Alabama Sorority Video Director Defends All-White, (Nearly) All-Blonde, Glitter-Blowing Pageantry
"This video is not for politically sensitive adults who immediately associate eating a popsicle with sex."
Sororities have been shooting recruitment or "bid" videos for years. Like any Greek organization seeking devoted followers, they understand that nothing sets them apart from the competition like a well-shot ad that caters to the fantasies of their prospective pledges.
But The University of Alabama's Alpha Phi video, published recently in advance of their upcoming bid day, went too far according various media outlets — one of which labeled it "worse for women than Donald Trump" — and even the University itself, which issued a statement saying the video "is not reflective of UA’s expectations for student organizations to be responsible digital citizens.”
The video — which racked up more than 700,000 views on YouTube before the sorority removed it in response to the backlash — features attractive blonde white girls frolicking in pearls, dresses and bikinis enjoying that sweet college life, without a book (or minority) in sight. (Note: there is one minority student; he's a football player.)
To understand the creative process that birthed the video (below), The Hollywood Reporter spoke to student filmmaker Griffin Meyer who shot, directed and edited the entire thing.
"The Arizona Theta video was a huge inspiration to me in terms of what I wanted the final product to look like," says the University of Alabama junior. The Theta video, for reference, contains many similar shots to Meyer's Alpha Phi video — laughing girls in short skirts holding hands and dancing, having a water fight in bikinis, even a slow-mo glitter blowing shot.
"That video is awesome. The girls didn’t present themselves in a negative way in either video, so I really don’t know why mine got so much more attention. I didn’t consciously make any choices during filming with the specific intention of making it go viral, I was actually pretty nervous people weren’t going to like it as much as the other recruitment videos. I still don’t really know if it was liked or hated."
Recruitment videos like these, which come out every year at sororities around the country, have arguably become the central promotional tool during rush. "A lot of sororities have been using that [Theta video] for inspiration because it looked so good and was so successful," Meyer says.
Meyers was so committed to recreating the Theta experience, he says the Alphi Phi girls weren't much involved in the actual direction and set-up of the shots. "Sometimes a girl would have a suggestion for a 'cute' shot," he says, "but it was really up to Matt [Malecki, a friend who helped with shooting] and I."
And everything during the 2-day shoot went off without a hitch, apart from one incident. "At one point the drone malfunctioned when I was filming outside the house, and it fell out of the sky from about 30 feet up, which was super sad except the audible gasp from 200 girls at the same time was kind of funny." (In addition to two DSLRs, Griffin also employed a $1,000 Phantom 3 Advanced Drone in the shoot.)
The video was widely criticized for being homogenous, devoid of any minority students apart from a cameo by star running back Kenyan Drake, but Meyers objects: "I don’t think people understand that there are more than 72 girls in Alpha Phi. The girls shown in the video are a small portion of the entire sorority, which absolutely does not exclude minority members."
"We had a very limited shoot schedule and had to go to quite a few locations," Meyers insists, "so we tried to keep the group small and use the same girls to make shooting easier. It seems like the news channels thought they could make an easy story about a southern sorority being 'racist,' so that's exactly why it blew up."
Meyers also scoffs at the claim that the video "is worse for women than Donald Trump," as writer A.L. Bailey describes on AL.com. "If this were a video of guys doing the same thing (or much worse) it would receive absolutely no attention," says Meyers. "I think the more people talk about sexism the more real it becomes."
"My goal was never to show the accomplishments of the sorority — if it was, this video would be a failure," Meyers adds. "This video is not for politically sensitive adults who immediately associate eating a popsicle with sex. It's a hyper-realistic video that's supposed to evoke an emotion in the mind of an incoming freshman girl, so I don’t really care what adults think."
Meyers doesn't regret making the video in spite of the fact that it's come under so much fire. "I don't regret it. Not at all," He adds, "I wish they left it on Youtube. By deleting the video it made the criticism seem legitimate and made it seem like something was actually wrong with the video."
Meyer says he became interested in film after watching Christopher Nolan’s movies in high school. "But I didn’t get serious about it until I graduated and realized I didn’t want to study something that didn’t intrigue or challenge me, so I’ve really only been studying it for a couple years," says Meyers. "I have a lot to learn."