The Year of Yes: #BlackLivesMatter #AllLivesMatter
Shonda Rhimes is a self-described Titan. But even Titans experience burn-out. In this heartfelt TedTalks, the creator of the mega-popular shows “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder” peels back the curtain on creative burnout in the the life of a single mother who happens to run a media empire. What Shonda Rhimes has done is break a glass ceiling not just for women but for African-Americans by diversifying racial storylines, and providing powerful actors of color with roles as lawyers, professors and doctors, and more. As a recent article in the New York Times, “What Does the Academy Value in a Black Performance?” pointed out in the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite, blow-out following a dearth of nominees of color for 2016 Academy Awards, most Best Actress/Best Actor nominations when they do occur for black actors, reward roles as prostitutes, homeless people, drug addicts, maids and chaffeurs. (It’s worth noting, that the majority of Best Actress Oscars have been for roles as prostitutes, including Jane Fonda, Elizabeth Taylor, Charlize Theron, etc., but that’s another branch of this discussion…)
Given that more diverse storytelling opportunities for women and minorities have been cropping up on small screens–Netflix, HBO, Showtime, as well as the major networks–one may well wonder why we continue to make such a fuss about the Academy Awards. It is entirely possible that their out-of-touch practices with their reward systems may obsolesce the institution completely. Time will tell.
As the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche pointed out in her 2009 Ted Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” we need many stories and many different kinds of stories to keep humanity evolving.
“Scandal” star Kerry Washington recently tweeted out an echo of this thinking:
— kerry washington (@kerrywashington) February 22, 2016
Culturally we are experiencing seismic shifts in the ways stories are told, transmitted and how audiences engage with narratives via social media. Just visit your Twitter feeds any Thursday night and you will see that Shonda Rhimes owns not just ABC’s evening line-up, but often trending topics on that platform.
One part of this trending support has to do with the demographics around Twitter usage. According to a study done by Pew Research Internet project from 2014, 92% of African-Americans own a cell phone and 56% own a smartphone, comparable to whites. Where this differs is in Twitter usage. 40% of African-Americans between 18-29 use Twitter compared to 28% of whites the same age. To learn more about the influence of African American viewers on the Twitterati, read Tonya Pendleton’s in-depth post, “Black Twitter.”
#BlackLivesMatter, a powerful hashtag movement, coursed through Twitter and other social media platforms in response to the murder of an unarmed death of Trayvon Martin by an armed self-appointed security guard, George Zimmerman.Trayvon Martin’s story gained worldwide attention in part due to the efforts of Martin’s parents, who created a Change.org petition to protest Zimmerman’s acquittal. The #BlackLivesMatter movement became nationally recognized for galvanizing street protests in the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City, both of whom died at the hands of armed police officers.
At first, the story gained little mainstream media reportage, but online activism aided by significant citizen journalism coverage on Twitter and Facebook helped increase crowd size and brought international attention. The national recognition of this brutality trend in a series of murders of black males, aided by the virality of dedicated social media networking, created a tipping point that led to major coverage on mainstream news and a political and social dialogue that was unprecedented. What began with a hashtag has become a U.S.-based international movement co-founded by three black women activist/organizers: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi.
At least 672 “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations have been held worldwide to protest the murders of Michael Brown; John Crawford III, a 22-year-old African-American shot to death by Beavercreek police officer Sean Williams on August 5, 2014, in a Walmart store near Dayton, Ohio, while holding a toy BB gun; the choking death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, and the shooting of Tamir Rice in Cleveland. And the protests about these deaths have not died down but continue to resonate both online and off.
#BlackLivesMatter has had an impact on the 2016 elections, with key public call-outs to both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton to acknowledge the issues embedded in the hashtag. Though an echo of #AllLivesMatter entered the dialogue, the fact is #BlackLivesMatter has had staying power and political clout, moving pop cultural leaders like Beyoncé to include bold activist allusions in her recent video, “Formation,” which debuted in time for her performance at the 2016 Superbowl.
Powerhouse. Power in the house. Power can shift with a single song drop. And a hashtag can have a long tail influence on dialogues key to human evolution.
What are your thoughts about these shifts in storytelling power and the power of a hashtag to change the world?