More than 300 African American entertainers and industry executives, including Oscar winners Mahershala Ali, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, are calling on Hollywood to divest from police, nurture black talent and be cognizant of how storytelling affects society's image of the justice system.
Posted in the trade magazine Variety on Tuesday, the 750-word letter written by actor-activist Kendrick Sampson — founder of the advocacy organization BLD PWR, who was hit by a police baton and rubber bullets during a May protest against the killing of George Floyd by police — states, "Hollywood has a privilege as a creative industry to imagine and create. We have significant influence over culture and politics. We have the ability to use our influence to imagine and create a better world. Yet, historically and currently, Hollywood encourages the epidemic of police violence and culture of anti-Blackness."
Both "Hollywood and mainstream media" do so, the letter says, by contributing "to the criminalization of Black people, the misrepresentation of the legal system, and the glorification of police corruption and violence has had dire consequences on Black lives." Noting that police killings of African American and transgender individuals throughout the country, the missive adds, "We must end the exaltation of officers and agents that are brutal and act outside of the law as heroes. These portrayals encourage cops like Derek Chauvin, the murderer of George Floyd."
The letter says "Hollywood's legacy of white supremacy" has stymied recruitment and support of African American talent agents as well as "below-the-line crew," meaning film/TV production staff below the top-of-budget directors, producers, writers and casting agents. As well, "Hollywood studios and production companies that exploit and profit from our stories rarely have any senior-level Black executives with greenlighting power" to authorize production.
It demands that filmmaking entities and institutions "divest from police, divest from anti-Black content, invest in our careers, invest in anti-racist content [and] invest in our community."
Among the hundreds who joined "Insecure" star Sampson, 32, in signing the document were Angela Bassett, Chadwick Boseman, Danielle Brooks, Sterling K. Brown, Laverne Cox, Rosario Dawson, Daveed Diggs, Idris Elba, Danai Gurira, Tiffany Haddish, Taraji P. Henson, Michael B. Jordan, Zoë Kravitz, Anthony Mackie, Thandie Newton, Leslie Odom Jr., Billy Porter, Queen Latifah, Sam Richardson, Tessa Thompson and Kerry Washington. Signatory organizations included the National Black Justice Coalition and the NAACP Hollywood Bureau.