The death of George Floyd at the hands of the police has sparked a cultural movement: citizens of the United States, and around the world, are taking to the streets to protest systematic racism. The cause has gained wide support in the mainstream, with entertainment giants such as Netflix and Disney releasing social media posts stating their support. But are these statements enough?
Firstly, it should be stated: there is nothing inherently wrong with stating support. For many who may not be able to donate or protest, voicing genuine support might be the most natural reaction. However, it needs to be understood that the racism that killed George Floyd was not the work of a few “bad apples”. It is the result of a system that was designed to oppress minorities, and more specifically black people. It is a system that follows in the tradition of British Imperialism, and which can hardly be fought through ill-conceived social media campaigns. In a democracy, we all have a duty to do what we can to make sure that all individuals are equally valued at all times.
“It’s smart – they’re taking a stand, hopefully, because it’s moral, but also because they understand the long-term economic game”Americus Reed, University of Pennsylvania
This brings us to the entertainment industry. Some might point to how brave companies like Disney, Netflix and Amazon were to support the protestors. While vocal support is not without value, it is cheapened if actions are not taken to back those claims up. Especially because, as cynical as it may sound, brand activism has become a powerful marketing tool. Speaking to the New York Times, Americus Reed, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania, highlighted this point, by stating: “It’s smart – they’re taking a stand, hopefully, because it’s moral, but also because they understand the long-term economic game”.
If they’re not donating, hiring diverse creators and executives, then what do these statements represent? This might just be due to the inevitable simplification of social media, but these statements read as incomplete. No one addressed their history of racism, no one explained how they were going to stand for the cause. And unlike Ben & Jerry’s, no one pledged to donate. The emptiness of some of these statements was not lost on those who pay attention: the ACLU replied to Amazon’s tweet, calling them out for selling face recognition surveillance technology that supercharges police abuse. This article is not meant to bash on all those showing their support. However, when it comes to companies with such important platforms, it is their moral duty to tell their audiences how they are helping. How are you standing by your black employees? What can your viewers do to help this movement?
Shows like When They See Us not only provide opportunities for more black actors and creators to express their voice, but actively pursue change by exposing the stories of those who have been hurt by an unjust system.
Let this not be forgotten: representation is vital. As humans, we thrive on storytelling, using it since a young age to understand the world around us. The increased access to entertainment has allowed for shows which succeed in educating their viewer, while most importantly creating a platform representative of diverse experiences. Shows like When They See Us not only provide opportunities for more black actors and creators to express their voice, but actively pursue change by exposing the stories of those who have been hurt by an unjust system. But when Disney supports John Boyega, why doesn’t it address why he thought he would lose opportunities? What experiences led him to believe that would be the case? Of course, I do not claim to know how the inners of these industry giants work. However, what I do see is that it has taken Disney until 2009 to deliver their first black princess. A 2017 study highlighted Disney as the worst offender in Hollywood’s lack of black behind-the-screen talent. Without specificity, these statements are just adding to the noise, while still allowing the few in charge to pat themselves on the back for it.
Featured image credit: Shaelyn Stout (@shaelynstout on Instagram)
Last modified: 7th June 2020