Industry talent talks to The Hollywood Reporter about their experiences participating in protests that spanned the city, from Santa Monica to Beverly Hills to DTLA.
Amid the ongoing nationwide demonstrations and marches spurred by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other Black people, myriad Hollywood figures have participated in the Los Angeles anti-racism protests.
How to Get Away With Murder actor Matt McGorry says he was shot with a rubber bullet during May 30's protest in the Fairfax district. "When [white people] don't show up, it makes it even more dangerous for the folks who are more marginalized," he says.
Skye P. Marshall joined the Pan Pacific Park rally after watching anti-racism protests on the news, while actor and musician Colson Baker— aka Machine Gun Kelly— says he plans to continue attending "until a change is enacted."
Below, The Hollywood Reporter spoke with McGorry, Marshall and others about their experiences participating in protests that spanned the city, from Santa Monica to Beverly Hills to DTLA.
Actress, dancer and producer Debbie Allen and George Floyd attended the same Houston High school. "He's my homeboy," says Allen, 70, in speaking about attending a peaceful protest in Santa Monica on Sunday that was organized by a group of mothers. She says, "It was down the street from my house. I was riding bikes with my husband and my granddaughter, and I heard a white woman talking about how mothers wanted to speak out. And she said white people who are silent are being racists. It was just so touching, I wanted to cry."
Allen recounted how both her husband, former NBA player Norm Nixon, and her son have been racially profiled by police over the years, sharing, "At one point, my son was driving a new car and they pulled him over, and they frisked him and humiliated him. For what? For driving while you're Black?"
She notes that Hollywood "needs to respond to the protests" and goes on to offer, "I think we need to do something that tells the truth about the disparity, and about our police. Some police have gotten away with so much. There are so many who do such a good job. I value the police. I'm a mother and a grandmother. What is the world that my children are going to inherit? We should do some films about what just happened.”
Allen, who founded the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, was already in the midst of organizing a dance-a-thon to support the dance community during the COVID-19 crisis. The event is June 13, and is being co-hosted by the JaQuel Knight Foundation, Dance Media, AIDS Healthcare Foundation and the Annenberg. She says of the country's current crises, "It's like there are earthquakes on two tectonic plates."
"It's important as a white person to understand the moral obligation of ending the oppression of Black people. It's not an act of charity but something I believe as white folks we need to find our personal stake in, to have any sort of moral integrity," says McGorry, who was hit by a rubber bullet fired by LAPD during the Saturday protest in Los Angeles' Fairfax district. He adds, "As white folks, we need to be up there and up front, as a barrier between Black folks and the police. It's a system that's designed to benefit white folks, particularly white, wealthy people."
The Orange Is the New Black star also participated in the May 31 protests in Santa Monica, and says he plans on continuing to join demonstrations in the city. "When we don't show up, it makes it even more dangerous for the folks who are more marginalized, who are potentially easier targets. I believe in my responsibility and the responsibility of all white people to show up."
Bush took part in the Saturday's L.A. protests and again in Monday's march to Mayor Garcetti's home, alongside friends Skye P. Marshall, Ross Lynch, Jaz Sinclair and Melissa Bergland.
"Everyone I encountered was almost vibrating, full of pain and frustration and hope and a demand for change; it felt both brutal and beautiful," Bush says of her experience, remembering how she and Marshall stopped at the hill over Pan Pacific Park to watch and hug. "She was in tears. She said, 'I’ve never seen so many white people show up for us! So many people. I can’t believe this.' It was a gut check. We need to show up more often, and with regularity. People of color cannot continue to shoulder this burden alone — what affects one of us affects all of us, period."
Pointing to activists like Brittany Packnett-Cunningham, Kendrick Sampson, Patrisse Cullors-Brignac, Rachel Cargle, Rachel Ricketts, Travon Free and Ericka Hart as leaders during this time, the Chicago P.D. actress says that as a white woman, "I am aware of the unearned privilege of my skin, and if I do not spend that privilege marching with my neighbors, am I so different from those who would drive knees into their necks? Silence is complicity, and I refuse to be complicit in a system that is causing suffering like this," where amid a pandemic, she says, "Black men are more likely to be killed by the police than to be tested for COVID-19."
She also calls for Hollywood creators and execs to "take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask why it has taken so long for films and TV shows like Black Panther, Insecure, The Chi and Atlanta to get made in the first place. Why do our products not look more like our communities? Why is it that Black people only make up 35 percent of all gang members in America, yet they are depicted in a ratio which equals Black actors representing 64 percent of all gang members onscreen? What kinds of bias does that type of storytelling, both unconscious and conscious, create? Why is there so often one Black castmember on an all-white show? Why are we portraying marginalization onscreen? And where are the companies supporting the organizations seeking justice for people of color the way they have historically supported other social initiatives?"
Bush adds, "I want to see checks written. I want to see percentages of the profits made telling these blockbuster Black stories being invested in protecting Black lives."
"My people are dying every day from this battle with systemic racism. I needed to be apart of the demonstration," says Marshall, who took to the streets for multiple days with her Good Sam co-star Sophia Bush. "I protested in an effort to influence public opinion and overthrow government policies as it pertains to Black Lives inequality. I protested because I was too emotional, alone in my home, glued to the news and social media. I desperately needed to share space with others that have the same desire to scream, cheer and chant for change."
At one point during the march, Marshall, who has starred in Black Lightning and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, said she was called to sit in the center of a circle, as protestors took a knee and gathered around her.
"Before I sat down, I was filled with such anger and rage. I sat there with my eyes closed, my head down and my fist in the air," she says. "Like a shock to my system, everyone starts screaming 'Black Lives Matter!' I opened my eyes and saw a crowd of mostly white faces screaming this at me. I felt seen, I felt loved, my tears soaked my mask, and when I stood back up, my anger and rage had turned to excitement and unwavering faith that this time there will be justice! A moment I will remember for the rest of my life."
Colson Baker, the actor and musician also known as Machine Gun Kelly, attended the city's protests against the police killings with a sign that read "prosecute killer cops." Of joining the weekend's demonstrations, Baker said, "Sitting in the house hasn't resulted in any change. And if I'm thinking, 'There are plenty of people out protesting, my presence isn't needed,' then what is to stop everyone else from thinking the same thing? I have to lead by example."
He recalled a moment from a Sunday protest after the LAPD had informed the crowd that the city's curfew would be enforced with arrests. "A man on our side stood up and encouraged nobody to back down. [He] spoke with passion and conviction, and no one moved, even after tear gas was let off."
Baker says that he plans to continue protesting, saying, "I will be out there until a change is enacted."