Sherrilyn Ifill Discusses Hollywood's Role in the "Monumentally Important" Georgia Run-Off and Beyond

Power Lawyers keynote Q&A Jemele Hill-Sherrilyn Ifill
Courtesy of Subject/Courtesy of Andre Chung for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Jemele Hill (left) and Sherrilyn Ifill

The president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund spoke with journalist Jemele Hill for a keynote conversation at The Hollywood Reporter's Power Lawyers event.

In a conversation for The Hollywood Reporter's Power Lawyers event on Wednesday, Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and journalist Jemele Hill spoke about the importance of the Senate runoff races currently taking place in Georgia and how Hollywood can fight voter suppression.

"When I say it's monumentally important, it's like every person in this country will be affected by the outcome of the Georgia run-off," said Ifill. "The same way people engaged in November is the way I hope they are engaging around January."

In the run-off races, which will determine the control of the Senate, Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are challenging incumbent Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. Ifill noted the significance of that control, pointing out that the Senate has the power to confirm cabinet and judicial appointments and could push through a series of bills that have stagnated under the Sen. Mitch McConnell's leadership, such as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, two voting rights bills targeting voter suppression and further COVID-19 relief measures.

Asked about how Hollywood — which uses Atlanta as a major production hub — can get involved in the Georgia run-off, Ifill emphasized the importance of continuing the energy that surrounded the 2020 Presidential election.

"I had this conversation with LeBron James, who started More Than a Vote," said Ifill. "I talked about the fact that elections happen all the time; it's not just every four years. This is the perfect example."

Hill and Ifill discussed the impact of actors and filmmakers using their social media platforms to disseminate information like polling place locations and absentee ballot registration, referencing actress Kerry Washington's recent efforts on Twitter. "Information is vitally important. ... There is a huge misinformation campaign that has been targeted at Georgia," said Ifill, whose career with the Legal Defense Fund has seen her litigate many voting rights case. "What matters to me is that people get good information from people they trust."

She also suggested that civically engaged entertainers should ignore critics who say they should only worry about Hollywood. After all, Ifill noted, most of them grew up elsewhere and still have roots in those communities. "We come from someplace," she said. "People who are in the arts should not be herded into a category as though they don't have connections to the towns and cities and states they're from."

That education and activism, Ifill said, can extend to Hollywood's creative projects, as well. "Ava DuVernay did more with When They See Us to explain to people the injustice of our criminal justice system, the racism of our criminal justice system, the way in which it snatches the lives of young people, than I ever could do in any brief I would write to a court in terms of the widespread understanding of the issue," she said. "It's always been true that art has been essential in the movement for justice. ... I think that Hollywood is going to play a huge role, and artists are going to play a huge role."

Hill noted that "Hollywood is far from perfect" when it comes to issues of inequity and asked Ifill how important it is that the entertainment industry steps up and addresses its own systemic racism.

"A mirror has been held up to every institution of American life and that's the beginning of change and transformation," said Ifill. "What we accepted in the past is just no longer acceptable. ... Those who don't recognize that are really risking irrelevance."

Watch Hill's full interview with Ifill in the video of the virtual event below. THR's Power Lawyers event was sponsored by City National Bank.