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Be an Active Agent of Change: Opportunity and Representation Matters

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The Black Lives Matter movement and recent protests have demanded American citizens to grapple with the sad truth about our history, America was developed by, but not for, Black Americans and people of color. The process of learning about the gruesome truth of American history can be overwhelming for some, but we ask you to do the work. Some people take to social media, like Twitter and Instagram, to engage in short and concise bits of information. Some people follow up with what they have learned by reading books or listening to podcasts, others prefer to watch documentaries and/or films that draw on the Black experience, both past, and present. With the recent death of many Black men, women, and non-binary people, members of the entertainment industry have recognized and asserted how film and cinema are vehicles for change and that opportunities to view and share Black stories and narratives are imperative in the fight of justice and equality.

In light of this, Warner Brothers created an opportunity for viewers to watch the film, Just Mercy,[1] for free on streaming services like Amazon.[2] Released on Christmas day of 2019, Just Mercy starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx gives an account of Civil Rights champion Bryan Stevenson (played by Mr. Jordan) who graduated from Harvard Law in 1989. Upon graduation, Stevenson moves to Alabama where he, alongside Eva Ansley, found the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI).[3] EJI is a human rights organization that provides legal representation to people who were wrongfully incarcerated, people who do not have effective legal counsel, people who were denied a fair trial, and EJI provides re-entry assistance to formerly incarcerated people.[4] The film provides an account of Walter “Johnny D.” McMillian (played by Mr. Foxx) who was falsely accused of the murder of Ronda Morrison by racist law enforcement and put on death row. This film sheds light on systemic racism and the hyper-criminalization of Black people. Moreover, the film highlights the various racial injustices and inequalities Black people face, not only in the deep south but around the country.

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When asked about his experience starring in and co-producing this film, Michael B. Jordan replied that he “felt a sense of responsibility” in telling this history.[5] This feeling of ‘responsibility’ is what drives social change and is what those in the entertainment industry need to harness and use in order to have a meaningful impact. For example, Mr. Jordan’s efforts do not end at starring in this film and sharing it with the world. As of June 22, 2020, Mr. Jordan has partnered with Endeavor Impact and an HBCU in Los Angeles to create the Summer Series Fellowship Program to give “impact-minded individuals from all backgrounds the opportunity to learn about working and succeeding in the sports, entertainment and fashion industries [specifically through] education, personal development, social impact, and activism.”[6] As such, Mr. Jordan is using his celebrity to diversify the makeup of the entertainment industry. Not only that, but he is providing opportunities for those who are impact-minded with a network, to ensure that Black stories, people of color’s stories, and socially impactful stories will be represented in the entertainment industry.

We call on you, members of the entertainment industry and community, to share Black stories.

We call on you, members of the entertainment industry and community, to provide socially impactful opportunities.

We call on you, members of the entertainment industry and community, to be active agents of change.

[1] Just Mercy (Warner Brothers 2019).

[2] Claire Shaffer, Warner Bros. Makes ‘Just Mercy’ Free to Stream to Educate Viewers on Systemic Racism, Rolling Stone (Jun. 2, 2020), https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/movie-news/warner-bros-just-mercy-george-floyd-protests-1009103/.

[3] Equal Justice Initiative, https://eji.org/ (last visited Jun. 22, 2020).

[4] Id.

[5] Brent Lang, Could Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx’s ‘Just Mercy’ Set a New Standard for Inclusion?, Variety(Oct. 22,2019), https://variety.com/video/michael-b-jordan-just-mercy-sense-of-responsibility/.

[6] Endeavor Impact Summer Series, Endeavor Impact, https://endeavorimpact.com/summerseries/ (last visited Jun. 22, 2020).

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Eryn L. Pollard, is a second-year law student at Notre Dame Law School and is the secretary of the Black Law Students Association