I love when I start poking around in someone’s life while prepping for an interview and I find out they are way more interesting and accomplished than I anticipated. It makes the interview so much more interesting for everyone. Such is the case with Xavier Ruffin, an advertising man turned music video filmmaker. In addition to making some of the most interesting videos for indie creators, Ruffin has also filmed Macklemore on tour, been a Dailymotion creator, and is now a series showrunner.
His first series, which he won funding for through a contest, “Mad Black Men” is a sharp-nailed parody of the hit AMC show “Mad Men.” Delivering acerbic blow after acerbic blow to 60s culture, Ruffin takes “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner to task for claiming there were no “black men in advertising in the 60s.”
The show, which tells a full-length episode worth of story through six episodes, introduces us to Ron Rapper, a confident black man who is hired for a position in an ad firm. Quickly he realizes that life is not all martinis and slapping girls’ asses.
Mad Black Men Trailer by MadBlackMen
You won a contest through Dailymotion to get the backing for “Mad Black Men” after giving a ell-received “elevator pitch” to one of Dailymotion’s executives. Do you feel like the contest was “created” to provide you with a means of funding or was it coincidental?
Xavier Ruffin: I’m sure it was coincidental. Things like the Motionmaker Fund take lots of planing and judges to vet ideas. I figure Dailymotion might have recieved lots of pitches from lots of Motionmakers and created the fund as a way to channel and help that creative energy.
You take on the 60’s advertising world coupled with race relations as the subject of your show because Matthew Wiener said there were “no black men in advertising” back then. Would you guess his motivations were just to tell a story with a different focus or would you say there was something more damaging to his claims?
I’m the type of person to give folks the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think Mr. Wiener means harm in any way. It’s likely that he is just trying to tell a specific story and although Mad Men does touch on women’s work place equality and homosexuality showing both sides of the black and white dichotomy isn’t their priority. However, that’s not an excuse for being ignorant of the involvement of blacks in the ad world at the time.
How accurate would you say “Mad Black Men” is? Granted, it’s positioned as a “dramedy,” but it doesn’t seem like a lot of these portrayals are far off from what might have been the poisonous truth. Did you feel compelled to give it “comedic undertones” to sort of make it more accessible to a wider audience?
To be honest we were not searching for truth with the humor we wrote but as we did research we realized that the truth is stranger than fiction. One book I read by Bill Sharp called “How to be Black and Get A Job in the Advertising Agency Business Anyway” has a intriguing chapter called Anecdotes Black People Have Told Me. It’s full of stories from black advertising workers from the 60s telling these same types or stories. Our primary goal isn’t the pursuit of accuracy but sparking the conversation about minorities in Advertising by drawing attention to real life figures like Bill Sharp, Roy Eaton, and Geog Olden. I’ve always felt that comedy was a great tool for opening people up to serious issues they would otherwise avoid. That and its generally more fun to make.
Do you feel like race relations/attitudes have genuinely improved or is there just more of a social stigma to being perceived as racist?
I have to say that things have improved greatly in general as the majority of popular opinions have grown and evolved. But if you spend a few minutes on twitter after the someone of the “wrong color” is cast in a new hit movie or wins a coveted award you’ll quickly see how little progress has been made in the psyches of many people across our nation.
(continued on page 2)