Seinfeld’s Acura ad for Super Bowl sought “not too dark” black actor for dealer role (UPDATED)

Seinfeld Acura ad racial controversy
Seinfeld Acura ad racial controversy

The ad for the new Acura NSX featuring Jerry Seinfeld was one of the biggest hits of this year's Super Bowl ad parade -- but according to a tipster to TMZ, the company that cast the ad sought a black actor for the role of a dealer by specifying someone "not too dark." Moments ago, Acura issued an apology, saying it was unaware of the restriction.

TMZ says the call sheet for the ad was provided by another actor who was passed over for the role and angered by the casting company's description. In the sheet, the firm says the role of a dealer who tells Seinfeld the first Acura NSX has already been sold should be "nice looking, friendly. Not too dark."

The ad was created by an ad firm called "rp&," a division of the RPA firm that creates ads for Acura's parent Honda. (One might suggest updating their news page, which currently features several angry tweets about the racial choices of its Acura ad).


The real question: Why would the commercial specify a race for any of its minor characters? Outside of Seinfeld, Jay Leno and the Soup Nazi, there's nothing so dramatically essential in a 60-second spot to require such specificity. Other parts of Hollywood have adopted "non-traditional" casting -- considering the part without regard to an actor's ethnicity -- but advertising has been loath to give up what it considers a need to target a demographic group, even if their appearance lasts a few seconds.

Since Super Bowl ads represent the zenith of Madison Avenue's creative skills and a multimillion-dollar boon, advocacy groups closely monitor how they use and portray minorities. Last year, the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida analyzed all Super Bowl ads and found that of 66 spots that aired, only eight had a non-white actor in the lead role. The report also criticized the diversity behind the camera; of the 58 ads for which it could gather data, all but four were overseen by creative directors who were white men.

In a statement, Acura apologized for the sheet, saying the actor was chosen based on talent, not skin color:

We apologize to anyone offended by the language on the casting sheet used in the selection of actors for one of our commercials.

We sought to cast an African-American in a prominent role in the commercial, and we made our selection based on the fact that he was the most talented actor.

The casting sheet was only now brought to our attention. We are taking appropriate measures to ensure that such language is not used again in association with any work performed on behalf of our brand.

RPA referred me to Acura's statement. You can see the ad in its entirety below.