All The Shows That Portray The Movement For Black Lives

Today, Refinery29 has the pleasure of premiering Gabourey Sidibe’s amazing debut short film, The Tale Of Four. The movie, inspired by Nina Simone’s 1966 song “Four Women,” tells the story of Black women touched by police brutality, the prison industrial system, and looming violence. Tale Of Four brings to light many of the topics the Black Lives Matter movement has been fighting for over the last few years.

While Sidibe’s new film might be one of our favorite pop cultural offerings with this kind of thoughtful political leaning, it’s not the only one. Since the endless barrage of violence against Black people has made it into the news with what feels like day-in, day-out regularity, many of our favorite shows have decided to explore the American tragedy with their stories. Some series name check Black Lives Matter directly, while others are unquestionably influenced by the movement without using a hashtag or referencing the organization.

In celebration of Tale Of Four, we found the spiritual soul siblings to the movie throughout television. Keep reading to find out see how other shows dealt with the movement for Black lives. Some series did exceptionally well, while others completely missed the mark.

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Queen Sugar

Ava DuVernay’s OWN drama tackles the Black Lives Matter movement on a most basic level by showing how much Black lives matter in daily life to their families, their friends, and their communities. The characters of Sugar might deal with Black celebrity on the edges of their day, but, at its heart, the show is about an average, loving Black family, effectively reminding all viewers Black people are regular folk, just like everyone else.

On a more pointed note, Sugar season 2 deals with police brutality against Black people through the heartbreaking experience of Micah West (Nicholas L. Ashe), the son of main character Charley Bordelon West (Dawn-Lyen Gardner). Micah was wrongfully arrested and assaulted by a police officer who wanted to teach him a “lesson.” The officer took Micah into an alley, stuck a gun in his mouth, and pulled the trigger — all because he is a “fancy-talking” young man of color. While the weapon wasn’t loaded, Micah was no less traumatized.

The upsetting storyline shows how this kind of violence destroys not only the victim themselves, but their entire family.
Dear White People

Dear White People’s handling of the movement for Black lives can still bring a tear to my eye, about a half a year after watching it. Like Queen Sugar, the dramedy is already “revolutionary,” as breakout favorite Joelle Brooks (Ashley Blaine Featherson) puts it, by allowing its characters to be “carefree and Black” from time to time.

But, it also delves into the realities of life as a young Black person, by showing us how quickly Reggie Green (Marque Richardson) was nearly shot at a party, simply for existing with his level of melanin. Reggie’s resulting quiet, secretive meltdown for having a loaded gun put in his face will wreck anyone with a heart.

Dear White People takes a page out of real-life protests in the response to Reggie’s near-death experience, as you can see students touting signs that read “Black AF” and “No justice no peace” at a rally.

Scandal has long been a show about Black excellence by showing D.C.’s top fixer, and general leading lady, is none other than Black woman Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington). But, the show directly delved into the movement for Black lives with season 4’s “The Lawn Chair,” where a young (eventually proven-innocent) Black boy named Brandon Parker is killed by a police officer. His father Clarence (the wonderful Courtney B. Vance) responds by sitting over his son’s body until the cop responsible is brought to justice. Thanks to Olivia, Clarence actually gets his wish.

Eventually, the Brandon Bill, in honor of the dead boy, becomes the signature legislation for President Fitzgerald Grant III (Tony Goldwyn). While reality has proven to be far more unfair than an episode of Scandal, it’s a cut-and-dry fairytale version of far-too-common tragedy in America.
Orange Is The New Black

Orange Is The New Black touched on something rare for TV shows dealing with Black Lives Matter: the #SayHerName movement. When beloved inmate Poussey Washington (Samira Wiley) is killed by a prison guard who suffocates her — that moment in itself echoing the death of Eric Garner — her friends are most angered by the fact the prison refuses to even “say her name.” This egregious omission is what eventually leads to women of Litchfield Penitentiary to riot.
Shots Fired

Shots Fired immediately felt like a series that couldn’t exist without the movement for Black lives, especially since there is a small #BLM moment by protesters in the premiere.

The Sanaa Lathan-led series takes the unfortunately “usual” story of a police officer killing an unarmed citizen — it’s oftentimes a white officer and a Black citizen — and reversed the entire situation. Not to spoil anything, but, the resulting narrative shows how complicated the questions of “justice” or “right and wrong” become when race is added to the equation. And, it's no surprise just how difficult it is for Black people in Shots Fired to get anything resembling fairness in today’s justice system.

Gabourey Sidibe’s Empire has given viewers two big nods to the Black Lives Matter movement over its last four seasons. The first major one arrived in the season 2 premiere, where Cookie Lyon asks, “The American correctional system is built on the backs of our brothers, our fathers and our sons. How much longer? It's a system that must be dismantled piece by piece if we are to live up to those words that we recite with our hands on our hearts. Justice for all. Not justice for some, but justice for all. How much longer?”

The powerful speech, however, proved to only be the first step for the FOX musical drama, as season 3 then decided to explore police brutality through the eyes of an “upstanding” Black man like Andre Lyon (Trai Byers). Dre is the Lyon son who went to the “right” schools, speaks the “right” way, and knows the “right” people. In his mind no one could ever question whether he’s a criminal, no matter his skin color. This assumption is proven wrong in season 3, when he’s wrongfully arrested for trying to enter his own home.

The bruise on Dre’s face in the accompanying image is courtesy of his overly aggressive (and fully unnecessary) run-in with police.

Empire isn’t the only Lee Daniels-created series that has tackled the movement. The drama’s little sister series Star showed an entire Black Lives Matter protest, which was a reaction to the upsetting death of Danielle (Jasmine Burke), a woman who was shot to death by police during a routine traffic stop. Danielle, was working for Carlotta (Queen Latifah) before her death.

The protest begins peacefully, but eventually turns violent due to outside forces, reminding viewers the movement itself isn’t naturally aggressive. Instead, it’s often unaffiliated instigators who make events dangerous. Sadly, Star’s resident (peaceful) revolutionary Derek (Quincy Brown) still gets arrested while trying to end the violence, not create more of it.

Star may be a wild mess sometimes, but it also means well.

Even comedies want to talk about the movement for Black lives, and Black-ish proves the traditionally light-hearted genre can. This episode rose above comedy’s habit of turning important conversations into “Very Special Episodes.” Instead, season 2’s “Hope” shows the ABC series’ Johnson family working through another case of deadly police brutality after a jury decides not to indict the offending officer. The episode begins with the sprawling, multi-generational clan rattling off the countless Black people in their world who have been killed by police. No one even seems all that affected anymore as the headlines are relentless.

Eventually, though, emotion takes over the Johnsons, and Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) decides to let all the age-appropriate family members go protest in response to the latest injustice plaguing the news.

While Black-ish managed to take on a serious topic like the treatment of Black lives in society, some series have proven not everyone is equipped. Lifetime’s UnReal, which for the record, is one of my favorite shows, gave viewers one of the television’s most egregious missteps when it came to this aim.

The drama tried to tackle police brutality through its use of Everlasting’s show-within-a-show suitor, football player Darius Beck (B.J. Britt). Like Empire’s Andre, Darius has enough cultural cache and money to believe he could never be seen as a possible danger to police. Yet, when he’s found driving an allegedly stolen luxury car full of inebriated white women, police end up shooting his cousin Romeo (Gentry White). By the way, Darius didn't steal anything; Everlasting's producers only reported the car stolen to stir up television drama.

Although UnReal doesn’t go totally dark — Romeo survives — it does avoid any meaningful exploration of what it means to be Black in America, how this kind of tragedy hurts a victim and their loved ones, or question what led to this type of systematic violence. Instead, the aftermath of Romeo’s near-death shooting heavily focuses on the guilt of two white women, producers Quinn King (Constance Zimmmer) and Rachel Goldberg (Shiri Appleby) for orchestrated the events that led up to their cast member almost dying. Since Quinn and Rachel have only had white bachelors before, they never even questioned whether calling the cops on Darius could escalate to such terrifying levels.
Watch Gabourey Sidibe's The Tale Of Four here.
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