Equality Can’t WaitNatasha Lyonne
Natasha Lyonne’s “Equality Can’t Wait” Tackles a “Profound Absurdity” With Comedy
When the World Economic Forum issued its annual Global Gender Gap Report in 2019, there was relatively good news for residents of countries like France and Iceland, which are on track to close the gender gap in 22 and 23 years, respectively. The outlook was far dimmer, however, for the United States: “At current trends, the U.S. will take 208 years to close its gender gap,” noted the report. “That’s roughly three lifetimes.”
That alarming statistic inspired Melinda Gates’ Pivotal Ventures company to partner with R/GA on a campaign with an urgent message: “Equality Can’t Wait.” But this would not be your standard PSA—the plan was to enlist famous performers for a series of videos that harnessed the truth-telling power of comedy.
AJ Hassan, VP, executive creative director at R/GA, brought Lauren Greenfield on as a creative director, and together they developed the concept. They agreed that securing the participation of the right director and the right talent was key—comedians who could find that fine line between humor and gravitas. Lauren proposed a comedian direct the spots—specifically, Natasha Lyonne, a four-time Emmy nominee whose directing credits include episodes of the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black and Russian Doll, as well as Hulu’s Shrill and High Fidelity. Known equally for her comic prowess and for telling it like it is, Natasha was the ideal person to direct a campaign that needed to land jokes and deliver a bracing reality check.
Lauren went straight to the source to secure Natasha’s participation, taking advantage of a fateful advertising event in New York City they were both attending to deliver her pitch. “I chased her down,” says Lauren. When she explained she had a directing project she’d be perfect for, Natasha invited Lauren to join her for her car ride home to discuss the details. And things just flowed from there.
“The statistics are abysmal,” Natasha told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview about why she was eager to do the campaign. “The best entry point to tackle an absurdity this profound is to come at it sideways, through comedy, because what else can you do?”
Attaching Natasha to the project was the secret sauce on multiple fronts. Natasha is a multi-hyphenate writer-director-actor. She brought in a female comedy writer to help punch up the copy and created a writer’s room each morning on set, revising the scripts together with AJ. “I wanted to create a buoyancy as an antidote to the depressing facts—something that would lift us up, activate, unify, and motivate rather than [make us want to] give up under the weight,” Natasha told THR.
She also reached out to her network, ultimately expanding the campaign’s cast to include 15 A-list performers. “She was able to bring in an incredible group of comedians,” says Lauren, including Maya Rudolph, Sarah Silverman, John Mulaney, Margaret Cho, and “Broad City” stars Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson. “Natasha is so beloved in the comedy world and she has so many strong relationships. People wanted to participate because they love her and trust her. Comedy is a very small world at the end of the day, and as in almost everything we filmmakers do, trust is everything.”
While commercial directors don’t always participate in the post process, Natasha was passionate until the end. Girl Culture Films encourages directors to have creative input through post-production and flew Natasha to Chicago to be in the edit room with AJ and Katherine Hempel of Cutters (#LikeAGirl) when they were cutting the spots. Natasha ended up going to Cannes Lions with RGA and the Gates team and presenting it to the industry herself.
The launch campaign, “208 Years, No Joke,” generated 80 million views, 946,000 engagements, and more than a little commentary. The campaign, wrote Bust magazine, “makes you kind of want to laugh even when you’re crying because we ARE 208 YEARS AWAY FROM TRUE GENDER EQUALITY IN THE UNITED STATES.”
—80 million views
“Have You Heard the One About Gender Inequality?”—Glamour
“Melinda Gates Joins Comedians in Natasha Lyonne-Directed ‘Equality Can’t Wait’ Video Campaign”—The Hollywood Reporter
“R/GA, Director Natasha Lyonne Show Why Gender Equality ‘Can’t Wait’”—Shoot Online
Agency: R/GA Chicago
VP/Executive Creative Director: AJ Hassan
Creative Directors: Lizette Morazzani, Manny Fernandez, Eric King
Art Directors: Priyoshi Kapur, Natalia Fredericks
Copywriters: Meghana Indurti, Francis LaBelle, Eliza Skinner, Megan Amram
DP: David Morrison
Editor: Kathryn Hempel