Cheekbone starts to ‘Right the Story’ for Indigenous youth

Who: Cheekbone Beauty and Sid Lee.

What: “Right the Story,” a campaign for the Indigenous-owned cosmetics brand that seeks to amplify the voices of Indigenous people. It includes advertising and “Right the Story” lipstick, which will be carried by eight Sephora stores across Canada.

When & Where: As the winner of the first IDEA competition (Inclusivity, Diversity, and Equity in Advertising) ran by the ICA, the campaign will get significant play on Bell Media. The winner of the competition receives $1 million worth of media inventory on Bell Media properties.

Why: Cheekbone was launched by Jennifer Harper in 2016, as a cosmetics company built around high-quality, cruelty-free products like liquid lipsticks and complexion products. It also has a core principle of helping Indigenous youth see themselves in a beauty brand, and presenting a more modern view of Indigenous life in media. Harper has said she “grew up feeling ashamed of who I was and where I came from. I never want any youth to feel this way.”

“This campaign means so much to me,” said Harper in a release introducing the campaign. “After many tears from all involved, this campaign is one step towards righting the story for Indigenous youth.”

How: The campaign is anchored by a 90-second film showing a group of young women seemingly getting ready to go out. There are a couple of shots of makeup being applied, but mostly they seem troubled and contemplative. Those scenes are juxtaposed with allusions to some of the horrors inflicted upon Canada’s Indigenous population that became headline news this year.

The spot is carried forward by the poet Zoey Roy sharing excerpts of her poem “Unsilent”: “We’ve been hidden and silenced, but we’ve never been gone. I want to tell you you’re not voiceless, that we’ve been silenced on purpose.”

As the women come together by a lakeside fire at twilight, the sadness is replaced with smiles and joyful hugs, “We are not afraid” is written in Dene, while Roy’s narration builds to a climax: “They tried to bury us, they didn’t know that we are seeds… they tried to take our language, and here we speak.”

Directed by the Mohawk visual storyteller Shaunoh, the ad was shot in the Yukon with 95% Indigenous crew, while the stars are real-life friends. The music is “War Cry Movement I” by Juno-nominated Indigenous cellist and composer Cris Derksen.

“Through our partnership, we were awakened to the imminent need for authentic representations of Indigenous peoples in the media,” said Zemina Moosa, executive vice-president and head of account services at Sid Lee. “In collaboration with our incredibly talented director, cast and crew, it’s been an honour to listen to each story and bring Cheekbone’s powerful message to the mainstream.”

Sephora’s role: Sephora, which has made inclusivity and diversity core tenets of its marketing for a few years now, funded the production of the ad and is carrying Cheekbone’s signature red “Aki” sustainable lipstick. Aki, means earth and land in Harper’s Ojibwe language, Anishinaabemowin. Limited-edition packaging will carry an excerpt of Roy’s poem and a QR code driving to the film.

“Supporting BIPOC founded brands, and Indigenous representation specifically, is central to Sephora Canada’s Diversity and Inclusion efforts and we are committed to our journey of ensuring that all Canadians see themselves reflected at Sephora,” said Deborah Neff, senior vice-president, marketing, Sephora Canada.

David Brown