Cannes Lions

CODED: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker

PROCTER & GAMBLE, Cincinnati / PROCTER & GAMBLE / 2022

Awards:

1 Silver Cannes Lions
Film
Supporting Content
Supporting Content
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Overview

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Credits

Overview

Background

At P&G we take great pride in our track record of LGBTQ+ representation in our advertisements. We ran our first ad intentionally representing LGBTQ+ people in 2000 but didn’t realize how deep our history of representation in advertisement was. A P&G archivist found early 20th century ads for Ivory Soap and Gillette coded with gay imagery and drawn by J.C. Leyendecker, the preeminent illustrator of his day and whose story has been largely lost to history.

P&G Studios connected with Imagine Entertainment and director Ryan White, to rediscover Leyendecker’s story. The research clarified who Leyendecker was, his relationship with life partner and model Charles A. Beach and how his illustrations shaped the American and subsequently global culture. Sadly, we also rediscovered how unexpectedly in the 1930’s, social and political shifts aimed at ostracizing and erasing gay people, forced Leyendecker into obscurity along with part of LGBTQ+ history.

Idea

As an animated documentary, we wanted to ensure that our illustrations paid homage to J.C. Leyendecker's legacy. We worked closely with illustrator Danny Madden to represent, but not copy, Leyendecker's style and provide a familiar sense of his work in film format. Additionally, Neil Patrick Harris masterfully voiced excerpts of Leyendecker's letters and journals, with the intention to give the audience a fuller sense of a human being pursuing a dream, falling in love, and being cast away from society at no fault of his own. Leyendecker’s story was then juxtaposed with Jari Jones’ journey as a Black Trans model, to exemplify progress and celebrate the power of an LGBTQ+ community that transcends generations. Coded shows the modern LGBTQ+ experience where representation and visibility have been significantly normalized and celebrated while reminding our audience of the fragility of progress and the need to remain vigilant in the fight for equality.

Strategy

In the development Coded, P&G Studios wanted to show how cyclical shifts in visibility and acceptance can have positive/negative impacts on the LGBTQ+ community. We sought to uncover Leyendecker's story, his voice, his art and his love for Charles A. Beach alongside a current storyline of modern LGBTQ+ advertising, and Jari Jones was perfect as the face of an advertising campaign and an expert in queer history.

Leyendecker was a cis gay man coding advertisements in the 1920s, and Jari an out, Black, Trans model on billboards in New York; Both, through their distinct artistic expressions, push our societies forward. We wanted to celebrate their accomplishments, contrast against Leyendecker’s erasure and provide a call to action to continue fighting for LGBTQ representation and acceptance, so the current social and political shift and increased attacks on the LGBTQ+ community do not have the same erasure effect on today’s LGBTQ+ community.

Execution

Leyendecker’s will asked for his work to be destroyed and most of it was. The lack of visuals to bolster the film provided opportunities to animate Leyendecker's journey and increase visibility for LGBTQ+ people like Jari Jones.

Our animation team studied J.C. Leyendecker’s brush strokes to inspire the style of animation. We also used his journals and letters to intentionally tell a human story, of a young artist finding his talent, his muse, his love and subsequently losing his place in society.

Leyendecker was Mucha’s mentee and Rockwell’s mentor, yet his work is largely ignored, in part due to his sexual orientation. We could not determine if Leyendecker was coding his work or illustrating the world as he saw it, but given the current setbacks in LGBTQ+ acceptance we felt sharing his story was urgently important, because by understanding our past we are less likely to repeat these mistakes.

Outcome

J.C. Leyendecker joins the pantheon of unsung queer heroes like World War II codebreaker Alan Turing, whose contributions to modern society have been hidden and overlooked due to homophobia and misbegotten shame. Media has the power to accelerate acceptance for members of the LGBTQ community in a way that legislation fails to. Leyendecker’s contributions to advertising and to global culture are undeniable and this film gives long overdue credit to his legacy and his love for his lifelong partner and muse Charles A. Beach. The film was an official selection at 19 festivals, won best Documentary Short at the 2021 TriBeCa Film Festival, was shortlisted for an Academy Award nomination and is currently streaming on Paramount+.

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