Oscar-nominated filmmaker Stanley Nelson (Showtime’s Attica) is teaming up with Jacqueline Olive (Lincoln’s Dilemma) to direct the feature documentary, The Color of Cola.
The film now in production is based on Stephanie Capparell’s 2008 book, The Real Pepsi Challenge: How One Pioneering Company Broke Color Barriers in 1940s American Business. It sheds light on the experience of the all-Black sales team at Pepsi, which was the first of its kind for any major corporation—following their journey through the Jim Crow South after being tasked with tapping its African American market.
The stories of Black pioneers are not unfamiliar, but oftentimes go untold. Nelson and Olive’s doc aims to elevate one such story exploring a time when corporate America did not include Black professionals, and the Black experience was stereotypically portrayed. The extraordinary efforts of the individuals on Pepsi’s sales team mirror the courage of many who fought to propel America closer to its aspirations and ideals.
The Color of Cola is being co-produced by the Los Angeles Media Fund under the leadership of co-founders Jeffrey Soros and Simon Horsman, in association with Pepsi’s in-house content studio. Viola Davis and Julius Tennon are exec producing under their JuVee Productions banner, alongside Michael Karbelnikoff and Peter Kline for Alldayeveryday, and Mark Landsman. CAA Media Finance arranged financing and will handle sales.
News of the film comes one year after PepsiCo announced its Racial Equality Journey, a more than $570 million set of initiatives over five years focused on increasing Black and Hispanic managerial representation at the company; leveraging its scale and influence across suppliers and strategic partners to increase Black and Hispanic representation, elevating diverse voices and creators in its content; and working in communities to drive long-term change by addressing systemic barriers to economic opportunity and advancing economic empowerment for Black and Hispanic Americans.
“With The Color of Cola I look forward to telling the story of the first Black sales team established in the corporate world. This project harkens back to my very first feature film Two Dollars and a Dream, about the amazing life of Madam C.J. Walker, America’s first self-made Black woman millionaire,” said Nelson. “I was able to touch on Madam Walker’s story again, among other stories of Black entrepreneurship, in a more recent film of mine – Boss: The Black Experience in Business. I see The Color of Cola as a continuation of my past work highlighting the achievements of groundbreaking Black business leaders, whose stories are still underrepresented and often underappreciated in the context of American history.”
“What first attracted me to the project was the opportunity to tell the story of this pioneering sales team of Black men whose work launched an effort at corporate diversity that laid the foundation for meaningfully engaging what has become a trillion dollar Black consumer market today,” said Olive. “If you think it doesn’t get much more powerful than that, Ed Boyd and his team, in the process, helped open the American consciousness to just how dynamic Black life truly was in the late 1940s, so the throughline of this story to benchmarks of cultural diversity in the present is remarkable. I could not be more excited to direct this film with Stanley Nelson in collaboration with our talented team at All Day Every Day, LAMF, and Pepsi.”
“With ‘The Color of Cola,’ Viola and I were really excited about exploring another story that’s been hidden in the amazon of American history. These men had grit, tenacity, and sheer will, being the first black sales force in corporate America,” said Tennon. “We couldn’t have better directors and partners than Stanley Nelson and Jacqueline Olive to bring this incredible documentary to life. I think we’ll all get a snapshot into what Jim Crow America was like and get to understand some of the challenges that these brave African American men faced.”
Said Soros and Horsman, “We feel most fortunate to have filmmakers with Stanley Nelson and Jacqueline Olive’s vision and integrity in bringing this important yet largely unknown history to light.”
Added PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Ramon Laguarta: “At PepsiCo, we know that our company can only succeed when our associates and the societies we serve thrive. That’s why we have long been committed to fostering a diverse workforce that reflects our consumer base and society at all levels of the company. This commitment to racial equality is part of our company’s DNA, going back to this our first Black sales team. The legacies of Allen Mckellar, Jr., Jeanette Maund, Harvey C. Russell, and many more leaders in our rich history continue to inspire our actions and serve as a beacon for advancing our journey towards a more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace and world.”