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This story first appeared in the Feb. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
The NAACP’s Chairman’s Award has, in years past, been bestowed upon former Attorney General Eric Holder, former Vice President Al Gore and once even a little-known senator from Illinois named Barack Obama. This year, eight more recipients will join this august company, including Brittany “Bree” Newsome, a 30-year-old Charlotte, N.C., filmmaker and Black Lives Matter activist. Appalled that the Confederate flag still was flying in front of the South Carolina Statehouse after the racially motivated slaughter of nine people at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., in June 2015, Newsome, with a crowd of onlookers and police watching, climbed a 30-foot pole and took it down. “This flag comes down today,” Newsome said as she and an accomplice were arrested (the charges were later dropped).
Two weeks later, the South Carolina Legislature voted to remove the flag. Newsome’s protest, combining performance art with trenchant metaphor, created a sensation across mainstream and social media. “I hope I get the call to direct the motion picture about a black superhero I admire,” Selma director Ava DuVernay posted on Twitter. “Her name is Bree Newsome.” Newsome tells THR that while she is “deeply honored” by the NAACP’s recognition, she was not motivated by “the idea of getting awards. We achieved what we were trying to do by attacking this symbol of hate with symbolic action. I’m not convinced that flag would have come down if we hadn’t done that.”
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