ATLANTA — Viewers of negative political ads in Georgia may notice something: The bad guys in the ads always seem to look a little worse than the good guys or gals. And when race is introduced, it gets complicated.
Democrat Stacey Abrams, running for governor, is warmly lit in an ad that describes a tax increase she says she blocked while in the legislature.
But when Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s team got hold of it, it turned the image against Abrams. She looked less warm, and the African American woman is noticeably darker.
"When you're changing skin tone -- especially since this has happened before -- there’s really no way around pinpointing the racial intent of what’s happening," said Dr. Andra Gillespie, an Emory political science professor.
The juxtaposition of ads below
She said it's not uncommon. Political races that may have a racially charged undertone can come out in the open when Black opponents are "blackened."
"Why do you need to blacken what I look like?” asked Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, an African American, when she objected in August to an ad that showed her in darker tones.
Kemp’s ad has several images of Abrams that appear to be darker than the original. His team said Kemp's campaign uses filters and overlays in their production of video just like every campaign in the country – and says it’s ridiculous to suggest it might be racially motivated.
However, adjusting color isn’t always negative.
Abrams’ own team has altered their own candidate’s color in promotional images, switching color and black-and-white images of the same photo with different messages.
And Abrams' campaign has run plenty of negative ads depicting Kemp in grainy, altered images – his color desaturated or in black and white.
Yet Gillespie calls it pernicious to darken the skin of a Black candidate.
"You can catch people with scowls on their faces and use those tones. But it’s another thing to change the tone of their skin and emphasize and signal to voters that this person is Black, and that’s a bad thing," she said.