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Barry Jenkins, Ava DuVernay, and Many More Join to Form Black Artists for Freedom Collective

More than 1,000 artists are standing together, on the occasion of Juneteenth, to call upon creative industries to make changes for Black voices.

Barry Jenkins

Barry Jenkins

Jim Smeal/BEI/Shutterstock

To commemorate Juneteenth, the anniversary of the official end of slavery in the United States in 1865, more than 1,000 Black artists across multiple disciplines have joined forces to form the Black Artists for Freedom collective. This group of authors, actors, musicians, filmmakers, painters, poets, and more range from Academy Award, Grammy, Tony and Pulitzer Prize winners, to other new and veteran voices.

The names among the coalition include Barry Jenkins, Ava DuVernay, Lena Waithe, Dee Rees, Questlove, John Legend, Trevor Noah, Roxane Gay, Sterling K. Brown, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Gabrielle Union, Thandie Newton, Jelani Cobb, Niecy Nash, Craig T. Williams, Tessa Thompson, Thandie Newton, Debbie Allen, Lupita Nyong’o, David Oyelowo, and Cynthia Erivo.

“As Black artists and thinkers, we are energized by the current protest movement led by Black activists. They are working in the spirit of the Black Radical Tradition to reclaim our freedoms,” a statement from the group read, titled “Our Juneteenth.” “Through this statement, we hope to amplify the movement’s work and to call out our own industries for what they are: institutions that promote colonialism, capitalism, and racism, and that function in exploitative and disruptive ways.”

The statement continued, “Culture alone cannot fix systemic racism. But culture is strongly connected to racism’s material effects, and the representation of Black people in the media has long been used to justify the violence against us. We do not wish merely to modify or alleviate this racist culture. We aim to eliminate it.”

The coalition calls upon cultural institutions that “depend on Black culture — publishing, writing, fashion, theater, film, television, visual arts, music, journalism, scholarship, education, social media,” adding that they “must commit to racial justice through material changes.”

The call to action is five-tiered, asking cultural institutions to “break ties with the police, put their money where their mouths are, advocate for Black people, get educated, and imagine Black freedom.”

The coalition arrives at a time when the industry is reckoning with protests surrounding the death of George Floyd, and increased calls upon Hollywood to make significant changes in terms of representation for Black voices. Read the entire statement, and see full list of signees, over at the coalition’s website.

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