On Super Bowl Sunday – just before Lady Gaga took the stage for the half-time performance – 84 Lumber’s 90-second immigration commercial aired. In the spot, a Mexican mother and daughter undertake the dangerous trek to the United States, battling weather, wildlife, and unforgiving natural conditions along the way. The ad – censored by Fox executives who deemed it too controversial – ends in a cliffhanger. And instead of showing us the mother and daughter duo’s trip affected by the border wall President Donald Trump has promised to build along the United States’ southern border, it prompted viewers to visit the company’s website to see how it plays out.
The emotionally charged commercial immediately piqued viewers’ interest, with 84 Lumber’s website immediately crashing because it couldn’t handle the extra traffic. Just as swiftly, the divisive ad had one pro-immigration viewers praising its stance, while proponents of the border wall called for a boycott of the company, which they assumed endorses all forms of immigration. Before the ad aired, publications – us included – focused on Fox’s decision to censor 84 Lumber’s spot. The controversy apparently obscured details about the owner of the company’s questionable politics – despite the fact that outlets like The New York Times reported on it before the Super Bowl. But once the commercial hit the airwaves, the internet increasingly focused on the fact that 84 Lumber’s owner, Maggie Hardy Magerko, voted for Trump.
Magerko, who said the ad meant to recruit workers in their 20s “who really believe in American dreams,” welcomes immigration, under the right circumstances. Her company – currently facing a labor shortage – heavily relies on immigrant labor. “I am all about those people who are willing to fight and go that extra yard to make a difference and then if they have to, you know, climb higher, go under, do whatever it takes to become a citizen,” she told The New York Times. “I am all for that 110 percent. But do I want cartels? Hell, no.”
The full ad shows that when the mother and daughter reach the border, a wall stands in their way. The mother, realizing that the wall thwarted her journey to a better life, tears up. Eventually, the two realize that just to their left, there’s a door that allows them entry to the United States. Last year, Trump – who seemed to slightly relent from his hardline stance on immigration – said that he’d still build a wall, but would add “a big, fat beautiful door right in the middle of the wall” to allow legal immigration.
Overall, the commercial on its own, was well received; it was seen as a message of solidarity in a time when anti-immigrant sentiments run high. But once Magerko’s personal political views were revealed, the company suddenly managed to piss off people on both sides of the immigration debate. Some, like activist Angy Rivera, said the commercial used our immigration stories to peddle Trump’s anti-immigrant views. “To value the wall and door is to be anti-immigrant,” she tweeted. “To only support those coming ‘legally’ is to leave some of us to die/[get] deported.”
But the case can also be made that the commercial is a metaphor in favor of immigration reform, where the door represents a policy change that will turn all undocumented immigrants into legal ones. The commercial ends with the words, “The will to succeed is always welcome here.” It’s a complicated matter that leaves us with one question: For those who had an initial positive reaction to the commercial, does knowledge of Magerko’s personal politics then completely erase the positive messaging of the ad?