Remembering George Floyd: The Death that Spurred a Movement

To say these have been a rough couple of weeks would be drastically understating matters.

Once again here in America (and also the world) we witnessed the killing of another Black person at the hands of the police. This time, his name was George Floyd and he was handcuffed faced down on the pavement with a knee on his neck, as he pleaded that he couldn’t breathe and screamed for his mother. His last moments were captured on video by a bystander via their cellphone and within a day, that video spread around the world. George Floyd sadly joins a list that includes Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, of Black people killed by police or pseudo law enforcement, in just the last few months. However, their deaths have ignited a movement not seen in the United States in more than 50 years.

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Breonna Taylor

Many Americans have come away shocked at what they witnessed when George Floyd was killed. The sad truth is, for Black folks, being killed by police is not a new phenomenon, but rather that these killings are now being captured on cell phone video just adds a new element to the equation. Sadly, we’ve been down this road before just within the last few years.

In 2014 in Staten Island, New York, Eric Garner uttered the now infamous phrase “I can’t breathe” while being placed in a choke-hold by an NYPD officer. The officer in that case was acquitted of all wrong doing and was not let go from the police force until 2019.

In 2015 there was the case of Walter Scott in South Carolina whose death might still be the most horrifying act I’ve ever seen on video. Scott can be seen running away from a police officer when the officer squares up and shoots Scott in the back multiple times, killing him. The officer then drops a weapon near Scott’s body to make it look like he acted in self defense. The man who captured the video gave it to Scott’s family and the family waited three days to see if the officer would be charged. When he wasn’t, Scott’s family then handed the tape over to a local newspaper and it was only then upon the video being released, that the officer involved was charged in Walter Scott’s killing.

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Protest in Englewood, NJ on May 30th

While the deaths of Eric Garner, Walter Scott, and also Sandra Bland, ignited media and protests, we didn’t see nearly the widespread movement we’re seeing today after the George Floyd video. I think what makes this situation unique is due to a confluence of events at play.

For starters, people have seen too many of these videos already and it’s only getting worse as these protests highlight more acts of wrongdoing by the police. In Brooklyn, we saw an NYPD officer violently push a woman to the curb which resulted in her slamming her head against the concrete and needing to briefly be hospitalized. In Minnesota, audiences of CNN literally witnessed one of their reporters being arrested during a live broadcast by the police, and later the police Twitter account lied about the reporter not showing their press credentials. And finally, there was the case in Buffalo, New York, just last week where two officers pushed a 75-year-old man to the ground which resulted in him cracking his skull open on the pavement.

You add those events with a president and administration that seems all to willing to label protesters terrorists, but yet turns a blind eye to the white supremacists and neo-nazis within their own ranks, and people see the hypocrisy right in front of their eyes.

Lastly, this is all happening in the midst of a global pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 people in this country, left 40 million unemployed, and had a crushing blow on not just the economy, but the basic livelihood of millions of Americans. Due to stay-at-home orders, most Americans have been stuck in their homes for the last three months and are now itching to get out and protest. And the protests have been as frequent as they’ve been robust.

What’s surprised me this time around is not so much the frequency of the protests, but how widespread and diverse they’ve been. From places like Birmingham, Alabama to Boise, Idaho. From Philadelphia to Phoenix. Oakland, New York, Orlando, and even places in South Dakota and Montana have taken part in the protests. Much credit to the teenagers and young people who have really spearheaded a number of these movements in their cities.

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The overarching question will be where does this all this ultimately lead? Well, we’re already beginning to see the effects the protests are having as Minneapolis pledged to defund the police. Confederate statues are being toppled across the country and even the notoriously buttoned up NFL released a statement last week pledging to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Speaking of large corporations, I’ve also been surprised by the number of brands that have spoken out as well.

This moment truly does feel different. However, the question remains, will this just be another momentary footnote in history on racial justice? Or are people and companies ready to put their collective foot down and do the work for what is sure to be a protracted fight for justice here in America?

Voices Beyond the Baseline: Lebron and KD share their thoughts on the ‘Bad Coach in Chief’

Athletes speaking out about social issues isn’t exactly a new thing, but the way today’s players are using their platforms to express their views against a sitting president is anything but routine.

Case in point are the comments NBA stars Lebron James and Kevin Durant had to say in a recent interview regarding President Trump and his leadership — or lack there of.

The comments were featured in a 16 minute video on Lebron’s media site Uniterrupted. The video is done in partnership with the ride-sharing company Uber, and features Espn’s Cari Champion playing the role of chauffeur/interviewer while asking guests in the back seat a series of questions regarding their career on and off the court. There have been two other videos I know of thus far featuring Paul Pierce and Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball, with Ms. Champion being the driver in both instances. These videos give the viewer a somewhat more intimate look at today’s athletes thoughts and answers to challenges they face on and off the court.

On this particular ride, Ms. Champion had the opportunity to interview two of the NBA’s biggest stars for a somewhat unfiltered discussion on sports, politics, influence, and what drives them not just as athletes — but as men. The ride takes place in Lebron’s hometown of Akron, Ohio and features pit stops at the places that influenced him growing up.

During the ride a number of topics are discussed regarding money, influence, growing up and social responsibility. It’s enlightening to hear these two talk about things outside of basketball and give the audience some insight into what fuels them beyond the 94 feet of NBA hardwood.

One of the more interesting segments were each man’s thoughts on president Trump when prompted by a question by Cari Champion. Lebron came out and laid it right on the table when he said that Trump, “doesn’t give a fuck about the people.” Meanwhile, Durant added that the president should be showing more leadership and empowering people. Instead, according to Durant, Trump was doing just the opposite and running America like a “bad coach.”

These comments in of themselves aren’t all that noteworthy, but the mouths through which they were uttered, certainly are. The NBA — perhaps more than any other league –has been rather outspoken on number 45 and his policies. The fact that Durant and Lebron are speaking out, being the league’s two best players, only strengthen’s the NBA’s position as the league most likely to stand up to Trump.

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Lebron lets his stance be known via Instagram

Suffice to say, there were some not too happy with Lebron and KD’s words. Laura Ingraham of Fox News, called them two “dumb jocks,” “barely intelligible,” and that they should just “shut up and dribble.” In Ingram’s view, she doesn’t believe athletes should have a voice, let alone speak out against a president her employer just can’t stop fawning over.

What’s interesting is that Fox News has had plenty of entertainers and sports figures on their airwaves freely discussing issues and topics beyond their realm of expertise. Philadelphia Eagles player Chris Long, created quite the Twitter story of Fox’s hypocrisy of athletes and entertainers speaking out.

When asked about host Laura Ingraham’s comments during NBA All-Star weekend, Lebron James responded, “we will definitely not shut up and dribble. I will not do that.”

There has been a long history of black athletes speaking out in America. From Jackie Robinson, to Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Althea Gibson and others, many of them understood that their talents gave them a platform. That platform, in turn, gave them an opportunity to speak out on issues affecting millions of lives in the communities in which they grew up in, many of whom could only dream of such an audience. Even the notoriously quiet Michael Jordan has in recent years opened up.

With the ever evolving prevalence of video and social media, it’s never been easier for today’s athletes and superstars to lend their voice. With millions of followers and watchers around the world, it’d be foolish to expect them to just “shut and dribble,” without taking note of the world around them.

Before Black Panther: Black Superheroes Who Laid the Foundation

It’s safe to say that with just under a week to go until it’s theatrical premiere, Marvel’s newest film Black Panther, is already a cultural phenomenon.

The film debuted last month in Los Angeles for it’s first official screening and the red carpet looked very different than what one would see at these types of events. Folks dressed in beautiful African garb and a who’s who of Black Hollywood, showed up in addition to the cast and crew for Black Panther. From that moment, the effervescent reviews have been flowing.

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Lupita N’yongo’ and Chadwick Boseman at Black Panther premiere in Los Angeles

Black Panther is a cultural landmark not just for audiences, but also for the film’s parent studio — Marvel. As the the 18th movie in Marvel’s ever expanding cinematic empire, it’s the first film to feature a majority black cast. With Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther himself and featuring Lupita Nyong’o, Daniel Kaluuya, and Micheal B. Jordan, the film encompasses some of the leading young black actors of today. Not to mention it’s directed by Ryan Coogler (this is his and Micheal B. Jordan’s third film together) the film certainly has many people excited.

Black Panther comes at an interesting time for Marvel. For 2018 marks the 10 year anniversary of Marvel’s first picture that ignited the studio’s resurgence: Iron Man. Since then, the studio has earned more than $12 billion dollars from it’s films as of 2017. Things weren’t always so lucrative however. As of matter fact, in the mid 90s Marvel the brand was nearly bankrupt and theatrical success for its comic book characters seemed little more than a pipe-dream at the time. That was until a gun-wielding vampire slayer showed up onscreen and ignited a sleeping giant.

When Blade debuted in 1998, Wesley Snipes was still a megastar. From New Jack City to White Men Can’t Jump to Passenger 57 and Money Train (OK, maybe not Money Train), Snipes had established himself as one of Hollywood’s more bankable stars during the 1990s. After a fair amount of success, Snipes wanted to make a film based of the comic book character Black Panther. Unfortunately for Snipes, the timing just simply wasn’t right.

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“I think Black Panther spoke to me because he was noble, and he was the antithesis of the stereotypes presented and portrayed about Africans, African history and the great kingdoms of Africa,” Snipes said recently in an interview to The Hollywood Reporter. Snipes also mentions that although he had the blessing of Stan Lee at the time to make the film, they couldn’t get the right screenwriters and a director who shared the same vision as Snipes.

“We went through three different scripts and couple of different director options,” Snipes says in the interview. But where Black Panther failed to launch, that opened the door for Blade and the rest is history as they say. “They both [Black Panther and Blade] had nobility. They were fighters. So I thought, hey, we can’t do the King of Wakanda… and the hidden kingdom in Africa, let’s do a black Vampire.”

Blade would make more than $100 million at the box office and spawn two more films for the franchise. As successful as it was however, there were other black superheroes during the decade who were leaving their mark as well.

In 1993 MGM’s The Meteor Man starred Robert Townsend as a D.C. school teacher just trying to do good until he’s hit by a meteor one day and wakes up with super powers. Though a light-hearted comedy, the film did touch on issues regarding gangs and the drug trade. What’s also interesting about this film is that Townsend’s character never wears a mask, and hence, everybody knows who he is.

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Robert Townsend as Meteor Man

There was Daman Wayans in Blankman in 1994 and also Micheal Jai White’s Spawn in 1997. Even Shaq got in on the act during this era with his movie Steel that also starred a young Ray J, who himself would go on to make very different films a decade later.

Fast forwarding back to today, what these films show is that black superheroes aren’t exactly a new thing, but that there has been some time since they’ve had their due. It’s self affirming to see people who look like you onscreen and even better when they’re kicking ass and taking names.

Films like Black Panther help to open up the comic genre movie-going experience for more audiences. Knowing that a film like this has been in the works for over 20 years and is finally coming to fruition, is an achievement not only of the cast and crew, but for those pushing all these years for a day like this.

The Internet Comes For Everybody: ESPN Layoffs Result of A Changing Era

In 2004 I was an intern at my local newspaper The Record, based out of northern New Jersey. Those were challenging days for newspapers, as many people were getting used to the fact that they could get the same information in the daily paper online for free.

Newspapers weren’t getting the same advertising rates digitally that they were getting in print. Needless to say, the more people that got their news online, the more it hurt the bottom lines of papers like The Record. Fast forward 13 years later and television companies, notably ESPN in this case, are finding out what newspapers saw coming more than a decade ago: Just as the internet changed print media, it is now changing television in ways thought unimaginable just a few years ago.

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It was a Wednesday morning in April and my timeline was buzzing. ESPN was the topic of the hour because they were in the process of laying off roughly 100 people, many of them on-air talent. This was shocking to a number of people as we are not accustomed to seeing faces we recognize on television suddenly being gone in an instant. Though it should be noted this isn’t the first time layoffs of this kind took place at the sports network. ESPN laid off 300 people in a cost cutting move mostly behind the camera in 2015.

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Filmmakers Remember the L.A. Riots

25 years ago this week, Los Angeles was up in flames over the acquittal of four police officers who were caught beating up Rodney King on videotape. Now filmmakers are using their craft to reflect on what was, and what has become of Los Angeles since that day.

NPR has a list of films commemorating the 25th anniversary of the riots, and one film of particular interest to me is “Gook.”

Directed by Justin Chon, “Gook” tells the story of two Korean-American brothers and their friendship with an African-American girl during the outset of the riots. Chon actually lived through the riots himself, witnessing his father’s shoe store get looted as a child. Chon felt it was important to tell the riots from the perspective of two Korean brothers rather than immigrants, as he points out that too often recent immigrants and those who had been living in L.A. for sometime were just lumped together as Koreans without much context.

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