On Monday night, Black Lives Matter activists crashed the Bryant Park screening of 1946 film noir classic The Killers. They held up a sign mirroring the movie poster, replacing the faces of Hollywood actors with NYPD cops who have killed New Yorkers. They held a prolonged mic check, detailing the facts of each case. Minutes before the film began, the protesters took over the space between the stage and the crowd, chanting “Black Lives Matter.”
Many of the people gathered for the film chanted along, but at least one security guard tried to stop the demonstration. To their credit, the NYPD officers waved him off and let the mic check proceed in its entirety.
“As you watch this movie, The Killers, a fictional drama about hitmen, know that there is a real life drama being played out on the streets of New York,” said protester Elsa Waithe, reading from a script written by Patrick Waldo. “There are real life killers roaming our streets. And these hitmen get a salary AND a pension. And when they kill, they kill with no legal consequence.”
After a speech of over 10 minutes, the crowd roared in applause:
Tyrell Plaza and David Hardward, both 18-year-old black men who live in Brooklyn and were sitting in the front row waiting for the movie, told ANIMAL they thought the protest was extremely effective. “It was great that the cops didn’t have to do anything and it still reached a lot of people,” said Tyrell. “I like that they were able to have a big effect without doing any damage,” said David.
“This was fantastic, clever, and important,” said Brenda Stuart, a 63-year-old Australian living in New York City. “It is important to get in front of people and assert your message,” said her friend Robert Chambers, visiting from Australia.
At least one woman, 18-year-old Emily Stevens from Florida, had a less receptive take on the action. “The reason the gay rights movement was successful was because it was about love and unity,” she said. “The Black Lives Matter movement is divisive, and when they get in my face like this, it makes me uncomfortable.”
Waithe, who led the mic check, recounted a platitude her grandmother used to tell her: “Comfort breeds complacency.” “The first thing gay people did was make people uncomfortable,” said Waithe, who is a gay woman. “Then we started to get change.”
The entire group, known as NYC Shut It Down, considered the action a huge success. “We reached a lot of people tonight,” said Waldo, who had the original idea to crash the film. “We all agreed that taking our form of direct action to the public movie screenings would be ideal, and when I checked the schedule, this one seemed perfect – the perfect opportunity to raise awareness.”
Moviegoer Daniel Hamilton, 28, confirmed their feeling. “Even though I’m black and have had bad experiences with the NYPD, I didn’t realize there were so many cases. The numbers they mentioned are startling. It made me want to get more involved.”
Babbie Dunnington designed the sign using graphics from the official movie poster and publicly available pictures of the cops who have killed. “It was surprisingly difficult to find their photos,” she noted. “When you search their names, you get straight-on photos of their victims, but have to dig to find their photos, and when you do, they are mostly blurry shots from the side, from cell phone video or as they are ducking out of court.”
(Photos: Keegan Stephan/ANIMALNewYork)
(Video: Barbara Ross)