Perhaps you recall Rachael Leigh Cook’s memorable 1997 anti-drug commercial, in which she smashes not only an egg, but an entire kitchen, in an effort to illustrate the deleterious effects of snorting heroin. Now Cook and her egg-smeared frying pan are back—but the message is very different.
At the time of the original PSA, Cook was just 18 years old, and hadn’t yet filmed the movie that would rapidly buoy her to stardom. America, for its part, had seen a surge in the popularity of snorting heroin, with the preeminence of grunge and a fistful of acclaimed drug films helping secure its place among the major substances of the decade.
But the focal point of the new spot isn’t to discourage viewers from using heroin. It’s to point out that the so-called “war on drugs” has disproportionately targeted people of color.
In the ad, Cook first holds up a white egg. “This is one of the millions of Americans who uses drugs and won’t get arrested,” she says, putting it down gingerly. “However,” she says, picking up a brown egg, “this American is several times more likely to be charged with a drug crime.”
A cartoon imagining then walks the viewer through the various stages of a brown egg’s drug arrest: There’s the sentencing, the jail time, the difficulty of landing a job with a felony conviction and so on. The infamous frying pan periodically flies out of nowhere to smash high-paying job prospects and the future generally, as well as a family of smiling white eggs, members of whom have used drugs but were never charged.
The ad was created for the Drug Policy Alliance, a non-profit based in New York City whose mission is to decriminalize responsible drug use, promote harm reduction and treatment in response to misuse and foster conversations about drug use among families and educators. In a statement posted to the organization’s website, Director of Media Relations Tony Newman says,
It is gratifying and promising to see the evolution in Rachael Leigh Cook and in the American public over these last 20 years. The war on drugs is a disastrous failure that has ruined millions of peoples’ lives, especially people of color. Let’s hope this ad is seen by as many people as the original and inspires folks to end this unwinnable war.
The ad concludes with Cook holding up a pan dripping with yoke. The war on drugs, she says, “fuels mass incarceration, it targets people of color in greater numbers than their white counter parts. It cripples communities, it costs billions, and it doesn’t work. Any questions?”