Open Letter from the US Black Animation Community
June 26, 2020
Dear United States Animation Community,
We, the leadership of Black N’ Animated, stand with our kin in demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Oluwatoyin ‘Toyin’ Salau, Elijah McClain, and… to our horror, the list grows, has continued to grow since our ancestors were first brought to these shores in 1619. The reach of western colonialism is long and has terrorized our communities without acknowledgment or atonement for too many centuries.
We also stand with our Black counterparts in live-action television and film, theatre, video games, and publishing that are responding to major corporations’ shows of support for the Black community to highlight the many ways those industries have failed them. We echo the sentiments expressed by WGA West’s Committee of Black Writers in their open letterto Hollywood and encourage our colleagues in animation to read it, as our concerns are very much the same. To our Black colleagues, we see the injustices you’ve faced — the discrimination, the gaslighting, the silencing, the erasure — and we are with you.
In recent weeks, the Black animation community has received calls to action from studios and groups. We have been asked to submit our names for job consideration and provide portfolios for review by industry professionals. This unprecedented interest in our existence has not only put our ostracization from the industry into sharp relief, but it has also caused many Black artists to wonder about the timing. We are morbidly aware that this attention has come at the expense of Black lives and wonder whether our presence in this industry is only valued in relation to our trauma and pain. We desperately hope that is not the case.
The Black animation community finds itself fighting for our humanity at the same time that we fight for the right to exist in our chosen profession. Audiences can plainly see this struggle in the absence of developed Black human characters in cartoons and the absence of Black professionals named in the credits of these productions. Black people have been systematically suppressed in all levels of the industry: in education, in hiring, and in promotions for leadership positions. We would love to wow you with statistics, but as The Animation Guild attested in a 2018 e-mail: “the Animation Guild would be unable to release any information on ethnicity, as this information was not collected from the membership in the past.” We do know from the 2018 Annenberg Inclusion Initiative that 2% of animation film directors identified as women of color, but none were Black.
Of course, Black animation professionals do not need statistics to understand how we are held back from opportunities. It is not unusual for one of us to find ourselves the only Black employee in a production or department, creating a sense of loneliness and isolation. The scant few of us employed in the industry are often subjected to micro-aggressions and workplace discrimination, but do not have colleagues who share our experience that we can confide in. Many of us are overlooked for opportunities or eventually let go from positions because we do not “fit in with the culture.” For many Black professionals who have tried their hardest to survive in the industry and ultimately left, this sudden interest has come too late, and their departure is an inexcusable loss for all of us.
If animation studios are serious about their support for the Black community, then there is work to be done. From animation companies in Los Angeles and across the United States, we request the following:
- A third-party audit to document the Black experience within the company and understand pain points
- Internal investigation to identify instances of racial discrimination and hold individual offenders accountable
- Sensitivity training that emphasizes anti-Blackness across all levels of the company
- Concrete commitment to hiring more Black professionals at all levels of the company
- Training and mentorship efforts that prepare Black employees for success and advancement in their respective roles
- Outreach programs that will enrich local underprivileged communities and provide a gateway to animation as a career option
While the ultimate goal is to employ more Black professionals, it is not enough. Companies must also do the work to analyze their spaces and reform them so that they are truly safe and inclusive; not just for Black employees, but for all Indigenous, LGBTQIA+, disabled, and otherwise marginalized employees of color. We recognize that this important work will take time and involve uncomfortable conversations and realizations. We support our colleagues as we all move forward on the road to a healthier, inclusive industry.
We thank our friends and allies in The Animation Guild, Women in Animation, and LatinX in Animation for their support, and call on them to reflect on their own spaces and how they can uplift the Black voices within them. Black guild members exist. Black women exist. Afro-Latinx people exist. While we cannot do the work for you, we do encourage your efforts to make your spaces safe and accommodating for all who need them.
We encourage our colleagues to listen to our stories of the Black experience in animation with empathy and compassion and to push for reform within your workplaces. Black Lives Matter, not just today, but every day.
For individuals who want to self-educate on systemic racism and how to be a better ally, please see the following collection of resources: https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/#educate
Written by Black N’ Animated:
Signed in Solidarity By:
Black Women Animate
Taylor K. Shaw, CEO, Founder
JLove Calderón, Managing Partner
Alison Mann, CEO, Co-Founder
Nicole Hendrix, Executive Director, Co-Founder
Jill Gilbert, CPO, Co-Founder
Monique Henry-Hudson, Co-Founder
Jade Seaberry, Co-Founder
Jeanette Bonds, Director
Sean Buckelew, President
LatinX in Animation
Magdiela Hermida Duhamel, Founder
Bryan Dimas, Co-Founder
Juan Pablo Reyes, Charter Member
Women in Animation
Marge Dean, President
Jinko Gotoh, Vice President
Zeba Fahid, Treasurer
Camille Eden, Chair of Talent Development
Tracey Miller-Zarneke, Chair of Legacy and Archives
Gail Currey, Chair of Global Chapters
Fumi Kitahara, Chair of Publicity
Maria Elena Hewett, Staff
Kate Menz, Staff
Anneliese Salgado, Staff
Jacqueline C.J. Barnes, Member