The Death of George Floyd 9 Months Later: How Hollywood Has Changed Forever
By Antoinette Bueno
As we celebrate Black History Month, let's take a look back at how the tragic death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, spurred a movement and significant change in Hollywood that's still continuing today.
Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man living in Minnesota, died after former police officer Derek Chauvin held him down by the neck with his knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds when he was arrested for suspicion of forgery outside a deli. Former police officers Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng were also seen holding down Floyd, while former officer Tou Thao was spotted near the others in the video. Floyd heartbreakingly told officers that he couldn't breathe, and also called out for his mother in the final moments of his life. The devastating incident was caught on tape and went viral, thrusting the Black Lives Matter movement into the spotlight and spurring thousands to protest against police brutality.
In June, Sampson penned a powerful open letter calling for the Hollywood industry to divest from the police and make big changes to "affirm, defend and invest in Black lives." The letter was signed by over 300 Black artists and executives, including the late Chadwick Boseman, Anthony Mackie, Idris Elba, Viola Davis, Queen Latifah and more.
"By allowing white people to control and oppress the narratives that affirm Black lives, Hollywood has directly and indirectly inflicted harm and oppression onto our communities," the letter reads in part. "Because Hollywood has been a huge part of the problem, we demand it be a part of the solution. We, as Black people, bring immense, immeasurable cultural and economic value to the industry. We are also suffering from the oppression perpetuated by this industry. We have every right to demand this change."
"I understand people having to make themselves known and felt and seen," Parton told Billboard in August. "And of course, Black lives matter. Do we think our little white a**es are the only ones that matter? No!"
"There's such a thing as innocent ignorance, and so many of us are guilty of that," she continued. "... As soon as you realize that [something] is a problem, you should fix it. Don't be a dumba**."
Another significant form of support came from Meghan Markle, who spoke out after Floyd's death in a message to the graduating class of Immaculate Heart High School, her alma mater.
"I wasn't sure what I could say to you. I wanted to say the right thing. And I was really nervous that I wouldn’t, or that it would get picked apart, and I realized the only wrong thing to say is to say nothing," Markle said, before specifically naming Floyd and other victims of police brutality. "Because George Floyd's life mattered. And Breonna Taylor's life mattered. And Philando Castile's life mattered. And Tamir Rice's life mattered. And so did so many other people whose names we know and whose names we don't know."
"The first thing I want to say to you is that I'm sorry. I'm so sorry you have to grow up in a world where this is still present," she continued.
Meanwhile, Trevor Noah stated in a powerful episode of The Daily Show in June, "Think about that unease that you felt watching that Target being looted. Try to imagine how it must feel for Black Americans when they watch themselves being looted every single day. Because that’s fundamentally what’s happening in America: Police in America are looting Black bodies.”
Major awards shows also became a place for some celebrities to continue to bring attention and support to the BLM movement. In a powerful segment during the 2020 ESPY Awards, a number of sports stars and celebrities came together to address the modern civil rights movement happening across the country and in the memory of Floyd.
"If you don't feel like this is your opportunity to speak up and be active and use your platforms, you are missing it. You are missing the point," NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace shared. "You are missing out on the opportunity to be on the right side of history."
Leadership was also questioned like never before following the death of Floyd, for example, at Condé Nast, which owns major magazines like Vogue, The New Yorker and Bon Appétit. Bon Appétit editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport exited the magazine after an image of him in brownface surfaced online, and three of the magazine's stars -- From the Test Kitchen assistant food editor Sohla El-Waylly, contributing food editor Rick Martinez and contributing writer Priya Krishna -- later left over alleged racial discrimination. Additionally, head of Condé Nast Entertainment’s lifestyle video programming Matt Duckor left his post after allegations that he paid people of color less than their white colleagues and didn't feature people of color in Bon Appétit's Test Kitchen videos.
Bon Appétit acknowledged their shortcomings in a statement. "We have been complicit with a culture we don't agree with and are committed to change," the statement read in part. "Our mastheads have been far too white for far too long. As a result, the recipes, stories, and people we've highlighted have too often come from a white-centric viewpoint. At times we have treated non-white stories as 'not newsworthy' or 'trendy.' Other times we have appropriated, co-opted, and Columbused them."
In June, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour admitted there are "too few" Black employees at the iconic fashion magazine in an email to staffers. Wintour began the message, obtained by ET, by acknowledging the "sadness, hurt, and anger" her staff might be experiencing at this time in America's history.
"I want to say this especially to the Black members of our team -- I can only imagine what these days have been like," she wrote. "Meanwhile, I want to say plainly that I know Vogue has not found enough ways to elevate and give space to Black editors, writers, photographers, designers and other creators. We have made mistakes too, publishing images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant. I take full responsibility for those mistakes."
"It's like, you know, when you walk into a room, I'm not walking in as Joan Smalls," she shared. "I'm walking in, there's a community behind me because everything is going to be reflected on them. You know, if you speak out your mind, 'Oh, is she the angry Black girl? ... Oh, is she giving attitude?'"
"That's not it. I'm an adult, I'm a woman, I'm educated, I feel like if I need to speak up, I will do so without disrespecting anybody and we should take the color away from that," she continued. "But growing up, you always know that. My father told me before I came into the industry, he said, 'Joan, the day you were born, you were born with two strikes on your back. You're a woman, and you're Black.'"
Smalls shared what needs to be done for the fashion industry to truly make changes.
"Going back to me being in the room and me being the only one, I think it's important and I think it's essential that [fashion companies'] creative teams should be equally reflective of diversity," she said. "So, not just the optics of what you see on billboards or images, but the team and the core itself where you're being the most creative should have people of all backgrounds. You know, higher up diverse staff, have the internal cultural team so you don't have mishaps within your company when you're marketing something and you're like, 'Oops, we didn't mean to offend you.' I feel like it has to come from the inside."
Indeed, Hollywood has also had a reckoning when it comes to diversity behind the lens and in casting, and a number of stars stepped down from their roles in order for another person of color to take their spot. Kristen Bell announced that she would no longer be voicing the role of Molly Tillerman -- a character with a Black father and a white mother -- on Central Park, so that it could be recast with a Black or multiracial actress. Jenny Slate also announced that she would no longer be voicing Missy, a Black and Jewish character, on Netflix's Big Mouth.
Animated series The Simpsons and Family Guy also made big changes when it comes to white actors voicing ethnic characters. In June, a spokesperson for The Simpsons told ET that "Moving forward, The Simpsons will no longer have white actors voice non-white characters." Mike Henry, known as the voice of Cleveland Brown on Family Guy, said that he would no longer be voicing the Black character. Henry had been a part of the animated show since 1999, and has also voiced Latina maid Consuela.
"It's been an honor to play Cleveland on Family Guy for 20 years," he tweeted. "I love this character, but persons of color should play characters of color. Therefore, I will be stepping down from the role."
"We acknowledge our responsibility for the lack of representation of people of color on our franchise and pledge to make significant changes to address this issue moving forward," the statement read in part. "We are taking positive steps to expand diversity in our cast, in our staff, and most importantly, in the relationships that we show on television. We can and will do better to reflect the world around us and show all of its beautiful love stories."
Harrison apologized for his comments in a lengthy Instagram post.
"I have spent the last few days listening to the pain my words have caused, and I am deeply remorseful. My ignorance did damage to my friend, colleagues and strangers alike," he began. "I have no one to blame but myself for what I said and the way I spoke. By excusing historical racism, I defended it. I invoked the term 'woke police,' which is unacceptable. I am ashamed over how uninformed I was. I was so wrong."
"The historic season of The Bachelor should not be marred or overshadowed by my mistakes or diminished by my actions," he continued. "To that end, I have consulted with Warner Bros. and ABC and will be stepping aside for a period of time."
Still, there is plenty of hopeful progress being made. In October, Michael B. Jordan noted he's ready to usher in a new group of Black superheroes, after vowing to promote diversity and Black culture at a march in Los Angeles in June. The Black Panther star serves as a producer on DC's upcoming Static Shock film, which he will produce through his Outlier Society production banner. Static was first introduced in 1993 by Milestone Comics, a company founded by Black writers and artists aiming to make comics more inclusive for people of color. It was distributed by DC.
"I’m proud to be a part of building a new universe centered around Black superheroes; our community deserves that," Jordan said in a statement to ET. "Outlier Society is committed to bringing to life diverse comic book content across all platforms and we are excited to partner with Reggie and Warner Bros on this initial step."
On Oct. 14, a number of celebs took time to pay tribute to Floyd on what would have been his 47th birthday, and also politicians like now president and vice-president Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Biden tweeted, "Today would have been George Floyd’s 47th birthday, and he should be alive to celebrate it. I made a promise to his family that I won’t let him become just another hashtag — and I’ll work every day as president to keep that promise."
As for Harris, she tweeted, "He should still be alive today celebrating another year with his family and friends. We need justice and to ensure that this never happens again -- starting with banning chokeholds and creating a national standard for use of force."
Of course, there is still much more work to be done. Back in May, Kelly Rowland passionately spoke to ET about continuing to keep up the fight against systemic racism after taking time to process her initial raw feelings.
"I can't sit still. I'm angry. I'm hurt. At times feeling hopeless," Rowland admitted while in tears. "But then sometimes I look at my son and I'm like, 'Hell no. I gotta keep going and what do I need to do?' [I'm] feeling for the families that have to go through all this. Communities, all their emotions, [it] just makes me angry. There's so many things I'm feeling, like everyone else."
"I'm happy that it's actually bothering us the way it is now, because that's when action happens," she continued. "But we have to have a way to move together, if that makes any sense. We need a way to move together, because if we move and we're just acting out of all this anger and madness and emotion, [it won't work]. We have to be collected and unified."