Confronting the stigma that millennial artists are less inclined to marry their craft with social issues, the 2015 BET Awards stood out as not only a safe place to honor and recognize Black art, but a space to discuss Black issues amid what seems to be an increase in state violence against our communities.
Whether that state-sanctioned violence — which includes poverty, discrimination, and police brutality — is more visible because of technology or the Black Lives Matter movement is debatable, artists took to the stage to participate in propelling the national climate of Black liberation with performances, speeches and, at the simplest level, their presence.
Take Laverne Cox, for example. In what we’re deeming the number one political statement of Sunday night, BET made the conscious decision to place the transgender rights activist in the front row with transgender blogger and personality, B. Scott. When the overhead cameras swept over the crowd to show Diddy, Chris Brown, BET’s Debra Lee, and Rihanna, both Cox and Scott’s faces were prominent for all of America to see.
And though not much time was spent discussing transgender rights and proper gendering, their visibility alone made it clear that a new era of inclusion is upon both the nation and the Black community.
But let’s backtrack. In yet another conscious decision that no doubt set the tone for the night, Kendrick Lamar performed his album cut “Alright” at the start of the awards show. “Alright,” a record that both highlights the struggle of Black life and trauma while sending out a message of survival, is the stand-out of Lamar’s critically acclaimed self-love album To Pimp A Butterfly. And because self-love amongst Black people is a revolutionary thing, you best believe the track is a no-holds-barred anthem that has easily become a favorite on Black liberation playlists. When you start a record off with “Alls my life I had to fight n*gga,” followed up with a line about “po-po” wanting to kill Black bodies dead in the street, and end with “but we gon’ be alright,” we’d say that’s pretty political.
In a moment that had the crowd both squealing and simultaneously saying “amen,” heartthrob and Fantastic Four actor Michael B. Jordan graced the stage to deliver a powerful speech honoring the men, women, and children fighting nationwide in the name of Black Lives Matter.
“We’d like to take a moment to send our prayers and strength to our people in Charleston, South Carolina, who have endured but are prevailing over a horrific act of domestic terrorism,” he started. “Tonight, we shine a light in honor of the many men, women, and children who stood up, held signs, marched, took to social media, or even laid down in protest as part of Black Lives Matter movement. We are shining a light on all of you. We are shining a light on the people of Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland, North Charleston, South Carolina, and everywhere else where we’ve had to find the strength to fight through the sorrow of losing innocent lives while simultaneously demanding the justice we so richly deserve. Black lives matter. YOU matter. We see you, and we applaud your unbreakable, unshakeable strength.”
Jordan is no stranger to the terror of police brutality — in 2013, the actor gave an emotional portrayal of Oscar Grant, the young, unarmed Black male fatally shot by San Francisco BART police on New Year’s Eve.
And while we’re discussing police violence, rapper OG Maco walked the red carpet in a shirt donning the names of police brutality victims that, as GlobalGrind’s music editor Brittany Lewis pointed out, makes one “helluva statement.”
Then there was this performance by “Classic Man” star Jidenna and Janelle Monae, who used these large red and white signs emblazoned with “I AM A CLASSIC MAN” to point out that he indeed, is a man.
— deray mckesson (@deray) June 29, 2015
This civil rights reference a coincidence? We think not…
And in that awkward moment that we were all dancing to real songs on a fake television show, Empire star Jussie Smollett recognized Friday’s ruling by the Supreme Court that same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states.
“We live in a nation where freedom is what we represent yet we are still fighting for basic freedoms for all of our people. Let the Supreme Court ruling be proof of how far we have come. Let the deaths of our sisters and brothers be proof of how far we have to go. No one is free until we are all free.”
Say that. Love always wins.
See more coverage from the BET Awards below.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty