[Commentary] How Black Lives Matter Is Penetrating Pop Culture

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JUNE 19:  (L-R) Actresses Natasha Lyonne, Uzo Aduba, Laverne Cox, Danielle Brooks, and Laura Prepon accept the Best Comedy Series award for 'Orange is the New Black' onstage during the 4th Annual Critics' Choice Television Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on June 19, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Critics' Choice Television Awards)

[Commentary] How Black Lives Matter Is Penetrating Pop Culture

The movement is in full force.

Published June 9, 2016

#BlackLivesMatter is a movement many highlight only when directly confronted with it. Even then, it’s a game of tit-for-tat and irreconcilable differences. It becomes the topic of conversation when it’s trending. It, in turn, fades to black after the protests end and the headlines change. Orange Is the New Black, Netflix’s highly-rated original series is no stranger to strife and its anticipated Season 4 release is a week away. Creator Jenji Kohan will use Season 4 as a platform to tackle #BlackLivesMatter “after an unprecedented culture war breaks out in the overpopulated prison,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Earlier this year, racial divide took the forefront with FX’s mini-series, American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson. Millennials were either babies or unborn during the actual O.J. Simpson trial and this series was their first chance at experiencing what their parents did, all those years ago. Many stated that if the O.J. Simpson trial occurred today, things would have a different outcome. Would police today allow O.J. to drive freely down a highway, traffic free, during a police chase? Would he, a Black man, have been acquitted of the murders of two white people, including his ex-wife?

Other shows have also tackled the issue of #BlackLivesMatter, like Scandal and Black-ish.

The February 24, 2016, episode of ABC’s Black-ish revolved around a fictional case where an unarmed Black man had been tasered 37 times by the police for selling DVDs illegally as the Johnson family watches the news awaiting the grand jury’s decision on whether or not the cops involved will be indicted. To further emphasize how frequently cases such as this one occur, Zoe, the eldest daughter played by Yara Shahidi, walks in and asks if this case was “the one where they shot the kid in the middle of the street?” She was referring to the 2014 case of Laquan McDonald, who was unarmed and shot 16 times, and the 2013 case of Cedrick Chatman, who police claimed made them fear for their lives, which resulted in his death. Both situations occurred in Chicago. She then questioned if "this was the guy who got shot in front of the college at the traffic stop,” referring to the 2015 case of Samuel DuBose in Cincinnati. She also assumed it was “the one where the unarmed guy got shot in the back,” referring to the 2015 case of Walter Scott, who was also unarmed and shot eight times in Charleston, or “the unarmed one from New York who was selling cigarettes that got choked,” referring to the 2014 case of Eric Garner, who was selling untaxed cigarettes and was placed in a chokehold, saying “I can’t breathe” as he died. The list goes on. This episode showed a different aspect of what Shonda Rhimes did on Scandal when she shed light on police brutality, the justice system and the reaction of Black families.

Scandal’s portrayal of #BlackLivesMatter had a close-to-home approach since the events were acutely close to what happened in Ferguson with Mike Brown. The episode aired March 5, 2015. The plot centered around a teenage boy being shot by police and his father planting himself in a lawn chair in front of his dead son’s body while awaiting answers as to what happened. Olivia Pope finds herself on the side of the protesters and chanted with them, “Stand up. Fight back. No more Black men under attack.” Unlike reality, the show had a happy ending, in the sense that justice was served.

THR also reported that Orange Is the New Black “has consistently highlighted the prison's race groups, but the lines between the women grow deeper as the new season unfolds. By the end of the 13 episodes, the actions and fallout from the decisions made by the new powers-that-be — a consequence of Litchfield's new regime, MCC — impact the Black women directly and send all of the factions clutching to their respective tribes like never before.”

Other shows, like FOX’s Shots Fired, are also causing controversy in light of #BlackLivesMatter, or rather its reversal. The show is a compelling, drama-filled series, showcasing the aftermath of “racially charged shootings,” specifically highlighting the shooting of an unarmed white man shot by a Black cop who is quoted saying he “possesses a license to kill these crackers.”

With shows popularizing #BlackLivesMatter and forcing us to discuss it after the hard-hitting, aforementioned occurrences, does this mean we’re finally ready to fight back? Or are we simply more open to the notion of merely discussing the movement? Thankfully, shows like these are allowing us to stay woke, whether we accept it or not and, in that case, we gon’ be alright.

Watch the Black Lives Matter founders speak on the movement in the video above.

Written by Mya Abraham

(Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Critics' Choice Television Awards)


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