Aired on Oscars Sunday, Nike released their “Dream Crazier” ad, narrated by Serena Williams. The ad stars a series of female athletes acting anything but demure. Crying, yelling, fed up, and competing at the peak of their sports, these are the glorious faces of “crazy” showcased in the empowering minute-and-a-half-long spot.
“If we show emotion, we’re called dramatic,” says Williams, as the ad rolls footage of athletes wiping tears from their eyes. “If we want to play against men, we’re nuts,” she says, as we watch scenes from a co-ed football game. We watch Caster Semenya launch her “too masculine” body across the finish line; “When we’re too good, there’s something wrong with us.” Then, archival footage of a female marathoner infiltrating what was historically an all-male event, wearing a shirt that reads, in French, “And the women?” Finally, Williams references herself. “Winning 23 grand slams, having a baby, and then coming back for more? Crazy. So if they want to call you crazy, fine. Show them what crazy can do.”
As Maya Salam wrote in the New York Times earlier this week, “There is probably no better woman than Serena Williams to lead the charge of reclaiming the word ‘crazy.’” She referenced the media’s history of vilifying Williams for the passionate way she carries herself in the game of tennis, not to mention the disproportionate penalization that she has received for some of these actions on the court. Even her bold choice of tennis attire — remember the now-banned superhero-like catsuit that she wore to the French Open? — is cause for controversy. The “Dream Crazier” ad touches upon the broader reality that women who don’t behave in a manner that conforms to what is considered acceptable for their sex are summarily denounced as crazy or hysterical by critics who seek to put them in their place. This criticism is leveled in both public and private settings, in politics, at the office, in art, in family dynamics, and of course in sports.
The ad is the latest addition to the company’s “Dream Crazy” campaign that was launched in September a day before the 2018 NFL season kicked off; the inaugural ad redefined the meaning of athlete, ending with Colin Kaepernick delivering the tagline: “Don’t ask if your dreams are crazy. Ask if they’re crazy enough.” Other ads in this campaign have starred Maynor de Leon, who is pushing his body to its limits in order to lose hundreds of excess weight; Ironman athlete Sarah Reinertsen, who completed the event wearing a prosthetic leg; and “late bloomer” Marjorie, much older than many of her fellow marathoners, who pretends she doesn’t hear when people tell her “she’s crazy” for running in it.