their issues are on the ballot.”
“If you can get my attention, then you have a better chance of me hearing you,” said Markese Robinson, a Black man who participated in the ad’s test group. “That video most definitely will get the attention.”
“Get Your Booty to the Poll” doesn’t stop at the video — the campaign’s website includes a breakdown of the candidates on ballots, information on how to register, and state-by-state guidelines for early voting. Social media posts continue to push the initiative, with messaging like “make voting sexy again.” “It meets a certain constituency where they are,” says Antjuan Seawright, a long-time political consultant who helped to strategize Biden’s primary win in South Carolina. “I have never seen a political ad like this, but we have not seen times like these either.”
“We are trying to make Black men feel visible and help them understand that their issues are on the ballot,” says Mondale Robinson, founder of BMVP. Robinson has a thorough understanding of Black male voters. In the past year, he’s spoken with more than 4,000 Black men in closed, off-the-record roundtables. During these discussions, the men often spoke about feeling targeted by the criminal justice system and unable to truly attain economic freedom. They said their day-to-day lives hadn’t changed under former President Barack Obama or President Donald Trump. “We can’t talk to Black men with this White man’s political system,” Robinson said. “This system is the reason we live the lives that we live.”
As expected, “Get Your Booty to the Poll” has seen its share of critics, many of whom object to the explicit imagery. Journalist and self-proclaimed race-baiter Tariq Rasheed tweeted: “This is what the White Democrats think will appeal to us.” During an interview with Roland Martin, Avis Jones-DeWeever, PhD, derided the ad for its portrayal of Black women, insisting that White women would never be portrayed in such a manner for a comparable ad.
Barnes feels much of this resistance is rooted in respectability politics. “There are a thousand different types of Black men and thousands of different ways to attract those types of Black men,” she says. “We never said Black ‘respectable’ lives matter. All Black lives matter.”