The Black Lives Matter movement was a direct response to the shooting death of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in 2013.
Since then it has grown into a global network, holding protests and rallies that bring awareness to racial injustices. The move not only made an impact in America, but has also made waves in Australia.
Today, as we witness the box-office smashing records of Black Panther – which features the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first black superhero – and the upcoming release of Netflix original crime-drama Seven Seconds, there is a clear change happening on-screen.
This shift in representation is bringing awareness to real-life issues within the current climate of the United States.
Kwame Rose is a prominent Black Lives Matter activist, whose activism was featured in the 2017 HBO documentary Baltimore Rising.
On how the movement has impacted the industry, Rose says that “we’ve brought a lot of awareness through a genuine protest”, but emphasises that “we should not try to theatricize [sic]” these real-life issues, stating “…an unarmed black man is something that tries to become romanticised in American culture.”
With the release of Seven Seconds, Rose hopes “that it paints a picture of what we see in police killings,” but still insists “…it is very important that we have black people telling black people’s stories.”
“…it is very important that we have black people telling black people’s stories.”
The representation of the black community has developed over time. Rose says that “when I think about being black growing up, I think the Huxtable family [from The Cosby Show], I think of watching a different world. I think about all the characters in television shows that show a different part of black identity.”
“I think that what we’re lacking today in entertainment, are shows dedicated for the black experience,” he says.
This is a conversation that has taken centre stage in the last few years. One of the most notable was the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, a response to the 2015 Academy Award’s lack of diversity. Of the 20 actors nominated, not a single performer of colour was nominated.
In a 2016 study by the USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, it was reported that just over 12 percent of “speaking or named characters” in American entertainment were black.
For Baltimore Rising, entirely created by The Wire actress Sonja Sohn, Rose was featured as one of two young activists in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray – who died from severe injuries obtained while in police custody in 2015. Gray’s death led to a political outcry of protests and riots throughout Baltimore.
Rose was approached by Sohn personally to become involved, and “through time, it built a trust and friendship, and that’s how we became a part of the project.”
Having his work featured on a nation-wide platform, Rose says it was important “to have a story that was told that way and perspective, and allowed us as activists to contribute to the narrative.”
I think it’s unprecedented, what HBO gave [Sonja] the platform to do. I think that it was transcending.”
Touching on the phenomenal success of Black Panther, directed by Ryan Coogler, Rose says that it is important as “young black kids will get to themselves in a movie that is an all-black cast”.
This follows the recent buzz surrounding photographs that feature young children dressed as the characters of Black Panther, which continues to showcase the power of representation in entertainment.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama recently tweeted her support of the film, and mentioned the impact it has on the representation of young black children on-screen.
Congrats to the entire #blackpanther team! Because of you, young people will finally see superheroes that look like them on the big screen. I loved this movie and I know it will inspire people of all backgrounds to dig deep and find the courage to be heroes of their own stories.
— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) February 19, 2018
This representation in mainstream film is set to continue this year. Disney’s sci-fi adventure A Wrinkle In Time, directed by Ava DuVernay, features a young black girl (Storm Reid) as the main character, Meg Murry.
As well as this, the upcoming film adaptation of the best-selling young adult novel, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, will focus on issues related to police brutality.
“(In Black Panther) they’re not in a position where they’re dying, and not in a position where they are criminals – they are the warriors. That’s what makes this such a cultural phenomenon” Rose says.
It’s clear that this global movement, stemming from a hashtag, has now made an extraordinary impact on mainstream entertainment.
“For the first time…we finally have a movie that is dedicated to the uplifting of black culture.”
You can follow Kwame Rose on Twitter at @kwamerose.
Black Panther is in cinemas now. All ten episodes of Seven Seconds are now available on Netflix.