Diversity only goes so far in today’s woke landscape.
Yes, Hollywood and major media platforms like Netflix routinely attempt to bring more people of color into the entertainment industry. The moves come after decades of inadequate representation. In many ways the cultural wave is a worthy one.
There’s a sizable catch, though.
Diversity efforts typically shun right-of-center voices that happen to be black or brown. It’s why the media and film critics mostly ignored Larry Elder’s recent documentary “Uncle Tom” focusing on the black conservative experience.
There’s no better example of this diversity blind spot, though, than Amazon’s brief, but telling war against “What Killed Michael Brown?”
The haunting documentary finds author Shelby Steele examining the 2014 death of the Ferguson resident and the racial firestorm that followed. Those embers blazed anew earlier this year after George Floyd’s death following a fatal police altercation.
Why? What do these events say about American culture, police brutality and efforts to help the black community?
While most documentaries lean left, “What Killed Michael Brown?” offers a different perspective. Steele questions the media narratives surrounding high-profile police shootings, suggesting that victimization and white guilt end up hurting, not helping, the black community.
The team behind the documentary approached Amazon to stream the film as part of its Prime Video Direct service. The movie already is available on Vimeo, but millions of potential consumers tap Amazon to watch new releases.
Amazon declined, saying the film didn’t meet the company’s quality standards. A quick peek at the documentary shreds that argument. A variety of conservative news outlets, including Fox News, National Review and The Wall Street Journal, covered Amazon’s dubious decision.
“What Killed Michael Brown?” director Eli Steele credits that pressure for changing Amazon’s stance. The film is now available for streaming on Amazon.
“We were very fortunate to have the ability to raise the level of publicity that we did because if we had not had that power our film would have been pushed to the margins,” says Eli Steele, the son of the film’s star.
The production got little help, though, from organizations formed to promote people of color in the arts as well as major news outlets. The former have ignored both the documentary and its battle against Amazon.
Hollywood in Toto reached out to six organizations dedicated to empowering black filmmakers:
- Project Involve (Film Independent)
- Array Now
- Hue You Know
- The Black Association of Documentary Filmmakers West
- The Black TV & Film Collective
This site asked if the groups in question had any comment, or reaction, to Amazon’s initial stance against a film featuring black storytellers.
Eli Steele says he hopes his film’s victory will help fellow artists as they fight against potential censorship.
“I am hopeful that this experience created an important data-point going forward in the fight to make big tech media giants more balanced and accountable,” Steele says. “We do know that when Amazon makes policies from here on they will do so with this experience on their minds, and we know that if other filmmakers are similarly rejected like we were, they will have a precedent to refer to.
That is the moral victory that we sought,” he adds.