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Black stars sign letter for change in Hollywood: Less glorifying police, more anti-racist content

From left: Actors Tessa Thompson, Kendrick Sampson and Chadwick Boseman.
From left: Actors Tessa Thompson, Kendrick Sampson and Chadwick Boseman. CP Images Archive

Hundreds of Black artists, actors and industry executives have banded together by signing an open letter to Hollywood that not only demands that the industry at large makes “bold moves to affirm, defend and invest in Black lives” but that it “divests” from police too.

The June 23 letter, which was penned by Miss Juneteenth star Kendrick Sampson and signed by more than 300, came as a response to the “continued systemic, brutal murders of Black people,” including George Floyd — who died last month after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

“Hollywood has a privilege as a creative industry to imagine and create,.We have significant influence over culture and politics,” writes Sampson, 32, in the opening paragraph.

“We have the ability to use our influence to imagine and create a better world,” he adds. “Yet, historically and currently, Hollywood encourages the epidemic of police violence and culture of anti-Blackness.”

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Alongside Sampson, the address was co-developed by Thor star Tessa Thompson and co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, Patrisse Cullors and Melina Abdullah, according to Variety.

As well as actors Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis, Idris Elba and singers Billy Porter and Cynthia Erivo, Thompson’s Avengers co-stars Chadwick Boseman, Anthony Mackie, Michael B. Jordan and Danai Gurira, were among many powerful figures in the Black community to sign the Hollywood 4 Black Lives letter.

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Sampson said that along with the “mainstream media,” the film and television industry has played a part in “the criminalization of Black people” and “contributed” to “the glorification of police corruption and violence,” which has had “dire consequences” for many members the Black community.

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“This includes stories that demonize our mental health as violent,” the social rights activist added, before listing off a number of Black police brutality victims.

“People use these stories to justify the killings of Black people like Deborah Danner, who was murdered by NYPD Sgt. Hugh Barry,” he wrote.

Black protester who carried injured white man through angry crowd says he ‘did what we had to do’
Black protester who carried injured white man through angry crowd says he ‘did what we had to do’

Also making mention of the police oppression against the LQTBQ2 community, Sampson continued: “It includes the perpetuation of transphobic stories that people use to justify the murder of Tony McDade in Florida, Nina Pop in Missouri, Dominique Fells, in Philadelphia, and Riah Milton in Ohio.

“We must end the exaltation of officers and agents that are brutal and act outside of the law as heroes,” he wrote. “These portrayals encourage cops like Derek Chauvin the murderer of George Floyd.”

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In the statement, Sampson later suggested that Hollywood’s “lack of a true commitment to inclusion and institutional support” of Black people has only “reinforced Hollywood’s legacy of white supremacy.”

“This is not only in storytelling,” he said. “It is cultural and systemic in Hollywood.”

The Flash star continued: “Due to Hollywood’s immense influence over politics and culture, all of the racism, discrimination and glass ceilings Black people in Hollywood experience on a regular basis have direct implications on Black lives.”

Towards the end of the letter, Sampson goes on to list five major demands he and the Black community expect from Hollywood in the future:

  1. To divest from police
  2. Divest in anti-Black content
  3. To invest in anti-racist content,
  4. Invest in more Black people’s careers
  5. Invest more in the Black community as a whole — by hiring more Black individuals and supporting Black-owned businesses for example everywhere.
Star Wars actor John Boyega joins protests
Star Wars actor John Boyega joins protests

For the first two demands, the actor suggested that instead of having police on sets or at industry events, they can use “private unionized security officers” instead. He also requested an end to “intentional glorification of police brutality and corruption” in films and TV shows.

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“We know these changes have the power to change Black lives in America,” writes Sampson. “It is time for Hollywood to acknowledge its role and take on the responsibility of repairing the damage and being a proactive part of the change,” he concludes.

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Sampson’s lengthy address to Hollywood can be read in full via the official BLD PWR website.

BLD PWR was founded by Sampson in May 2019 and works with artists and community activists dedicated to challenging injustice by empowering frontline communities to address issues that affect their lives.

adam.wallis@globalnews.ca