Another Coachella has come and gone. Beyond the flower crowns and surprise boy band reunions, lies a music festival with deep-seated issues. From brands failing to include diverse ambassadors to an entire festival that waited 20 years to place a black female artist as a headliner, the highest-grossing festival in the world has yet to correct the diversity disparities that plague the yearly event.
Here’s a rundown on a few diversity and inclusion issues impacting the country’s most prominent music festival.
As the trifecta of millennials, influencers, and music lovers flock to the California desert, brands launch bold experiential campaigns to draw in festival goers, specifically those with large followings. One such brand is fashion retailer Revolve with their annual activation, #RevolveFestival. Revolve CEO Michael Mente even joked that he ‘broke the budget’ for last year’s activation which flew out and accommodated 90 influencers and styled approximately 450 others. One major caveat; there are serious representation issues in Revolve’s campaign. Last year, the brand came under fire for hosting events with very little diversity. Protestors circulated the hashtag #RevolveSoWhite. This Coachella, Revolve has notably improved the spectrum of ethnicities featured on their channel. However, there are virtually no plus-size influencers, anywhere. Plunkett Research estimates that 68 percent of American women wear a size 14 or above. It’s evident that the brand has a way to go to truly reach an inclusive marketing campaign.
Recently, InStyle published an article titled “What It's Like to Be a Black Woman at Coachella” in which the reporter, Stephanie Smith-Strickland, takes a closer look at the festival’s disproportionate demographics and how it leads to deeply uncomfortable festival dynamics for black attendees. The writer described how she left a set early because a crowd of mostly white concertgoers were screaming lyrics that included the N-word. The ignorance did not stop there. She was asked many times by security to show her wristband while other white attendees were not. Smith was not alone in her experience. She interviewed a variety of attendees and influencers that included Uche Nwosu and her boyfriend Clinton Moxam.
“I do think it’s tough when it’s really whitewashed at times,” explained Nwosu. “Even for me, it’s been a little hard getting into it. We both started on an MTV show, which gave us a little bit of exposure, but I definitely have experienced discrimination.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) brought to light discrimination against the transgender community. In February, the foundation sent a demand letter to Coachella’s organizers Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) and Goldenvoice, Inc. on behalf of two transgender siblings who say they were refused access to restrooms that corresponded to their gender identities at last year's festival. Not only does this reflect intolerance against the transgender community, but these allegations are against California law which protects every person's right to access restrooms based on their gender identity. The ACLU requested a written policy guaranteeing all patrons access to restrooms and other facilities based on gender identity, and to provide related training to Coachella 2019 staff and contractors so this incident would not happen again. Coachella said in a statement that the festival had plans to introduce steps to ensure that all festival goers could access restrooms that correspond with their gender identity as part of their “Every One” campaign. The initiative was launched this year with a goal to host an environment “safe, inclusive and fun for all.”
The “Every One” campaign was this year’s response to last year’s now viral Teen Vogue article by Vera Papisova who revealed widespread sexual harassment at the festival. The writer interviewed 54 women who claimed to have faced some form of sexual assault or harassment. Post-article, Coachella leaned on the help of a consultant to guide teams through harassment prevention as well as diversity and inclusion in the workplace. According to a survey conducted by OurMusicMyBody, 92 percent of females said they experienced some form of sexual misconduct at a festival. 99 percent of music fans surveyed said they would more likely attend a music venue with increased security measures.
Although Coachella’s shift toward inclusivity is still behind the times our diverse nation lives, we have witnessed notable strives. Beyoncé’s 2018 performance and her intentionality to amplify the HBCU experience was a major step toward bridging the gap. Additionally, multicultural artists like J Balvin, who was just announced Lollapalooza's first Latino headliner, were well represented. Now if Coachella can only attract and cater to an audience as diverse as the artists.