“Corporations have a responsibility to act when they exacerbate inequality on the back of shareholder benefit,” UCLA social sciences dean Darnell Hunt says
After a week of rising tension gave way to protests, riots and violence across the country, many of Hollywood’s major entertainment companies penned statements of support for black Americans and people of color protesting against decades of racial injustice.
“To be silent is to be complicit.”
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“We stand with the Black community.”
“Our country is better than this.”
But while the statements themselves (from Netflix, Amazon and Sony, respectively) are unusual in their pointedness, some media companies have also committed to move beyond words into action, a shift that observers say is critical during a moment of national crisis.
“People are saying, ‘We’re beyond the point of just being neutral,’ which is what companies tend to want to do,” UCLA social sciences dean Darnell Hunt told TheWrap. “It really boils down to: What kind of society do you want to live in? What kind of society do you want this to be?”
At Netflix, which said over the weekend, “To be silent is to be complicit… We have a platform, and we have a duty to our Black members, employees, creators and talent to speak up,” the streamer has for years supported organizations such as the NAACP, the African American Film Critics Association, Essence Fest, the Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival, Morehouse College and the National Association of Black Journalists — while also matching any employee donation to black and social justice organizations by 200%.
On Monday, JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot production company, along with his and wife Katie McGrath’s foundation, pledged to donate $10 million over the next five years to groups and agendas that combat racism.
“Companies can no longer afford to not speak up; this work is everyone’s responsibility,” WarnerMedia Chief Inclusion Officer Christy Haubegger told TheWrap. “Companies in Hollywood can have tremendous impact on our communities. First, we can shape the opportunities and experiences that folks have in the workplace, which can create economic justice and mobility. More importantly, we can shape culture through the stories we tell and how we tell them.”
For Haubegger and WarnerMedia, the first concern was supporting employees. In an internal memo to staff on Saturday from CEO Jason Kilar promised to “do everything I can to lead with empathy and action in this moment” and offered articles and speeches for employees to educate themselves on the issue of race.
On Sunday, Haubegger followed with a host of counseling and support options, along with a company-wide conversation on race and racism on Thursday. “This isn’t going to be a one-off for WarnerMedia,” she said. “We know it’s going to be a lot of hard work and a long-term investment so we are also looking at meaningful programs, policies and efforts we can take to build a more inclusive company and can help advance a more just and equitable society.”
Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman Tony Vinciquerra, along with Chief People Officer Stacy Green and Chief Diversity Officer Paul Martin, sent a memo to staff Monday morning decrying the killing of George Floyd and standing in solidarity with black communities. “The images we have all seen over the last several days are horrible,” the statement read. “They illustrate just how deeply the anger and resentment over racial injustice is felt in our communities, and the need for us as a nation to address this issue.”
An individual familiar with discussions at Sony said that the Culver City studio is “actively exploring doubling down on longstanding relationships and initiatives and exploring new initiatives that fill gaps.” The individual declined to be specific, saying the plans were not yet crystallized.
Disney, whose top executives issued a statement Sunday vowing to “further strengthen our commitment to diversity and inclusion,” did not respond to the TheWrap’s request for comment. The company, on Wednesday, said it would donate $5 million towards nonprofit groups that advance social justice, beginning with a $2 million pledge to the NAACP.
Representatives for Amazon pointed to its own social media statement.
ViacomCBS declined to comment beyond an internal memo CEO Bob Bakish sent to employees in which he said that they are “partnering with civil rights organizations across multiple brands, with leadership from BET, including Color of Change, the NAACP and Black Lives Matter.”
In a symbolic gesture, ViacomCBS channels went dark on Monday, honoring George Floyd with an eight-minute and 46-second blackout video, symbolizing the length of time that Floyd was suffocated by a police officer, resulting in his death. And the company’s BET plans to air a number of TV and digital specials throughout June to educate and address the systemic racism and violence black people face in America.
Floyd is not the first black American to lose his or her life at the hands (or knee) of police officers in a country that has allowed racism to fester for centuries. This year alone, victims have included Tony McDade, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
“Though George Floyd triggered this, this is not about George Floyd,” Hunt said. “The civil rights movement had three aims: physical desegregation, political enfranchisement and the part that we never dealt with, the economic inequality. That’s just the fundamental truth.
“What else do you have but to take to the streets, putting your life on the line by not social distancing — remember, this is all happen in the midst a pandemic — to protest and riot?” Hunt continued. “Corporations have a responsibility to act when they exacerbate inequality on the back of shareholder benefit. We’ve drifted over the last couple decades ever away from the vision of what we wanted this country to look like. These companies need to look in the mirror and say, ‘Am I complicit in this drift?'”