Let’s count the Black people in Pure Michigan’s newest Detroit ad

Pure Michigan, the state of Michigan’s relentlessly positive tourism bureau that’s doggedly trying to keep people coming to a state whose citizens are contending with contaminated water and poor school districts, unveiled its newest Detroit-themed ad with a heavy downtown focus.

It’s not the first time Pure Michigan has done one of its trademarked Tim Allen-voiced ads here in Detroit; in fact, this newest one borrows some footage from an older one in 2013, which was requisite with the agency’s plaintive piano-and-string theme that accompanies every video. But there’s something…interesting about the demographics about this one, which has an upbeat "live! work! play!" vibe to it.

Spin through the video one time, and you’ll hardly see any diversity in this Detroit ad, a city that still claims a roughly 80% Black population. Granted, downtown Detroit itself may not look exactly like the rest of Detroit. But still, is this video reflective of downtown? Am I reading too much into this? Do I dare dampen the spirit of what this video is trying to accomplish?

I decided to go frame by frame in each video and count people in the video. I had trouble making out who were clearly people of color – I’m not trying to do a “Real Housewives of Potomac”-level faux pas here, I promise – in some shots, so I counted those who clearly were Black against those who appear not to be. Let’s take a look.


1. Woman doing yoga or something on the riverfront. Oh, look – the sunlight is showing through her crotch at one point. Great shot, there. One person, zero Black.

2. Rowing under the MacArthur Bridge. This shot is actually borrowed from the older ad. Tried to squint, but these folks look mostly White. 10 people, zero Black.

3. Patrons in Campus Martius. Ah, here we go.  But you can’t see their faces. 17 people, four Black.

4. Mary Tyler Moore-esque woman downtown. She’s going to make it after all. One person, zero Black.

5. Urban farm. You could look at this two ways. One, you could be an optimist and applaud members of our community for growing healthy food. Or two, you could be a pessimist and say the first time you can clearly see a black face, they’re working in a field. Five people, five Black.

6. Muralist. One person, zero Black.

7. Motown Museum. It should be noted that although this video promotes the “soul” of downtown Detroit, the Motown Museum is not downtown. But of all the most “soulful” places in the city, you don’t see any black people there? Two people, zero Black.

8. Hart Plaza. Hey, a jogger, because instead of showing a big festival like Motor City Pride or Movement, we show absolutely one person in a premier event space. Also, is the theme of this video downtown soul, or white people exercising? One person, zero Black.

9. Motor City Brewing Works. You only see the torso, but I’m going to make a safe assumption this person isn’t Black. One person, zero Black.

10. Rose’s Fine Food. OK, so first off, you have to give offline props to Rose’s, as its owners have stated publicly that they made an effort to hire residents from the East Jefferson neighborhood the restaurants inhabit. (And the food is good.) And this might be the most diverse shot in the whole video. Eight people, two Black.

11. The Belt. In three shots, I counted a bunch of folks enjoying the downtown art alley. 24 people, four Black.

12. Mysterious New Detroit restaurant. Is this Selden Standard? Batch Brewing Company? So many restaurants have the dark table/Edison lights/white subway tile layout, I couldn’t tell. Anyway, in three shots, two black people are clearly enjoying a meal. Six people, two Black.

13. Fox Theatre. I decided not to count the people in the first scene waiting outside, but I did count who you could see inside: A woman in the crowd, and the DJ onstage. Two people, one Black.

14. West Village. OK, you kinda see a Black-owned restaurant here (shout-out to Detroit Vegan Soul, but clearly Craft Work takes dominance so you have to squint to see DVS). But despite some of the talk of overall gentrification in this neighborhood, this actually turns out to be a diverse shot. Nine people, four, maybe five Black?

15. Anonymous beer maker. Not sure what brewery this is. Batch? Motor City Brewing Works again? One person, zero Black.

16. Detroit Institute of Arts. Two people, zero Black.

17. Person cooking. "The new maestro." One person, zero Black.

18. Fox Theatre, part two.  I like how the marquee says “Live concert” instead of an actual performer. “Hey guys, I got tickets to that live concert Friday night!” Four people, zero Black.

19. Cyclists. Across two shots, I counted quite a few, but again, we don’t clearly see any faces.  (Wait, so why aren’t we clearly seeing any Black faces again?) 17 people, two black.

20. Belle Isle Aquarium. Three people, zero Black.

21. Eastern Market. I’ve noticed at this point, and in the next shot that follows, that although you’re seeing Black people in everyday jobs that we certainly perform and are proud of, you’re also seeing them in customer service roles helping White people. Eleven people, eight Black.

22. Shinola. The most prominent Black guy here is helping a White customer try on a watch. Eight people, two, maybe three Black?

23. Riverwalk. Two people, zero Black — I think.

24. Adorable little girl. Aww, she’s so cute. Can’t deny this. One person, one Black.

25. Anonymous fireworks watchers. The last people you see in the video. Two people, zero Black.

By my count, I counted 141 people in this video, 36 of whom were Black – about 25%. It should be noted that you saw a few – a few – people of color from other backgrounds (though you’d still have to squint to see them, and that’s still not a lot – did anyone see anyone of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent?), but it’s not fully reflective of the downtown area’s actual Black population, which currently stands at 69%, or the city’s 80% majority. One could argue that since it’s a tourism video, the people in the video are supposed to represent tourists, but why even argue that? We’ve talked publicly about Black people being left out of the downtown revival, and this ad certainly doesn’t help matters.

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