Black Lives Matter is a social and political movement created in response to police brutality and racially motivated violence against African-Americans in the United States. It arose in The New '10s. The movement is decentralized, meaning there is no single BLM organization or hierarchy; the name is more of a slogan used by an array of activist groups and individuals.
The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter trended on social media in 2013 after neighborhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman was acquitted for shooting Trayvon Martin, a black teen, in Sanford, Florida, under controversial circumstances. Nationwide protests erupted condemning racially-motivated violence following the widely-covered deaths of two unarmed black men, Michael Brown (Ferguson, Missouri) and Eric Garner (New York City, New York) a year later. These continued throughout much of the 2010s after more high-profile cases of African-Americans being killed in encounters with law enforcement. "I can't breathe", which were the last words of Garner and were also said by a number of other African-Americans killed in altercations with law enforcement, became a rallying cry. Similarly, after NFL player Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem to bring attention to Police Brutality and his call to end institutional racism, "take a knee" also became a signature pose for Black Lives Matter.
The movement calls for an end not only to the maltreatment of black people at the hands of the justice system (such as overpolicing of minority communities,note Police Brutality, racial Profiling, and unduly harsh prison sentences), but also various policies and institutions that they consider racist. It also calls for changes that could lead to black empowerment and liberation. Besides street demonstrations, activists also work on voter registration and empowerment, advocate for reforming and/or defunding police departments depending on the situation,note and celebrate black success stories.
Despite the protests and several awareness that were made via social media, campaign, etc., the Black Lives Matter movement didn't achieve mainstream traction until 2020 after the breaking news of the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. However, the straw that broke the camel's back was when the death by suffocation of George Floyd at the hands of a white officer Derek Chauvin and a group of police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota went viral. The death of George Floyd lead to massive public backlash among all Americans. Celebrities and people of all sizes and contents began to denounce police brutality and systemic racism with some even blasting the then-current President of the United States, Donald Trump, for failing to "reduce police brutality and discrimination". As for businesses, most American corporations, organizations, TV networks, and websites (including TV Tropes) expressed their solidarity via social media and some pledged to donate ranging from a hundred to even hundred million dollars. The NFL publicly apologized for not previously supporting its pro-Black Lives Matter players. Likewise, the NBA agreed to convert its stadiums into voting centers for lower-income communities after several players, most notably LeBron James, went on strike after the non-fatal shooting of Jacob Blake, which was also recorded. The activism of the movement also became a catalyst for many cultural and media changes that will be mentioned below.
As for why Black Lives Matter took off after Floyd's death, it could be due to coinciding with the then-ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic. The pandemic closed down many entertainment venues like sporting events, concerts, and theaters so there isn't anything to distract people from the police killings and subsequent protests. For many, the pandemic disrupted so much of normal life that it became impossible to ignore the movement. Furthermore, COVID-19 disproportionately harms Black communities,note which have already been languishing in substandard living standards caused by systemic racism, thereby leading to heightened tensions.
Another major factor is President Trump's response during the 2020 protests. On top of his mismanagement of the pandemic, Trump pursued a hardline response that included deploying the military, branding protestors as criminals, and using the incendiary phrases like "when the looting starts, the shooting starts".note Perhaps the incident that really lit the powder keg was his response to a peaceful rally that occurred at Lafayette Square outside the White House on June 1, 2020. During that incident, Trump and his Attorney General Bill Barr ordered the National Guard and DC police to clear out the rally, and they responded forcefully by using tear gas and riot shields; Trump then walked across the street to St. John's Church so he could be photographed holding The Bible (which he happened to be holding upside down). By choosing a "law and order" approach instead of addressing the concerns of the Black communities surrounding policing and the pandemic, Trump lost much goodwill and made the protestors seem sympathetic in the eyes of the public. This was in stark contrast to previous high-profile killings, most of which took place in during the presidency of Barack Obama, who at the bare minimum appeared sympathetic towards the movement and avoided antagonizing its members. It got to the point that even Taylor Swift, who is typically the most apolitical major celebrities in all of entertainment, called out Trump for his callousness.
In contrast to previous years, the BLM movement had a substantial effect on the 2020 political landscape and discourse. Many cities and municipalities passed police reform laws like banning chokeholds, creating civilian first-responder programs to address societal problems affecting marginalized communities, and appointing independent civilian boards to hold police accountable. Voters in multiple states passed laws decriminalizing marijuana, putting a dent in the racially-biased War on Drugs. The nurse turned BLM activist Cori Bush became the first African American representative from Missouri. Yet most significantly, high African American voter turnout that resulted in Democrats winning back the Presidency and US Senate, resulting in Kamala Harris becoming the first Black Vice President and Raphael Warnock becoming Georgia's first Black Senator.
Floyd's (not to mention many other African Americans) death and the subsequent mass protests both in the USA and abroad had an immediate effect on the media industry, itself stalled due to the pandemic; the events brought questions about the types of stories and performers Hollywood chose to elevate to the forefront. Black Lives Matter activists have criticized the media for misleading the public with "copaganda", a derogatory term used for works that overall portray the police as an exclusively heroic force; exaggerate the ability of the police to prevent or interrupt criminal acts; depict civil liberties and due process as primarily protecting criminals and allowing them to continue to harm innocent people, justifying police characters' breaches of them; portray self-serving police corruption as isolated; suggest that bigoted police officers will still put aside their views to treat individuals fairly; and suggest that individual moral turpitude (not inequality and social injustice) is the primary cause of lawbreaking and violence. Police-based reality shows such as Live PD and COPS, which put police officers front and center and were accused of portraying communities of color as violent and unsafe, were cancelled. Many network television shows involving police (eg. the Cop Show) promised to reexamine these portrayals or announced changes to that effect. In addition, noting an increased demand and new opportunities for black performers, some characters of color on animated shows who had been previously performed by white voice actors were recast with voice actors of the characters' ethnicity. Musical groups like Lady Antebellum and the Dixie Chicks tweaked their names to remove all words with racist connotations, therefore becoming "Lady A" and "The Chicks", respectively. Food products marketed with stereotypical slave mascots, like Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben's, were rebranded. Washington, D.C.'s National Football League team retired the "Redskins" name, and Edmondton, Alberta did the same with its "Eskimos" team in the Canadian Football League. And Disney announced that its Splash Mountain attraction would remove all references to the controversial film Song of the South and retheme it after The Princess and the Frog.note
While the support for BLM is massive still to this day, the long-term effects of this on mainstream pop culture remain to be seen.
Black Lives Matter itself has inspired many pieces of media, which by and large focus on black characters directly affected by the problems brought up by the movement. The plots often involve and condemn racial profiling and Police Brutality or feature a Miscarriage of Justice. These works analyze the roles race and privilege play in the justice system and how police affect society, as well as express anger and hope regarding where we go from here.
See also Civil Rights Movement.
Depictions and references in media:
- I Am Alfonso Jones, a graphic novel released in 2017, is about a young Afro-Latino boy who is shot by a cop who mistakes his clothes hanger for a gun. Postmortem, he finds himself on an Afterlife Express containing other victims of police brutality as his death adds fire to the BLM movement.
- Black Lives Matter hangs heavy over Blindspotting, which was conceptualized after the 2009 Oscar Grant shooting. Collin, a black ex-con, becomes shaken after witnessing a white cop kill an unarmed black man as his best friend starts displaying erratic behavior. At the end, Collin gets to confront the cop who did it and questions him about the relationship between police and black America, but doesn't get a definitive answer.
- Bright: Early in this Urban Fantasy, Ward's Establishing Character Moment is taking a baseball bat to kill a fairy (implied to be this universe's equivalent of a pest or vermin) and telling his wife that "fairy lives don't matter today." The film is an allegory for racism and Ward's character arc includes being more accepting of his Orc coworker but it's unclear whether there's an "X Lives Matter" movement in this universe or if the phrase was used solely for the audience's benefit.
- The end of Da 5 Bloods shows a group of Black Lives Matter activists meeting up and chanting together in their new meeting space after the surviving Bloods donated part of the treasure to them.
- Tales from the Hood 3 alludes to the movement in the segment "The Bunker", where the story's protagonist Denton Wilbury, a white supremacist who ends up accidentally shooting himself dead, has a Black Lives Matter sign outside his bunker that has been vandalized to read "My Life Matters".
- All American Boys is about Rashad, a black boy who is brutalized by a police officer, and his white friend Quinn, who at first tries to stay neutral but eventually comes to terms with societal racism.
- The Hate U Give and its film adaptation are about a young black girl from a poor neighborhood whose friend is stopped and killed by a white police officer. The event is sensationalized and him demonized, and the neighborhood reacts to the guilty officer's acquittal with protests. The original short story was directly inspired by the 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant, and it grew into a novel following the rise of the BLM movement.
- Dave Chappelle's unorthodox special "8:46", filmed at a private outdoor venue during the pandemic, examines violence against African-Americans, protests, and policing of the black community. The title refers to the eight minutes and 46 seconds Floyd was being suffocated, as well as Chappelle's own time of birth.What are you signifying? That you can kneel on a man's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds and feel like you wouldn't get the wrath of God? That's what is happening right now. It's not for a single cop, it's for all of it.
- Black Lives Matter is the topic of the episode "Hope", a Bottle Episode which features the Johnsons in their living room discussing police violence against black people.
- Another episode titled "Age Against the Machine" deals with Dre's conflict with the newer generation over what is considered "the right way" to fight police brutality and institutionalized racism in the age of social media.
- Brooklyn Nine-Nine:
- The show has a Very Special Episode about police profiling and the Black Lives Matter movement where Terry (a black man) is accosted by a police officer while walking in his own neighbourhood. He struggles with the humiliation of the event while trying to navigate the political and the moral issues with filing a complaint against a fellow officer. He and his superior officer, the black, gay Holt, end up with a protracted discussion on how to deal with the situation, as Holt realizes that with his own command he needs to step up against such issues. Meanwhile, Jake and Amy have to navigate the delicate minefield of explaining all of this to Terry's young daughters.
- The final season of the show was in production at the height of the Floyd protests in 2020, and the creators announced a major reworking of the plotlines that were in progress to address the movement. By the show's last episode, Rosa had quit the police force and become a PI in protest, Holt and Amy are recruited to spearhead a police reform program, Terry and Boyle are left at the squad, and Jake, having been increasingly disillusioned with policing, becomes a stay-at-home dad.
- Empire: The Lyons manage to exploit the movement when patriarch Lucious is thrown in jail. His wife Cookie holds a BLM rally in support of him.
- The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has America's history of racism as one of its running themes. While BLM is never directly mentioned, it is alluded to after the heroes get into a fight and John Walker's friend and sidekick Lamar Hoskins (who is Black) is killed in the crossfire. Karli later apologizes to John for killing him and says that she only wants to target specific people she considers threats; but she poorly phrases it that she only wants to kill "people who matter". John is furious that "You don't think Lemar's life mattered?!"
- The Good Wife: "The Debate" (shot prior to the grand jury decisions regarding the killings of Garner and Brown) references the Ferguson protests as an unarmed black man is killed by a cop in a mall.
- Luke Cage:
- The phrase "Black Lives Matter" is given lip-service in Season 1 by antagonist Mariah Dillard, in an attempt to create public sympathy against accusations of corruption.
- The season also involves riots and protests by members of the black community in support of Luke Cage, especially after Luke is framed for murdering a policeman.
- Behind the scenes, the movement was acknowledged by the creators as timely, due to Treyvon Martin (who had been a young black man in a hoodie who was shot after being presumed dangerous) and Luke Cage (a bulletproof black man in a hoodie who is unquestionably heroic). However, they stated that the symbolism, while serendipitous, was not intentional.
- Saturday Night Live:
- One 2016 Black Jeopardy sketch featured Tom Hanks as a Trump supporter who surprisingly ends up agreeing with the contestants on a lot of the questions, such as distrusting the government. Then before the sketch ends, the Final Jeopardy prompt is revealed: "Lives That Matter." The implication is that Hanks' character will soon lose his good reputation.
- One recurring sketch depicts a group of Soapbox Sadie high school theater kids creating very bad political theater. One of their showcases started with all the students kissing each other, before Kate McKinnon's character turns the audience and says, "How about from now on, less shooting....more kissing?" The (all-white) troupe then shouts "Black lives matter!" The audience doesn't find it effective.Kenan Thompson: That was their Black Lives Matter scene?!Vanessa Bayer: I'm pretty sure they all just wanted to kiss each other and then made it about something.
- After the George Floyd protests, CBS instituted a rule that casting for their reality shows (Survivor, The Amazing Race, Big Brother, etc.) was to be at least 50% people of color from now on. The increase of Black contestants in Survivor 41 and 42 (the first seasons after the change) directly affected the game's social dynamics and led to each season having a Tribal Council where race came to the forefront of the discussion, as those Black players opened up about how racial politics affects the in-game politics and vice-versa.
- Scandal: "The Lawn Chair" is a Ferguson-inspired episode where Olivia grapples with the killing of an unarmed young man by a police officer. She eventually sides with the protestors.
- In the pilot, Bo randomly shouts "Hashtag Black Lives Matter, y'all!" during his proposal rap to Cheyenne. Cue a confused Aside Glance from Garrett (a black man).
- Season 6 was produced in 2020 and incorporates references to the George Floyd protests into the story.
- "Essential" takes place partly during the summer of 2020, with characters going to the protests and Zephra putting out a sign insisting they "believe in" the black community (which the black coworkers find to be very strange phrasing) while also providing the store with anti-looting supplies.
- "Hair Care Products" is a Very Special Episode that focuses on the black employees of Cloud 9 trying to educate their white coworkers on systemic racism.
- The Chicks: The music video for the Protest Song "March March". The first half puts Black Lives Matter alongside other movements such as those for climate action and ending the war in Iraq before focusing completely on BLM by the end, juxtaposing the names of black Americans killed by police officers alongside photos and videos of the various protests.
- Macklemore and Ryan Lewis: "White Privilege II" grapples with White Guilt in the wake of Black Lives Matter, and how white people can be better allies to a culture and people they continue to exploit.We want to dress like, walk like, talk like, dance like, yet we just stand byWe take all we want from black culture, but will we show up for black lives?
- The "Wake of a Nation" EP from avant-garde Black Metal outfit Zeal & Ardor uses its short runtime to deal extensively with the events surrounding and leading up to the BLM movement, from Tuskegee to George Floyd. The cover dispenses with whatever trace of ambiguity might be left, displaying upon a plain background the powerful symbol of an inverted cross formed by two police batons.
- The album "Carnivore" by Body Count also contains many relevant themes all throughout, from the Anti-Police Song "Point the Finger" to the more general Protest Song "Bum Rush".
- In Spider-Man: Miles Morales, the Afro-Latino protagonist Miles Morales can visit a Black Lives Matter mural. Also, whereas the police have a positive working relationship with the white Peter Parker, the police have a more mistrustful and contentious relationship with Miles.
- Apocalyptic Horseplay: The epilogue of the comic showed what the main characters were up to in 2020. Warrence, the horseman of war, headed west after the events of the series. He was present at BLM protests to make sure humanity knew what they were fighting against (in this case, injustice) and wouldn't go overboard on the violence.
- In Julie Noike's recurring "Explaining the Pandemic to my Past Self" bit, the protests are referenced as additional ways that 2020 has completely gone off the rails. The bit, where a woman explains the current situation to herself a few months prior, takes a turn for the serious when Future Julie first goes into the protests. By the next episode, the Future Julie comes across as exasperated and beaten down due to the fact that killings continued and also offered a Take That! to perceived "slacktivism."
- Parodied in Batman vs. Superman episode by none other than The Nostalgia Critic and The Angry Joe Show, where during the scene transition from Bruce Wayne (Doug Walker) cradling a dead worker (Malcolm Ray) to Lois (Tamara Chambers) and Clark (Joe Vargas) having an intimate conversation, a woman holding "Metropolis Lives Matter" image is shown.
- Also parodied in TMNT 2 where a cop has a gun on the turtles and calls them monsters, and the Black Nerd says "Hey, Green Lives Matter."
- Some More News: Unsurprisingly for a satirical news show, several episodes of Some More News covered police shootings of black people, the general double standard of dealing with the police while black, and an extended episode covering the 2020 protests highlighting the irony of the police using excessive violence to combat protests about the police using excessive violence. Unsurprisingly due to the show's progressive nature, host Cody is supportive of the protests refers to the riots as "police riots," as in "it's the police who are rioting."
- South Park:
- During Season 20, Cartman (undergoing an apparent change in character to be more politically correct) wears a "Token's Life Matters" shirt, referring to the sole black kid in South Park.
- The 2015 episode "Naughty Ninjas" alludes to the Michael Brown and Eric Garner protests. In it, Officer Barbrady gets fired after accidentally shooting the Mexican kid David, as the town has no more tolerance for police brutality, despite Barbrady being the only cop in town who isn't bloodthirsty. The residents of South Park become more anti-police, until the kids' game of ninjas attracts the attention of ISIS and everybody begs the police to come back. Barbrady is the only one who can talk the kids down without violence, but he gets fired when he accidentally shoots another child in the arm.
- A subplot in "The Pandemic Special" has the South Park Police Department lose all their jobs as a reference to the protests following George Floyd's death. They become teachers for the newly-reopened school, but resort to the same violence, shooting Token for practically no reason and trying to claim he went to the hospital for the coronavirus and later shooting up the town after the kids escape the school.
Other media related to the movement:Music
- Kendrick Lamar's song "Alright" is sometimes considered the unofficial anthem of the movement, and its hook "We gon' be alright" is a common chant at BLM rallies.
- Bob Marley's "Get Up, Stand Up" also became an inspirational song, as its lyrics are about standing up for your rights and fighting oppression.
- N.W.A's "Fuck Tha Police" is also a common BLM anthem, for obvious reasons.
- Toonami expressed support for the movement in one of TOM's speeches.TOM: There's been a lot of talk about race lately: "I don't see color", "Racism isn't real", "all lives matter". These words are actually harmful! They steer way from the bigger issue: racism still exists. Discrimination towards people of color still exists. It's up to all of us to recognize that and take action. If you're thinking "Maybe...but not me", you've got some truths to uncover. If you're thinking "This isn't why I watch Toonami", think again. Think about how you can fight against injustice. Think about how you can be a part of an honest conversation about racism, because black lives matter and will always matter.
- During the summer of 2020, to draw attention to the protests against George Floyd's death, several Viacom-owned networks aired a public service announcement only consisting of the words "I Can't Breathe" set to the audio of labored breathing, with a number to text at the bottom of the screen to call public officials about police brutality. The PSA runs for precisely eight minutes and forty-six seconds, which is the exact amount of time that officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on Floyd's neck. To avoid scaring its younger audience, Nickelodeon aired a lighter PSA around the same time, which lasted the same amount of time but consisted of the Declaration of Kids' Rights that they originally published in 1990:You have the right to be seen, heard and respected as a citizen of the world.You have the right to a world that's peaceful and an environment that's not spoiled.You have the right to be treated with equality; regardless of race, religion, nationality, sex, personality, grades or size.You have the right to make mistakes without someone making you feel like a jerkhead.You have the right to be protected from harm, injustice and hatred.You have the right to an education that prepares you to run the world when it's your turn.You have the right to your opinions and feelings, even if others don't agree with them.