Black Artists Call for Movie, TV & Music Industries to ‘Break Ties’ With Police

Bill Duke, Janelle Monae, Trevor Noah all signed the letter from the collective Black Artists for Freedom (Credit: Deposit Photos)

A newly organized collective of Black artists is calling on the nation’s cultural institutions to end their relationships with police departments and make meaningful changes to eliminate racial injustice.

Calling itself  “Black Artists for Freedom,” the group is made up of over 1,000 Black directors, writers, actors, musicians, authors, and comedians, including Bill Duke, Lee Daniels, Debbie Allen, Trevor Noah, John Legend, Janelle Monáe, Ava DuVernay, Gabrielle Union, LeVar Burton, Barry Jenkins, and Janet Mock. [Bill Duke, Janelle Monáe, Trevor Noah are shown above].

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The collective issued a letter on Friday titled “Our Juneteenth.” The call to action starts by explaining the history of Juneteenth, the holiday where African Americans mark the announcement of the end of slavery in Texas more than 100 years ago.

“On June 19th, 1865, freedom came to Texas. The news was two years late,” the letter begins. “The Emancipation Proclamation had been signed in 1863. But Texas was the last hold out of the confederacy, at its Western edge. Though the good news was belated, it was cherished and celebrated.”

The document goes on to say on June 19, 2020, Black people in the United States still face racism and police violence.

“The fact is plain: Black people are still not free. Day after day, generation upon generation, we are threatened, brutalized, and murdered by law enforcement and vigilantes. When we hear ‘I can’t breathe,’ we hear the voices of our children, parents, brothers, sisters, cousins. We hear our elders and ancestors. We hear ourselves, some future day,” the letter states.

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The artists added that they’ve been inspired by the protests sweeping the nation following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.

“As Black artists and thinkers, we are energized by the current protest movement led by Black activists. They are working in the spirit of the Black Radical Tradition to reclaim our freedoms,” the letter continues. “Their courage and imagination have inspired us to build on their necessary demands — including, chiefly, the abolition of police and the complete dismantling of the racist prison-industrial system.”

The letter calls for change in the film, fashion, music and other creative industries.

“We believe that the culture will change only if specific concrete interventions are made,” it says. “Cultural institutions that depend on Black culture—publishing, writing, fashion, theater, film, television, visual arts, music, journalism, scholarship, education, social media—must commit to racial justice through material changes.”

The artists additionally urge the institutions to take the following steps:

Break ties with the police. Publicly condemn the institution of police as a violent force that exists to further class divisions and capitalistic exploitation which harm our communities. Museums, arts foundations, theaters, studios, events venues, festivals, universities, libraries, book stores, publishing houses, schools, and social media companies must break contracts with police departments and reconceive what it means to keep art, audiences, and patrons safe. This is a first and clear step that cultural institutions must take toward the broader call to defund the police nationwide.

Put their money where their mouths are. Recruit, hire, retain, and promote Black artists, curators, musicians, writers, actors, screenwriters, producers, directors, editors, agents, publishers, publicists, marketing directors, executives, consultants, designers, teachers, scholars. Pay competitive wages for our work. Recognize the need for artists to unionize, and support their efforts to use collective bargaining to ensure equitable compensation. Provide resources, opportunities, and mentorship that equal those granted to white workers and artists. Put resources into developing, publicizing, and marketing our work. Value our work not by spurious sales metrics, but by its merit, popularity, and influence, and by the respect shown to it by audiences and our peers.

Advocate for Black people. Recognize the urgent need for Black expertise in leadership positions. Actively recruit Black people into the highest levels of leadership, and all levels throughout these organizations. Use internships and partnerships with colleges and universities to create pathways for Black students to enter into professional circles. Implement accountability measures, in-house and across industries, so that it is not left solely to Black artists, thinkers and workers to flag racist policies or procedures and advocate for change. Juneteenth must become a paid holiday, so that those of us who must fight racism daily with grace, fire, and paradigmatic ability may approach the day on our own terms.

Get educated. Learn the history of systemic racism. Take concrete and deliberate steps to identify and eliminate anti-Black bias. Cultivate curiosity about Black culture. Recognize and respect our communities, our languages, and our religions. Read our words—our speeches, essays, articles, fiction, and poetry. Watch our films and shows. Listen to our music, our radio programs, our podcasts. Experience our art. Appreciate our fashion. Provide opportunities and venues for people in their institutions not only to become anti-racist but also to learn the deep, rich, and centuries-long history of the Black tradition.

Imagine Black freedom. We demand freedom not solely in our persons (our “Black bodies,” our “Black lives”) but also in our work. We refuse to be pitted against each other or to be measured by a yardstick of Blackness chosen by others. We demand the freedom to be Black however we wish to be, and to disregard what dominant institutions have deemed “legible,” “palatable,” “marketable,” or “relatable” to audiences that have been artificially narrowed in advance. Our judgment must be trusted when we reject stereotypical or narrow depictions of Blackness. We claim Blackness as rife with internal conflict, complexity, contradiction, and an enormous variety of human experience. We demand and affirm our freedom to represent, experiment, specify, complicate, signify, critique, ignore, improvise, and disagree about Blackness, on our own terms.