Last Week’s Episode: Justice for Breonna Taylor, and Other News

Last Week's Episode

Embodying the cliche “the show must go on” the intimately intertwined industries of entertainment and politics have continued their push to return to a “new normal.” Will they learn any lessons from the events of the past few months? It doesn’t look like it. Theatres are planning to reopen mid-July and studios are starting up production again. Learn more in this, the latest installment of Last Week’s Episode. I’ve done the doomscrolling for you. Here’s the latest news from Tinseltown, for better but mostly for worse.

Protests continue across the U.S. calling for accountability in cases of police brutality and significant policy changes to address the continued institutional discrimination against Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color (BIPOC). Perhaps because of these demonstrations bringing more awareness and a rise in conversations about systemic racism, this year’s Juneteenth celebration received more attention than usual. Some companies gave their employees the day off for this holiday for the first time ever and social media influencers everywhere vaguely posted about it.

So what is Juneteenth? When you look up the word in Google, the first line of its Wikipedia entry shows up as the definition — Juneteenth “is a holiday celebrating the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States.” Only if you click through to the full article does it eventually specify the day commemorates when slaves in Texas were finally told they were free. Two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

You can read more about the history of Juneteenth in this statement put out last Friday from Black Artists for Freedom. Titled “Our Juneteenth”, it contextualizes what the holiday means amidst the continued killing of Black citizens such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Prominent Hollywood names who signed the statement include Tessa Thompson, Sterling K. Brown, Trevor Noah, Ava DuVernay, Lena Waithe, Lupita Nyong’o, and John Legend. Black Artists for Freedom is a collective consisting of over 1,000 actors, musicians, filmmakers, authors, painters, and poets. Among those are Academy Award, Grammy, Tony, and Pulitzer Prize winners. Honor Juneteenth this month by going beyond a quick internet search and helping continue the fight against Black discrimination. [Variety]

#tdih June 19 – Juneteenth or Emancipation Day is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in…

Posted by Zinn Education Project on Monday, June 19, 2017

Following last week’s Juneteenth statement, an open letter to Hollywood was published this week urging them to use their creative influence to help defund the police and reinvest in the Black community. The letter was developed by Kendrick Sampson alongside Tessa Thompson and the co-creators of Black Lives Matter, Patrisse Cullors and Melina Abdullah. It was signed by over 300 Black industry people including Thompson’s MCU co-stars Chadwick Bosman, Anthony Mackie, Michael B. Jordan, and Danai Gurira. [Variety]

It’s been over 100 days since the killing of Breonna Taylor and only one of the officers responsible have been arrested. The Taylor family’s lawyer, Lonita Baker, said the Kentucky Attorney General has not given them much information about the state of the investigation. [MSNBC] This interview was given a week after Beyoncé wrote an open letter to the Kentucky AG urging progress in the investigation of Breonna Taylor’s murder and “pervasive practices that result in the repeated deaths of unarmed Black citizens.” [Link]

Continuing the rising trend of influential Black people in the entertainment industry raising their voices and being heard, Tina Knowles-Lawson, in coordination with The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights wrote a letter to Senate leaders. It urges them to pass the Heroes Act, a COVID-19 relief bill that recently passed in the House and includes funding programs that will help make sure as many voices as possible are heard in November’s elections.

Yesterday, June 25th, was the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Knowles-Lawson mentions this ruling specifically and explains how many states have since used it to revert to “discriminatory practices that restrict the voting rights of Black, Brown, Native, and Asian American people and have put up unnecessary roadblocks to the ballot.” It is signed by her daughters Beyoncé and Solange Knowles, big industry names such as Viola Davis, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Janelle Monáe, as well as Mothers of the Movement including Tamika Palmer, mother of Breonna Taylor. [Link]

Protecting voters’ rights will be crucial to ensuring a fair election this November. Amidst the pandemic which has disproportionately affected BIPOC communities, it is even more important that all voices are fairly heard and scenes such as the one below avoided. This video of people waiting to vote was captured Tuesday from Kentucky. U.S. Senate candidate Charles Booker had to file an injection allowing the polls to stay open longer to accommodate everyone waiting in line to vote.

Effie Brown, the CEO of Gamechanger Films, wrote a powerful essay about the backlash she experienced after speaking up about diversity on Matt Damon’s reality show Project Greenlight. This serves as a reminder that the burden of making changes in any industry or institution falls on the oppressed and the system then punishes them for speaking up. How can we change this? Brown says, “Hire, mentor, invest.” [THR]

A good example of racial disparity in Hollywood is the effort it took for Spike Lee to get funding from Netflix for his recent film, Da 5 Bloods. The streaming service was reluctant to allow flashback shoots on rare and pricey 16 mm film; but even with their concerns, Lee says they were the only ones even willing to let him shoot the movie at all. [Insider]

The latest data shows that COVID-19 cases are on the rise in America, especially in southern states which began reopening at the beginning of June. Despite this trend, we have a slew of News in the past week which simply proves this tweet by actor Kumail Nanjiani of The Lovebirds (Netflix) and next year’s The Eternals.

AMC Theatres says they’ll open in 400 cities around the U.S. on July 15, and after some pressure decided maybe masks a good idea after all. [THR]

And Disney workers have petitioned the media giant to delay their plan to reopen theme parks. [Forbes]

I don’t even know how to comment on giant corporations reopening recreational spaces during an outbreak of a virus that spreads through close contact. I hope these companies listen to their employees because they will have to bear the cost of reopening, not the CEO or board members safely ensconced in their multimillion-dollar homes.

Actors, too, are being put back to work (which of course means an entire production team as well). The Witcher is set to pick up filming in August. We shall see. [TVInsider]

I’m running out of f*cks to give so I’ll try to summarize the rest of the “high” points I wanted to cover quickly. Completely ignoring years of sociolinguistic research on accent bias the dark side of the Internet has managed to get James Earl Jones and Bart Simpson trending.

Why? Here’s why: Jenny Slate and Kristen Bell have moved the discussion of diversity in animation and voice work forward by stepping down from current roles as animated mixed-race characters, in Netflix’s Big Mouth and AppleTV’s Central Park. [Instagram] [Twitter]

The creator of Central Park had previously been asked about the decision to make Bell’s character mixed race and brushed off the question. In a new statement, the show says that “Black people and people of color have worked and will continue to work on Central Park but we can do better.” This comment proves what Effie Brown was admonished for pointing out. That it will take diversity on all levels of production and allies speaking up (even if it means losing income or face) to make real changes in the industry. I wonder how many people it took to change comment on a panel back in January from “we couldn’t make Molly white and we couldn’t make Kristen mixed race so we just had to go forward” to “the casting of the character of Molly is an opportunity to get representation right”? [Variety]

One thing we can learn from this time is that when we come together and amplify the voices of people with lived experiences change can happen. Now isn’t the time slow down though, it’s the time to use these small wins and build momentum for more lasting change.


Hamilton drops today with a PG-13 rating, which had fans who have the lyrics memorized scratching their head. Lin-Manuel Miranda explained:

Although season five has yet to air, Lucifer has been renewed for a sixth, and final-final season at Netflix. [Variety]

Director Joel Schumacher, who gave the world camp classics Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, along with The Lost Boys, Flatliners, and more, has sadly passed away. [NYTimes]

Lola Watson

Lola Watson

I'm a community college professor, nerd, and mom who collects comics, knits, and procrastinates a whole host of other hobbies in my lack of spare time. My research focuses on using technology in the classroom, pop culture, children's literature, and comics.