Gabrielle Union, Sterling K. Brown and More Artists Call on Cultural Industries to Disassociate From Police

Sterling K Brown, Gabrielle Union, Trevor Noah, Lena Waithe-Split-Getty-H 2020
Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images; Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images; Mike Coppola/Getty Images; Liliane Lathan/Getty Images

In a statement published Friday, hundred of Black artists additionally argued that arts organizations should do more to promote pay equity, Black leadership and get educated on Black history.

Hundreds of Black authors, filmmakers, actors, artists and other cultural workers are calling on the industries they work in to decouple their work from the police, pay competitive wages to Black workers and promote Black leaders, among other goals.

On Juneteenth — the holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States — industry figures including Sterling K. Brown, Gabrielle Union, Cynthia Erivo, Ava DuVernay, Barry Jenkins, Nia DaCosta, Trevor Noah, Lena Waithe, Justin Simien, Lee Daniels, Dee Rees, Franklin Leonard, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Niecy Nash, Thandie Newton, Janet Mock and others signed their names to an artists' statement for the collective Black Artists for Freedom. According to the statement, the signatories have been inspired by the current protests advocating against systemic racism and police brutality to "build on their necessary demands — including, chiefly, the abolition of police and the complete dismantling of the racist prison-industrial system."

The statement, the signatories add, aims to "amplify the movement's work and to call out our own industries for what they are: institutions the promote colonialism, capitalism and racism, and that function in exploitative and destructive ways." The statement adds that the signatories are looking to "eliminate" racist stereotypes and representation of Black people, tokenism and surface-level inclusivity in media.

Chief among the statement's list of demands is that their industries end their ties with police. They call on theaters, studios, festivals, museums, publishing houses and others to end contracts with law enforcement but notably do not mention unions which, in Hollywood alone, often belong to umbrella organizations including the AFL-CIO, the Teamsters and the SEIU, that do have police members. The statement calls on cultural institutions to "publicly condemn the institution of police as a violent force that exists to further class divisions and capitalistic exploitation which harm our communities."

While the statement says that it wants to promote the current protest movement's calls for the abolition of police, it later says decoupling these industries from the police is "a first and clear step that cultural institutions must take toward the broader call to defund the police nationwide."

Other priorities advocated for in the statement include recruiting, hiring and retaining Black workers and artists, paying them competitively, mentoring them, and putting marketing and advertising resources behind their work. The statement calls for the recruitment of Black leaders and the institution of Juneteenth as a paid holiday; for institutions to educate themselves on Black history and consume Black cultural products; and for those institutions to "imagine Black freedom" by allowing Black artists to be whoever they want to be and express whatever they want to express without outside pressure to represent their Blackness in a particular way.

The statement ends with the hashtag #ImagineBlackFreedom. On a separate page on the Black Artists for Freedom website, several Black writers, professors and activists write about what that phrase means to them.