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Ava DuVernay, Ryan Coogler Will Fight For #JusticeForFlint

Update: Blackout for Human Rights Raises $145K At #JusticeForFlint Rally

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UPDATE: Last night’s #JusticeForFlint show boasted performances from Stevie Wonder, Janelle Monae and resident Flint MC, Jon Connor. Forgoing the 88th Annual Academy Awards, Blackout for Human Rights raised $145,000 in donations to power the message that what happened in Michigan should cease immediately!

“The #JusticeForFlint show in Flint, Michigan isn’t an Oscars boycott,” filmmaker Ava DuVernay said in a Saturday conference call with Okayplayer. The gathering of celebrated stars and activists like Blackout for Human Rights, Hannibal Buress and Janelle Monae has one purpose only: to help the cause of a city that has been contaminated with poisonous water.

“For me, there was something very emotional about the idea that folks were being prevented from having a basic human right. There’s no politics about the human need for water, yet the fact that politics were in play around folks not having it, just felt like such an egregious human rights violation,” DuVernay said. “It felt completely disingenuous to be doing much else than focusing on trying to remedy that.”

#JusticeForFlint is a free show at The Whiting Auditorium in Flint, Michigan and begins at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 28th. The star-studded event will feature live performances, presentations and conversations with community members. Participants will include DuVernay (Selma), Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station), Grammy-nominated artists Ledisi, Andra Day and Musiq Soulchild; Grammy winner Robert Glasper, actor/activist Jesse Williams and a roster of other Michigan-based artists, activists and leaders. Comedian Hannibal Buress will host the event and organizers are accepting donations before and during the show by texting ‘JUSTICE’ to 83224.

Those interested in watching and supporting the show, please tune into the live stream HERE and on REVOLT TV’s website.

For those unfamiliar with Blackout for Human Rights, the organization was founded by “a collective of filmmakers, artists, activists and concerned citizens” who devoted their time, energy and resources to address the immense number of human rights violations in the United States. Coogler, Williams, DuVernay, Michael B. Jordan, Charles King are just a few of the founding members of the group.

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“A lot of these people care nothing about the Oscars, and it’s not their world. It happens to be me and Ryan’s world, and when it came up that this was a possible date, it felt wrong to say, ‘No guys, let’s not do that date because there’s something happening in L.A.,’” DuVernay said. “All of our resources, our performers, the venues, everything started to gather around this weekend and this date felt the most comfortable for most of the group. We saw no reason not to do it on this day.”

Flint’s water has been contaminated with lead as a result of a state-appointed emergency manager’s decision in 2014 to switch the city’s water source to the local river. The untreated water was so corrosive that it leached lead from pipes, causing odd color, smell and taste. Officials insisted the water was fine until until October 2015, when Governor Rick Snyder announced a $12m plan to transfer Flint back to its previous, Detroit-managed water source of Lake Huron. President Barack Obama also signed an emergency declaration for federal aid. But the change was too late: elevated lead levels have been found in resident’s blood, and an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease has killed ten people in the county.

Press around the event was high at the top of the year, but DuVernay said she noticed attention waning with other headlines being dedicated to election primaries, awards season and other news stories. “It was becoming less at the forefront of all of our minds, but the problem wasn’t going away,” she said. “That was one of the reasons we wanted to get in there and do it as soon as we could rally all of our resources and the people that wanted to contribute.”

DuVernay noted the damage of the pipes, how protesters and residents who complained about the water quality had been ignored by public officials since 2014. She then added that lead causes behavioral problems in children, which often leads to jail and prison since mental health facilities are scarce for children in low-income communities. “The problem for folks that aren’t following it closely, is it’s somewhat simplified. [They believe] ‘People need water because it’s dirty water, so let’s send water bottles,’” DuVernay said. “It’s such a nuanced problem, this is embedded in the very fabric of that community, of every single layer.”

Everyone from Snoop Dogg to Cher has donated money and bottles of water, or visited to speak with the mayor. But #JusticeForFlint is among the largest collaborative efforts to fight the crisis. DuVernay says that it is the spirit of Blackout for Human Rights, which was Coogler’s idea. “Our work as filmmakers is all about collaboration. We’re not sculptors who can sit in a room by ourselves and do our thing, or a painter. The whole idea of filmmaking is to make one piece of art, one vision becomes clear with many hands,” DuVernay told Okayplayer exclusively. “For me, it’s in the very nature of the work I do every day, and I think the same is true of Ryan. When the idea comes that we want to come together around issues of injustice and indignity, our first instinct is just to call our friends, people who are likeminded, to help us.”

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DuVernay and Coogler have both created and contributed to films that showcase civil rights issues for oppressed people. She said that art and activism “go hand in hand.”

“My job as a filmmaker, I feel, is to tell our stories. The best way to be able to do that is with empathy, with sincerity, with intimacy, is to know what they are. We can’t just live in our imaginations,” she said. “We have to be in the world, we have to be of the world. We cannot be in glass houses, typing away, collecting our trinkets and our checks. We have to actually know what we’re talking about. In order to do that, you have to act and you have to be a part of it sometimes.”

William E. Ketchum III covers entertainment, pop culture, race and politics for the likes of The Guardian, NPR, Billboard and more. Follow him (and us!) on Twitter at .



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