TMZ’s Van Lathan to Celebs: Use Your Megaphones for ‘Responsible’ Conversations

NABJ Black Men Panel held on Saturday, June 2, 2018. (Credit: Twitter)

TMZ producer Van Lathan, who recently confronted Kanye West over his claim that “slavery was a choice,” is calling on celebrities to use their “megaphones” to make a difference instead of spouting off “sensational” comments to sell records or movie tickets.

“If you have something to say, you can’t do it around the time that your album is about to drop. You can’t do it just to turn heads on Twitter and Instagram,” Lathan said Saturday at the Black Male Media Project in Los Angeles organized by the National Association of Black Journalists.

Lathan was joined by Queer Eye host Karamo Brown, Access correspondent Scott Evans, Get Out star Lil Rel Howery and moderator Jarrett Hill at the panel discussion, which focused on ways to improve coverage of black men in media.

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The forum was one of about two dozen held over the weekend in cities including Detroit, Atlanta, Memphis, Baltimore and Miami. The Los Angeles gathering, hosted by NABJ-LA, took place at the SAG-AFTRA building and was attended by about 150 people.

Lathan, who grew up in Louisiana, told the audience his grandfather often reminded him that countless black people before him lost their lives to slavery, lynchings and other violence, and he should always remember his “existence is the result of a lot of pain.”

After organizers played a clip of the TMZ producer’s verbal exchange with West, Lil Rel described it as yet another example of the public putting too much significance on celebrity.

“We just gotta stop taking idiots seriously,” the comedian said to applause. “This is what’s tough about the culture now. We’re just so fascinated by celebrities. We care too much what they think.”

Brown addressed stereotypes in the media, and people who criticize the women of the Real Housewives franchise for fighting and other controversial behavior.

“These women are also succeeding,” he said. “They’re strong businesswomen and though you may think it’s a negative image or portrayal of black women, there are some women who see that and say ‘I now feel inspired.'”

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He called on the black community to stop stigmatizing homosexuality and referring to things they think are negative as “gay.”

Lil Rel, whose self-titled sitcom Rel will premiere on Fox during the 2018-19 TV season, said stereotypes – particularly those about black men – are sometimes rooted in reality.

“We discussed this for my show and my brother on the show got out of jail for selling dope, because my brother in real life got out of jail for selling dope,” he explained. “We can’t run from that because I wanted to tell the story of him getting his stuff together. He’s doing great now and I wanted to show that.”

The panelists agreed African-Americans can change the narrative in the media about black men by securing positions in boardrooms, as filmmakers and as news managers.

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While many people believe there are still too many negative images of black people on television and in film, Evans reminded the audience that things are improving.

“I know that it is not perfect; I know that it is not ideal, but I do think that there is a unique opportunity that has not been there before,” he said. “Even though we may not yet be in a position where we own the show, the film or the network that we’re on, we do own our own perspective and finally it feels like, at least on our show, there is a welcoming to the table.”