By Imara Jones
I am extremely disappointed, perhaps even angry, that this ad did not run last night on BET and CBS as promised. The fact that it was shelved last night does more harm than good, and hollows BET’s consistent call last night to be the network for all Black people. As I have written before, “Black lives matter except if you are trans.” All of this corresponds with what Angelica Ross said on Twitter yesterday.
The message was too direct – “Stop Killing Us” instead let’s blend in @Lavernecox & @IndyaMoore into a promo, BUT LET’S NOT SAY TRANS! This is why I DECLINED a media request from @BET on #JUNETEENTH I want real inclusion ON-AIR or I’ll just continue to work with other networks. https://t.co/pSf79ZG1Pp— Angelica Ross (@angelicaross) June 29, 2020
Here’s my story.
Last weekend, I was approached by an agency to film a spot which they said could possibly run during the #BETAwards simulcast on CBS. Apparently McDonald’s was devoting some of its airtime to highlight voices and issues within the Black community, and they thought the epidemic of murders of Black trans women was an especially important one. So I put something together and sent it off.
After receiving my spot, the agency confirmed that it would run DURING the awards. In fact my spot received extra scrutiny and went through a higher level of clearances in order to prepare for the airing. Therefore it was a total shock when it did not run. The reason why it did not is because of a decision by the network to do so.
Apparently BET had a change of heart, supposedly shifting the ad to air during a distant re-broadcast on July 5th. This essentially buries the ad meaning that it will only be seen by a handful of viewers at that time. This move by BET is deeply painful because it underscores––despite the rhetoric during the awards show that it is for all Black people––that BET does not value the lives of Black trans women. In fact, there are fewer issues for the Black community to address more urgent than the epidemic of deaths of Black trans women. The facts speak for themselves.
As anyone who has read my work knows, the United States has the highest numbers of murders of Black trans women than any other country on the planet except two: Brazil and Mexico. 9 out of ten of those killed are Black trans women. Despite the critical issues facing Black trans women, I should have known that BET would not rise to the challenge of this moment.
Two years ago when discussing with BET Documentary interest in my second TransLash short film about gender dysphoria, they ultimately passed on it saying that “it does not focus on transgender deaths and does not have a star attached to it like Denzel Washington.” To be honest I should not be shocked by this latest incident. Yet I still am because of the newly found rhetoric of the network.
Adding to my disappointment is the fact that I worked at ViacomCBS, BET’s parent company, for nearly almost seven years. I have former colleagues there who I know absolutely know better and who want to do the right thing. However their individual values have not translated into wider ones. To be clear I was included in a recent MTV News piece about Black trans issues. But MTV is not BET.
But besides my own hurt there are larger issues at stake. The real world consequence of this is that my message, which was aimed at to Black people specifically, was shared last night as a consolation prize on social media last. On Twitter it has fallen into the hands of right wing trolls who are using it as propaganda for their vileness and anti-Blackness. So by not showing my ad for the audience at whom it was aimed BET has helped to inflame all the wrong things, anti-Blackness and anti-transness, at this particular moment. It is a misfire playing out in real time.
Yet all of this for me underscores for why I started TransLash in the first place. Ultimately, Big Media does not care about us nor our stories. We have to tell them ourselves in order to save our own lives. But it says a great deal that even in an era of virtue signaling BET couldn’t even manage to feign that . All in all though my work continues. I will continue to create content which centers trans people, especially those of color, to help drive change. But I do so with a lesson learned. In life, I don’t believe in making the same mistake twice.