clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Ava DuVernay and Ryan Coogler are hosting #JusticeForFlint benefit concert. Here’s why it matters.

The Academy Awards show isn’t the only star-studded event happening this Sunday.

Blackout for Human Rights, a collective of artists, filmmakers, musicians, and activists who work together to address human rights violations against American in the US, is holding #JusticeForFlint, a free benefit concert for the residents affected by the Flint, Michigan, water crisis.

Selma director Ava DuVernay and Creed director Ryan Coogler are co-organizing the event, hosted by comedian Hannibal Buress. They'll be joined by singers Janelle Monae and Ledisi, and actor-activists Jesse Williams and Jussie Smollett, to name a few.

The event, broadcasting live from Flint, will feature some of the entertainment industry’s best, but the point isn't to give a platform for celebrities to flaunt. The goal for #JusticeForFlint is to listen to the city's residents when they say what they need and raise funds to give it to them.

DuVernay called the Flint crisis "one of the most egregious human rights violations in American history." Coogler added that the benefit "will give voice to the members of the community who were victims of the choices of people in power who are paid to protect them."

Celebrities are pitching in where Flint officials failed local residents

Flint officials decided to stop purchasing drinking water from Detroit as a cost-cutting measure. The plan was to join a system that would draw water from Lake Huron and filter it to make it fit for drinking. The system wasn't ready, so the city temporarily began to tap Flint River in April 2014. That water, it turned out, is corrosive.

The stopgap move cost residents their clean water, and highlighted an inept and callous local government that ignored local residents' concerns. Now celebrities are pitching in their own private resources to address this public disaster.

In addition to President Obama sending $80 million to Flint after declaring a federal state of emergency in the city in January, celebrities like Cher, Sean "Diddy" Combs, Jimmy Fallon, and Pearl Jam have been donating money and water bottles for residents.

Rapper Meek Mill raised the stakes of his meme-infused beef with rapper 50 Cent to challenge 50 Cent to match Mill’s $50,000 donation to the city. Beyoncé also announced she was creating a relief fund for Flint through her Beygood initiative the weekend she released her music video for "Formation."

The #JusticeForFlint concert is another instance where people in the entertainment industry are pooling their private resources to take the lead that public officials abdicated.

#JusticeForFlint is not a response to #OscarsSoWhite, but they both highlight the same problem

In an interview with Yahoo News Friday afternoon, Katie Couric asked if DuVernay was "trying to send a message to the Academy" in light of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy surrounding this year’s award show that is also on Sunday.

DuVernay responded quite simply, "No."

"We are basically saying on this night there are other things going on around issues of justice and dignity," DuVernay told Couric. "It’s not lost on us, and it would be disingenuous for us to say that we’re not aware that the Oscars are happening that night. We’re a part of the industry. We love the industry, and many of our friends … are nominated."

But even if #JusticeForFlint isn’t a response to #OscarsSoWhite, the two hashtags are born from the same problem: institutional racism.

#OscarsSoWhite stems from the fact that the largely white, male film industry has for long resisted making room for people who are not white and male, limiting the opportunities for them to be given the kind of recognition afforded to their white, male peers.

#JusticeForFlint comes from the sobering reality that the water crisis demonstrates a case of environmental racism where profit was prioritized over the well-being of a city whose population is 57 percent black.

#OscarsSoWhite is bigger than the Oscars, and #JusticeForFlint is about more than water bottles.

They are both about how people of color are too easily disregarded and that it’s time to fix it.

#JusticeForFlint will begin at 5 pm Sunday and will be live-streamed through Revolt TV.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.