Kendrick Sampson is one actor who’s committed to systematic change to the point where he’s calling out Hollywood for its oppressive ways. The “Insecure” star talked with GQ and described Hollywood as an “oppressive capitalist, white supremacist system” that needs to be dismantled. He has co-founded an organization to help with the cause called BLD PWR.
“Everybody thinks Hollywood is such a liberal place where everybody can think for themselves and say whatever they want,” Sampson told GQ. “[Hollywood is] actually an oppressive capitalist, white supremacist system.”
According to its website, BLD PWR’s goals are to “engages culture, education and activism to build and train an inclusive community of entertainers and athletes to advance radical social change.” The group partners with grassroots causes and organizations to “increase action and civic engagement with a primary focus on uplifting and protecting the most vulnerable by undoing systemic oppression and combating state violence at the intersection of gender, immigration, economic, educational, environmental and racial justice movements.”
The group further describes themselves as a “non-partisan, grassroots liberation initiative of Accelerate Impact, a fiscally sponsored project of the Social Impact Fund, a 501 (c)(3) charitable organization.” Sampson said he co-founded BLD PWR to “create safe spaces for Hollywood to organize, to change the culture from oppression to liberation.”
He was inspired to create the organization in 2019 after working with abolitionists like Dr. Melina Abdullah and Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors. He also was moved to action after familiarizing himself with the life and work of Dr. Angela Y. Davis, who is also a longtime abolitionist. “One day I will meet her, but she’s my president,” said Sampson, according to GQ.
Prison and police abolition has been a steady topic amongst activists and community members, especially in light of the police-involved killings of Black people and the constant heavy hand of mass incarceration.
Similar to the abolition of slavery, abolitionists believe in ending systems that don’t serve the community and are only meant to oppress and surveil already oppressed people. Instead of institutions like police and prison, abolitionists work towards a world where resources are reinvested into the basic needs of the community (such as housing, employment and healthcare) and issues are resolved in ways that are less punitive and more transformative. Prison and police abolition movements have stretched back years with Davis’ 2003 book “Are Prison’s Obsolete” being one manifesto to the cause.
Sampson said it was his former “How To Get Away With Murder” co-star, Matt McGory, who first got him thinking about abolition. Both actors were at Standing Rock Reservation in 2016 when private security firms sent tear gas and surveillance drones to retaliate against an uprising led by indigenous rights activists. At the time, people were putting their bodies on the line to protect Lakota land and water from an oil pipeline.
Sampson said McGory asked him if he was an abolitionist. “I was like, ‘Shit, I don’t know. What exactly would qualify me for that,’” said Sampson. At the time, Sampson said he faced the questions that many people have when it comes to abolition — what would be done about serial killers, murders, rapists? He said that the entertainment industry plays a big part in how people think about crime and punishment.
One such example is the popularity of cop shows, or what abolitionists call “copaganda.” Even Sampson got his start on an episode of CSI in 2010, and the roles on such shows often diminished the reality of police and prisons in communities.
Sampson said he’s more intentional about the projects he chooses now by seeking out nuanced portrayals of Black characters helmed by Black filmmakers. “If you’re putting something out into the world, it should be utilized to help,” he says. “What is your intention behind it? I think it should be for liberation.”
Sampson can be watched on HBO’s “Insecure” as Nathan, a love interest to the lead character Issa (played by Issa Rae) who struggles with mental health issues. He can also be seen in the movie “Miss Juneteenth”, where Sampson plays Ronnie, the on-again-off-again love interest of Nicole Beharie’s Turquoise and father of Turquoise’s daughter Kai. Ronnie is a car mechanic who occasionally likes to gamble and he loves his daughter. At one point in the movie, he gets arrested and jailed, which is an excessive outcome in comparison to his offense.
“I know a lot of Ronnies that are just striving to be better, striving to have a better relationship with their family, their loved ones, their daughters.” Sampson went on to say that he appreciates movies like “Miss Juneteenth” because it doesn’t focus on Black people being extraordinary in the most polarizing sense of the word — they’re not villains, geniuses, etc. Instead, they are just ordinary people. “It’s us being human,” Nathan said.