On Wednesday, as the Ferguson fallout generated heated conversations and riots around the country, “Fruitvale Station” director Ryan Coogler announced plans for a different approach.
This Friday, Coogler, joined by “Selma” director Ava DuVernay and a number of celebrities, will take part in a movement dubbed Blackout — a nationwide boycott of Black Friday. Rather than shopping on the day after Thanksgiving, Blackout encourages using the day for a unified contemplation of national values.
Specifically designed to protest the outcome in Ferguson, Missouri, where police officer Darren Wilson was exonerated of charges for fatally shooting 18-year-old Michael Brown last summer, the movement provides consumers with a set of shopping-craze alternatives. In New York, Coogler has organized a live reading of Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” while DuVernay will host a series of African-American themed films (including her Sundance-winning “Middle of Nowhere”) in Los Angeles. The two filmmakers shared their reasoning for Blackout in an e-mail interview.
How did this idea come about?
RYAN COOGLER: The idea came about in a very organic fashion. It started as a diverse group of people who were all empathetic to news of human rights violations being committed by public servants. This group’s hearts were collectively heavy at the news of the murders of Eric Garner, Jonathan Crawford and Michael Brown that all happened in within a few days of each other, as well as news breaking of several indictments of Oklahoma police officers for suspicion of sexual assaults committed against women while on duty.
With the coming holiday season, we were motivated to mobilize people who often feel helpless, to think about a way for people who feel worthless, and helpless in this issue, to “show their worth” in a language that everyone listens to — the language of spending power. Through this, it not only brings victims into this dialogue, but possibly powerful corporations who have the funding to help with body cameras, community policing programs, diversity training programs, more thorough hiring processes, better training, and more accountability to the communities they have a civic duty to protect.
How can artists — specifically filmmakers — address this situation?
RC: Artists and filmmakers can address the situation through their work. They also can use their ability to bring people together around their work to raise dialogues, however uncomfortable they may be. It’s the artist’s duty in society to challenge the way that we think, and to bring certain perspectives to light. In our network (Blackout), we view every member as a creative — whether they are a grassroots organizer, stay-at-home mom, or even an active member of law enforcement. We have representation from all professional walks of life that are constantly looking for creative ways to bring these issues to light.
What sort of outcome do you hope these efforts will achieve?
AVA DUVERNAY: Our hope is that Blackout and its allied organizations can instigate elongated pressure on power structures and systems that neglect the sanctity of life and human rights. We don’t want this to be a reactionary call-to-action around one tragic incident. We recognize that the violence and harm to people of color is on a continuum. And so our hope is that Blackout can create and sustain enough momentum among like-minded people to vigorously pursue systemic change.
Ava, do you see any direct connections between today’s climate in the immediate aftermath of Ferguson in the story of “Selma”?
AD: Yes, absolutely. It’s the same story repeated. The same exact story. An unarmed black citizen is assaulted with unreasonable force and fatal gunfire by a non-black person who is sworn to serve and protect them. A small town that is already fractured by unequal representation in local government and law enforcement begins to crack under the pressure. People of color, the oppressed, take to the street to make their voices heard. The powers that be seek to extinguish those voices with brute, militarized force and disregard for constitutional rights. That’s Selma 1965. That’s Ferguson right now.
Is Hollywood complicit in any of the cultural failings at issue here? Is it somehow a microcosm of larger concerns?
RC: Hollywood definitely is a microcosm of larger concerns. Much like every industry, the film industry has reflections of certain trends of inequality and underrepresentation. As members of the industry, we should be looking internally to find out what what steps can be taken to find solutions to these systemic issues. But I think that goes for every industry in the country.
While Ferguson has lead to a lot of anger and frustrations around the country, do you see any reasons to be optimistic?
AD: As the old protest chant goes, “The people united will never be defeated.” The unity of communities around the country that we’re seeing borne out of these ongoing tragedies is a definite light in the midst of all this darkness.