The Criterion Collection, which publishes “important classic and contemporary films,” is lifting the paywall on a number of “films that focus on Black Lives,” the company said in a statement posted to Twitter.
The statement said Criterion will establish “an employee-guided fund with a $25,000 initial contribution and an ongoing $5,000 monthly commitment to support organizations fighting racism in America” — like bail and defense funds, community organizations, and advocacy groups. It’s one of a number of companies to commit to fighting racism in the United States and worldwide following the police murder of George Floyd.
Floyd, an unarmed black man, died in police custody on May 25 after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes. His death has been ruled a homicide in two autopsies. Protests against police brutality and the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and others have been ongoing worldwide. Likewise, the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing, a crisis that disproportionately impacts people of color.
“This has been a powerfully emotional time,” The Criterion Collection said in its statement. “The disproportionate toll that COVID-19 has taken on communities of color; the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade; and the casually lethal racism of the Central Park dog walker who called the cops on bird-watcher Christian Cooper have once again thrown into focus the inescapable reality of systemic racism in our society and the many kinds of violence it inflicts on black Americans every day.”
Black Lives Matter. The anguish and fury unleashed all across the country are rooted in centuries of dehumanization and death. This pattern must stop. We support the protesters who have taken to the streets to demand justice, and we share their hopes. We are committed to fighting systemic racism.
We’ve met as a company and a community to talk openly about the work we need to do to build a better, more equitable, more diverse Criterion, beginning with education and training for our ownership and staff. We are also committed to examining the role we play in the idea of canon formation, whose voices get elevated, and who gets to decide what stories get told.
The films highlighted on The Criterion Collection’s online platform include the works of Oscar Micheaux, Maya Angelou, Julie Dash, William Greaves, Kathleen Collins, Cheryl Dunye, Khalik Allah, and Leilah Weinraub. The move follows other companies similarly offering free streaming for films dealing with black lives and systemic racism: Warner Bros. recently made the Michael B. Jordan and Jaime Foxx legal drama Just Mercy free on VOD platforms through June 30, and IFC offering the civil rights interview collection The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 free on Amazon and Apple TV through June 12.