William Jackson Harper told he couldn’t show ‘Malcolm X’ to armed forces due to censorship

2020′s BLM revival spread across the globe. There were demonstrations in the U.S. and as far as the Middle East. This social uprising was a signal that it was time to address the history of European conquest specifically in Africa. However, many countries that benefitted from white supremacy and racism are pushing back against the narrative of a reckoning.

America has been the loudest with its pushback. Police brutality, which prompted the BLM protests, has intensified. President Trump has of course been promoting a whites-only history that does not acknowledge systemic racism. He also recently signed an executive order called “Executive Order Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping.” This order almost prevented The Good Place actor, William Jackson Harper, from screening Spike Lee’s Malcolm X to the armed forces. It dictates that armed forces refrain from promoting “pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors.” He was eventually able to screen the film to three out of four of the academies, but only after a lot of frustration and back and forth. Harper took to Twitter to raise the alarm about this censorship and how it keeps the U.S. from reckoning with its past. Here are his tweets about this.

Long Thread:
So I’ve had a rather disturbing experience this past week. I agreed to a virtual event with one of the charities I’m involved with, Arts In The Armed Forces (AITAF). As the son of a Marine I have a deep respect for those who serve in our military.

The event was an all-academy virtual screening of a movie I selected, that cadets would watch on their own, which culminated in a Talkback/ Q&A session via zoom. I thought this was a great idea.

I think exposure to and interaction with the arts is a necessary part of any education.

Furthermore, I think watching a movie with an eye toward discussion is an effective way to explore differing viewpoints, mindfully interrogate our own responses to a piece of art, and to expand our capacity for empathy.

I gave them a list of three films for AITAF to choose from. American Honey, Citizen Kane, and Malcolm X. Malcolm X was selected and I couldn’t have been happier. I love this film. I have a very specific and deep connection to this film.

It’s arguably the greatest biography committed to film. Washington’s performance in this movie is a thing to behold. The restraint, the fire, the commitment, the physical and intellectual rigor of his work is beyond anything I’ve ever seen.

Additionally, I was happy to discuss the themes of this movie, the historical significance of the man, and hoping to have a wider discussion about how we view our past, and how those we venerate or revile were just people, complex, flawed people who were full of contradictions.

Now the disturbing part. Two days before the event, I was informed that students at two of the academies would not be taking part for fear of running afoul of President Trump’s “Executive Order Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping”

which requires that federal and military institutions refrain from training material that promote a “pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors…

Which meant they possibly couldn’t watch Malcolm X.

I would encourage everyone to go and read it in its entirety here.

I don’t disagree with the idea of combating race and sex stereotyping. But that is not what this order is about. This is censorship. This executive order is an attempt to censor certain difficult truths that still haunt our society.

This executive order denies the very real experiences of so many minorities in this country. This executive order is rooted in the fictitious idea that the scourges of racism and sexism are essentially over, and that the poisonous fallout from centuries discrimination isn’t real.

But all of these things are real, and they remain to this day some of the most salient malignancies in our society.

The film Malcolm X is history. American History. This film is not propaganda meant to teach one to favor one race or sex over the other. It’s History. It’s an admittedly thorny history, but it is history.

I believe that the selective censorship of certain chapters of our country’s because we find it disquieting, or because it disrupts our narrative and tarnishes our self-image, is cowardly at best, dangerous at worst, and dishonest either way.

And honesty is paramount if we are to ever continue to progress as a society.

I feel we have a collective duty to engage in self-reflection, and to hold ourselves accountable when we don’t live up to our professed American ideals. However, I feel we cannot do that without a thorough, unflinching, unpleasant dialogue with our past.

A dialogue that so many brave educators and activists are attempting to have right now. A dialogue that this President and his administration are trying their damnedest to silence.

In the end three of the four slated academies did participate. We had a lively discussion, and there were some very incisive questions from the community.

However, one did not for fear of potential consequences of stemming from an Executive Order from the White House. The fact that the film that the film Malcolm X could be considered “Anti-American” by this administration is very frightening to me.

We can’t let this slide. I would encourage us all to stay vigilant, to question every single decision this administration makes, and every single word out of their mouths. Most, WE HAVE TO VOTE. If we don’t, we are whistling past the graveyard. K. Bye.

[From Twitter via Pajiba]

Trump is taking a strong page from the Nazi manifesto with this order. It is not only untrue and pushes a false narrative of innocence but it is also dangerous. I knew he had been talking about a whites-only history but I did not know he had actually signed an executive order about it. I am sure this will spread to the school system if he isn’t voted out.

Our educational system is quite white washed to begin with. Most people living in the U.S. and the U.K. don’t know nor understand the horrors our countries have perpetrated on BIPOC over the last five centuries and how those atrocities are still meted out to this day.

I am a veteran and this sort of rhetoric or censorship concerns me. As a soldier, this is what we join to fight against, I didn’t join for this reason but many do. I am glad Harper is taking a stand and ringing the alarm on this executive order and the dangers it could create. Not to mention white people in America need to know and understand what their ancestors did and not shy away from it. In order for us to heal this country, we must confront its past. We must acknowledge that past and repair it, no matter how difficult and painful it may be. We will never heal and create a more equitable system until we do and maybe that is the point. The people who support these sort of initiatives of whites-only education don’t really want a equitable society. They are happy with oppression and the disparities that exist because in their mind, they are at top of the food chain.


photos credit: WENN

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12 Responses to “William Jackson Harper told he couldn’t show ‘Malcolm X’ to armed forces due to censorship”

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  1. Astrid says:

    I’m a low level civil servant in America. Our annual diversity training was cancelled this year after the executive order was signed. When the Orange One first took office, the Agency that I work for had to scrub all websites to remove references to GHG. Censorship is real.

    • Lilly (with the double-L) says:

      It is and it’s heartbreaking and traumatic. But, I’m hopeful that this is not forever. Barely…

  2. Case says:

    Just as a side note, AITAF is Adam Driver’s organization. It’s a really cool initiative.

    I read this yesterday and was so incredibly disturbed. Not shocked though, sadly. I don’t don’t how anyone can say America isn’t racist when the country was literally built by slaves and our government has found new ways to oppress the same groups of people time and time again. It’s not an opinion, it’s fact. America has a lot of racism embedded in its culture.

    I can never understand those who think patriotism means never criticizing your country. Those who fight to make our country a better place for everyone who lives here are patriotic, not the people who want to pretend we’re perfect and without flaws.

    I’ve been to Germany and our tour guide explained they are deeply ashamed of their past. They take responsibility as a people to ensure nothing as terrible as the Holocaust will ever happen there again. That means strict laws against hate speech, but I honestly think that’s a good thing. I came home so impressed with how seriously they take their dark past and actively work against falling into those patterns again.

  3. LULU wang was robbed says:

    Oya, I didn’t know you were a veteran! Thanks for doing all that you do and also entertaining and informing us here ☺️
    Aitaf is an amazing organisation bringing arts to current and former military members, like a commenter said above its Adam Driver’s non-profit.
    There’s a charity zoom screening of Space Odyssey coming up in November with Adam, Tom Hanks and a retired general with Q+A afterwards, it’s $20 for a ticket if you’re a civilian. They had problems with crazy fans last time which is why civilian spaces are ticketed.

  4. Indignant! says:

    Government worker here – we had a big racial inequity training cancelled this month because of this executive order…. I don’t want to hear anymore company lines about how much they value diversity and inclusion again…. it’s disgusting and hypocritical…

    • SusieQ says:

      I work for a giant hospital system and serve on the diversity council of my entity. Every time we’ve tried to do something, from a book club to a recommended list of documentaries like Ava DuVernay’s “The 13th”, we get slapped down by leadership. They want to name-check diversity and inclusion, but they certainly don’t want people to feel empowered or enlightened.

  5. Michelle says:

    I love this actor and The Good Place. This initiative sounds amazing! I’m the daughter of a Marine, and growing up I always heard that you might not agree with but you respect the president. My parents didn’t talk about politics much. I knew they disliked the Clinton’s but I also know my dad took me to see Bill Clinton speak at a military event because I asked (I don’t remember other kids there so I’m not sure how he managed that). I’m not sure how it plays out in other military families but I was very, very sheltered from knowing what the real world was like, as far as politics and protests. And in general, growing up in the 80s and 90s, I don’t think there was as much discussion about BIPOC in the general media. My eyes were opened so much in college and especially after when I joined a book club of very cool older women who chose great, eye-opening books and talked politics during the meeting. Now it’s one of my great passions in life—to get people to open up their minds and ideals through books, movies, shows, etc. So when I hear this account of trying to expose these military academy students to real American history and our very own damn president has tried to stop things like this from happening…it’s another reason I hate him. He knows very well what he’s doing. He doesn’t want people to see a whole truth because he wants there to be a racial divide—it’s that simple.

    • LULU wang was robbed says:

      I don’t mean to hijack this comment section, but you and your family can get free admission to the charity Space Odyssey screening and talk back next month as the daughter of a Marine ☺️
      They also do a Broadway performance every year too (not this year, unsurprisingly, but it’s free admission for veterans and family members there too).

  6. Merricat says:

    God, do I look forward to taking the trash out in November.

  7. ChillyWilly says:

    JFC! It’s stuff like this that scares me more than Trump nuking us all in a roid rage. If Trump manages to win this election we will all be living in Russia 2.0.

  8. Yup, Me says:

    Thank you for this article. It shows how deep all of this BS goes from the top shit gibbon and down. I shared this with my mothet. She’s been watching the doc “Who Killed Malcolm X” and it’s scaryand infuriating to know that no further investigation was done into his death because his murder made things easier for the police and FBI.