The Hollywood Black Squares: A Reckoning on Whether Solidarity With Black Lives Matter Is Fact or Fiction

Black Lives Matter support via social media from networks and production companies such as The CW, CBS, HBO/HBO Max, Paramount, Warner Bros., Netflix, etc.
Black Lives Matter support via social media from networks and production companies such as The CW, CBS, HBO/HBO Max, Paramount, Warner Bros., Netflix, etc.
Graphic: Instagram

In the ongoing fight for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, black boxes and squares are Hollywood’s deus ex machina.

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From Studio Binder:

Deus ex Machina is when a hopeless situation is suddenly solved by an unexpected occurrence. It is a contrived plot device often used in film or novels. It is an easy way to get characters out of difficult situations and can often be a sign of “lazy writing.” It’s situational resolution. This trope can be used for comedic purposes too, and if the filmmakers are relatively self-aware about its use, it can sometimes work.

Deus ex Machina translation is Greek for “a god from a machine.” It refers to the crane that brought actors playing gods over the stage in Greek and Roman plays. They were dropped in often towards the end to determine the ending and bring resolution.

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The key phrase here is “an easy way to get characters out of difficult situations.” Over the past few days, we all watched our timelines become filled with black boxes and squares, some of which contained personalized captions that reflected solidarity with BLM and the fight against police brutality. This appeared to be a response to the mass call for public support since many companies were initially silent and silence is typically viewed as being complicit. However, what followed was not only a few obtusely ignorant mishaps but an obvious showcase of companies and brands jumping on a bandwagon that reeked of, “here, damn!”

Virtue signaling via social media is a real-life trope.

After all, why do the difficult and ongoing work when you can just rewatch The Help for the umpteenth time or post your solidarity-signaling black square on Instagram to the soundtrack of “Where is the Love?” by The Black Eyed Peas?

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While you’re taking a few seconds to show us your concern for black death (for the time being, at least), what are you doing to prove you care about black lives—specifically, about black livelihoods? Who are the faces leading the music, television and film industries? Show Us Your (Zoom) Rooms!

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I mean, the numbers speak for themselves.

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Beyond the numbers, many black people within the media industry and beyond took to Twitter to express the various ways in which they felt unsafe in the very same industries that purport to value them via micro-aggressions, pay inequality, discriminatory hiring practices and more. The list of examples is longer than the end-credits when you’re waiting to watch a post-credits scene in a Marvel movie.

There was LucasFilm and its public support for John Boyega, despite its involvement in his character Finn’s dilution and failure to support him in a similar way throughout the constant racial harassment he faced while promoting their film...

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...or when The Walt Disney Co. publicly supported BLM, despite reports of its former theme park employee Yeweinisht Mesfin who was homeless due to poor wages and eventually died in her car...

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...or when YouTube publicly supported BLM, despite its failure to clear out the barrage of white supremacists on its platform and properly value the work of its black creators...

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...or when Amber Riley directly followed up in response to the Samantha Ware / Lea Michele controversy, confirming that several black actors and actresses reached out to her with stories of being “terrorized by the white girls that are leads”...

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...or when Amanda Seales confirmed she was leaving The Real because she didn’t feel safe and valued as a black woman championing our people nor did she feel there was a concerted effort for black voices to be represented at the top of the chain...

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...or when The CW publicly showed their support for BLM, ignoring the fact that Vanessa Morgan spoke on her experience on Riverdale as the only black series regular who also happens to be paid the least...

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...or when Shaun Robinson called out Billy Bush presenting himself as an ally of the George Floyd protests, noting that if he’d like to truly discuss the “pain white privilege causes African Americans” he should talk to her about that reckoning since she was his co-host on Access Hollywood...

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...or (probably the densest of them all that I’ve seen so far) a whole thread where author Nilah Magruder called out Dreamworks for attempting to offer her pay lower than the union minimum and the subsequent microaggressions she experienced as an employee as well as the exploitative protocol of taking unpaid tests for studios such as Disney Television Animation, Netflix and Cartoon Network...

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...and many, many more.

Sensing a “fed-up” flavored shift in the universe, I was thrilled to see this energy. Folks let the choppa spray! Ratatataaaa! We’ve already praised the efforts of the aforementioned Boyega.

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Still, it must be acknowledged that Boyega has certain privileges—a multi-million dollar contract, for one, and the immediate public support of the industry, for two. Some haven’t been so lucky.

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Whether it’s intangible roadblocks such as the inherent pressures to financially provide for themselves and their family or tangibles ones such as NDAs, the inability to publicly call out their employer doesn’t make them any less noble. It actually just speaks to the need to dismantle the very system that creates this burden.

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When a large conglomerate fucks up in its solidarity messaging (or in the case of The Philly Inquirer or the NYT, dangerous rhetoric), the black writers, filmmakers, journalists and other creators who work under said overlord company become the roadkill.

There is certainly a trending push to publicly show solidarity (as well as leaders in the industry stepping up to provide opportunities for black creators), which is good because now we have it on record. Only time will tell if the industry will make substantial changes that reflect true diversity, inclusion, equity and anti-discrimination.

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That’ll certainly be quite the plot twist.

Correction: 6/4/2020, 10:17 p.m. ET: An earlier version of this article referenced HBO as one of the networks cited by Nilah Magruder. The network was actually Cartoon Network. This correction is now reflected above.

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.

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DISCUSSION

All of this performative wokeness shit can die in a fire. I’ve worked for many of these multibillion dollar companies that are now pretending to give a fuck about Black people because they don’t want us to boycott them.

Not only do most of these companies have less than 5% of their staff composed of Black people (the numbers get worse if you remove all of the janitorial staff, catering staff, etc.), ALL OF THEM PAY BLACK PEOPLE LESS FOR THE SAME LABOR. That’s not to mention how most of them promote Black people at a much slower rate (if at all). Miss us with the bullshit.