“Emily’s Oz,” a Comcast commercial that aired Feb. 22 during the 87th Academy Awards, has captured the hearts of people across the country. In the commercial, a girl describes characters from the classic film “The Wizard of Oz,” and as she speaks, the characters come to life on the screen. The little girl is obviously imaginative and energetic, and those are the reasons Comcast chose to work with Emily Groves, a 7-year-old who lives with her family in Bettendorf, Iowa.
In November 2014, one of Emily's elementary school teachers gave her parents a flier announcing auditions for the commercial. The flier described Emily perfectly.
“Now looking for children, (ages) 6-12, who are born blind for a major national commercial," the flier read. "Looking for children of all ethnicities who are articulate and charismatic, imaginative, extroverted and outgoing, with a love for the arts, movies, conversation and life.”
Emily was born blind, and her parents realized she was visually impaired when she was 4 months old.
“When we realized she would be blind, there was certainly that concern for the unknown. I think that was the concern,” said Tyler Groves, Emily's father. “How will she be able to live a full life without having her vision, and not necessarily will she be able to live a full life, … but how will we as parents help her to live a full life?”
They decided they would treat her just like their other children, and as a result, her five siblings treat her as if she is no different from them.
Emily's parents describe her as “a jokester” and full of personality. Her outgoing nature led them to seriously consider the Comcast flier. Despite some hesitations, they asked Emily if she was interested in submitting an application, and when she said yes, her dad crafted an email response with a subject line that read, “Emily. 7-years-old. 100-percent blind. 110-percent awesome.”
The email caught the attention of Comcast employees, and they began conducting interviews with Emily over the phone and through Skype. In one of the interviews, they asked Emily to watch “The Wizard of Oz” and then describe the characters and the setting.
“She was just most interesting to listen to,” said director Andreas Nilsson of the experience in a behind-the-scenes video. “And she was so charming, and we just fell in love with her, simple as that, and when she talked to me about the storyline of 'The Wizard of Oz,' she kind of described the whole universe for me.”
Emily’s parents were also impressed as they listened to her describe the world of “Oz” as she imagines it. They found that lessons they have taught her seemed to influence her perspective of each character. One illustration of this was her description of the Wicked Witch of the East. The Groves have tried to teach Emily the value of dressing modestly, so when she described the Wicked Witch of the East, she said the witch “wore really short shorts, I mean really short shorts.”
It is clear that the appearance of the characters in Emily’s mind are strongly influenced by her understanding of moral principles. For example, Emily says the lion, one of the characters featured in the Comcast commercial, “is small because he doesn’t have any courage.”
The ad is narrated by actor and director Robert Redford and advertises the Comcast Accessibility Lab, which makes it possible for those with visual impairments to be more independent in their media consumption. However, even those who were responsible for the ad’s development believe it does something more important than sell a product.
“It’s not often you get to do something that feels meaningful on a level far beyond advertising,” said Paul Caiozzo, executive creative director of Goodby, Silverstein and Partners, the New York advertising company responsible for the ad, to AdWeek. “It definitely shows how entertainment truly is for everyone.”
For Emily and her parents, the commercial has even more meaning. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Groves try to observe family home evening, a night dedicated to strengthening their family, each week. During a recent family home evening, Tyler Groves counseled his children to develop their skills and talents so they can bless others.
“I think that, honestly for me, is what this has meant,” said Katie Grove, Emily’s mother. “Emily has some special skills and talents, and she has been given a platform to bless the lives of others. We want that for all of our children. … I think there are special spiritual, physical, intellectual and temporal gifts that she has been given, and she’s using them to bless in a way that I don’t think we anticipated.”
Katie and Tyler Groves have enjoyed learning about how the ad has impacted other viewers.
“I love to see the comments about how people are really seeing her as an individual,” Katie Groves said, while also expressing her gratitude for how the commercial turned out. “I love how parents with children with all different kids of disabilities are responding to it. It seems like it’s giving voice to them as well."
It may seem ironic that a girl who is unable to see is helping others expand their vision and perspective, but Emily’s parents say she is always helping them see the world and experience life in a way they couldn't without her.
“I probably used to be one of those people that would look at a child with disabilities or autism or Down syndrome, and I would just be so sad for them,” Katie Groves said. “And I think for me, personally, I have really learned to see the world in a totally different way. Having Emily has opened my idea of what is important, what is real and the possibilities and potential of every individual. And that should’ve come to me maybe just through knowing our Savior, right? But this very real experience has kind of embedded it in my heart in a way that wasn’t there before.”
While Emily has changed her mom's life, Katie Groves has no doubt made an impression on her daughter, who says she wants to be "a mom or an inventor."