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Kendrick Sampson calls on Hollywood to confront its anti-Black bias

Black Lives Matter protest
Black Lives Matter L.A. co-founders Patrisse Cullors, left, and Melina Abdullah address a Hollywood crowd with guests YG, bottom left, and Kendrick Sampson, top left.
(Los Angeles Times)

Actors Kendrick Sampson and Tessa Thompson, alongside Black Lives Matter co-founders Patrisse Cullors and Melina Abdullah, developed an op-ed to Hollywood on Tuesday calling on the industry to prove that Black lives matter in its work.

The open letter, addressed to “our allies in Hollywood,” demands that the entertainment industry divest from police and anti-Black content and invest in antiracist content, the careers of Black creatives and the Black community. More than 300 Black artists and executives signed the document, including Issa Rae, Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis.

“The way that Hollywood and mainstream media have contributed to the criminalization of Black people, the misrepresentation of the legal system, and the glorification of police corruption and violence have had dire consequences on Black lives,” the op-ed stated.

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“The lack of a true commitment to inclusion and institutional support has only reinforced Hollywood’s legacy of white supremacy.”

The petition, which was first shared with Variety, states that films “that demonize [Black] mental health as violent” are used to “justify the killings of Black people,” like Deborah Danner in New York. The signees also criticized the industry’s “perpetuation of transphobic stories that people use to justify” the killings of Tony McDade in Florida, Nina Pop in Missouri, Dominique Fells in Philadelphia, and Riah Milton in Ohio.

The op-ed was published by BLD PWR, an activist organization founded by Sampson, known for his work on HBO’s “Insecure” and ABC’s “How To Get Away With Murder.” The actor co-organized a protest in Los Angeles on May 30, where he was shot with rubber bullets and hit with a police baton.

“Part of what we are not taking into account is we’re asking institutions like the City Council, the mayor’s office, elected officials, to reimagine public safety and invest in the most vulnerable communities and Black folks,” Sampson told The Times on Wednesday.

“But Hollywood has even a bigger responsibility in reimagining, since we’re being paid to imagine and create. And we have to reimagine public safety within our own institutions, because Black people do not feel safe in these institutions.”

“Hollywood has blood on its hands,” Sampson added. “Hollywood has perpetuated anti-Black culture, glorification of police violence. And not just externally to the world — as we are a beacon of culture and have so much influence over politics — but also internally, in the way that we operate, in the way that the unions operate in blocking out Black membership and all of these institutions — production companies, studios, agencies, all of these institutions — block out Black leadership, Black board members.”

The BLD PWR letter on Tuesday followed a statement by the Black Artists for Freedom collective on Juneteenth, June 19, that called on cultural institutions to end racial injustice. More than 1,000 Black creatives signed that statement, including Thompson, Ava DuVernay, Lupita Nyong’o, Lena Waithe and John Legend.

“We believe that culture will change only if specific concrete interventions are made,” the statement read. “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.”


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