'Mad Men' makes rare nod to civil rights movement

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It was a small moment, but a telling one. During the opening of the highly anticipated fifth season of Mad Men, a prototypical civil rights protest was portrayed. A few white advertising execs heckle a multi-generational picketing crowd from their office windows and eventually drop bags of water on the black people below.

Seconds later, an irate African-American woman, a child, and a few other protesters march into an advertising office; they are wet from the ‘water balloon’ prank and they are demanding answers.

This was a jarring moment for fans of Mad Men for several reasons. First off, the far less demure and deferential tone of the black characters was a real departure from seasons past, and a nod to the more modern setting of this season: mid-1967. It was also a rare nod to the civil rights movement and the black community at large, in a show that has been criticized at times for focusing almost entirely on an all-white universe.

However, Sunday’s episode featured an openly gay black character, passing references to race riots, and a subplot about equal opportunity employment. According to reports and based upon a twist (which we won’t spoil) at the end of this debut episode, the AMC drama will get more topical this year.

Follow Adam Howard on Twitter at @at_howard