Technology and the new era revolutionized the Black Lives Matter movement. The revolution was and is being televised.
‘Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement’
The room was filled with social influencers, media personalities and tastemakers. We sat in anticipation for the exclusive premiere of BET’s newest documentary Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement. Deemed ‘The Dawn of a New Revolution’, the film is a part of The Truth Series, which serves as a platform for original documentaries produced by award winning film makers. Three time Emmy and Peabody award-winner, Laurens Grant, directed the film alongside Grey’s Anatomy actor and executive producer Jesse Williams. A panel discussion followed, featuring Grant, social media influencers DeRay Mckesson and Brittany Packnett, journalist and pulitzer award-winner Wesley Lowery and BET News moderator Marc Lamont Hill.
The film jumped right in and sugarcoated nothing. The opening scene began with a phone call from a man to the Sanford police department, alerting them that a “suspicious” character was walking around in a hoodie. We now know that man was George Zimmerman referring to 16-year-old Trayvon Martin. We heard rain and saw darkness as we heard police ask Zimmerman if he was following Martin, and advised him not to – then gunshots.
The series of events that followed, moved the nation into a new direction. The not guilty verdict handed down to Zimmerman sparked outrage across the country and, according to the film, was the catalyst for the Black Lives Matter Movement as we know it to be.
The film took off from that moment, though without haste, and led us on a chronological journey of black men being murdered in the streets, the protests, marches, and die-ins that followed – and it was all being captured in seconds. Through cellphones, Facebook, and Twitter, instances of police brutality and protests were all highlighted and people began to demand accountability. Celebrities traveled to Ferguson to march in solidarity with protestors, basketball players wore black shirts with slain teen Michael Brown’s last words “Don’t Shoot”
The film perfectly encapsulated the immeasurable effects technology had on the movement. With Kendrick’s “We Gon’ Be Alright” and J. Cole’s “Be Free” playing in the background, screenshots of tweets rolled down the screen in droves. Hundreds, it seemed, quickly darted by and in that moment it was realized that Twitter was the foundation for the Black Lives Matter movement – it was the method of communication. By simply adding a hashtag, millions of people around the world were able to communicate and connect with one another, leading to protests being organized in minutes as opposed to weeks or months. These social media outlets allowed for everyone’s voice to be amplified, not just those with access to higher platforms.
It became clear that the young people of the new era were the ones driving the conversation and resentment was shown towards older civil rights leaders. It’s mentioned in the film that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were often boo’ed off stages during demonstrations and one protestor can be heard yelling “You gonna march with us or you gonna sit in the car? ‘Cause we haven’t seen you marching at all Jesse.”
Taking Back Control of the Narrative:
In the panel discussion that followed, panelists spoke about the misconceptions of being named leaders of the movement and the grit behind the movement that’s been glamorized. DeRay Mckesson and Brittany Packnett recalled the moment when Mckesson flew out to Ferguson and Packnett opening up her home to him during his stay. “DeRay has slept on my couch many times!” she said, while laughing.
Panelists expressed their disappointment with the assumption that protesting was somehow glamorous or exciting. “Many are consumed with fighting more than winning,” Mckesson said. Panelists chimed in and agreed that there is an element of excitement to marching and protesting, but Mckesson says that shouldn’t be the end goal. Those passionate about the movement should focus on concrete ideas and solutions.
In 60 minutes, the documentary reignited all of the emotions that we may have forgotten about or suppressed because we felt powerless. Images and videos of hundreds of protestors on screen shouting and not being silenced. One scene shows a protestors interrupting Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera during a live broadcast shouting “You’re not here for us! We don’t want you here!” In another, it shows Mckesson defending the entire movement – appearing on the news debating with people who didn’t or refused to understand why people were so angry.
Taking back your power and taking control of the narrative were the takeaways from the film. You might not have the booming voice of Dr. Martin Luther King, but you have a smart phone, which means you have a voice. The revolution began because for the first time in history, we were all elevated to the same playing field and we all had the power to influence each other, to wake each other up. Stay Woke forced us to wake back up and, as the film is so appropriately titled: Stay woke.
Tune in to BET on Thursday, May 26 at 9pm to catch the riveting documentary.