Black History Month has always been about abolition for me.
I may not have known the word abolition as a young girl, but I understood abolition in my spirit. At my core, I witnessed a community ravaged and decimated by police and prisons, and I wanted more for us. I would stay up for hours in my bed, imagining a world where all of my loved ones were treated well and loved on. When I read books or watched television shows and films, I rarely saw Black communities surrounded with care, dignity and love.
The last twenty years of my work have focused on changing the material conditions for communities most impacted by a system that did not value our lives. And now, the next twenty years of my work will be about implementing and supporting life-affirming abolitionist storytelling and institutions that can help shape a new world. I believe abolition can chart a new vision and a new reality for all industries.
As I step into the storytelling space, I can’t help but think of all the things left out about Black people and our lives. How often was I told a story about myself and my community that was completely untrue? How often was I told stories about how we were “criminals,” unlovable, and deserved to be shunned or banished, locked away in a cage with no chance of experiencing redemption and transformation?
But I had a wholly different experience in my community.
While harm happened (mostly at the hands of law enforcement), so much more happened. Be it the sound of the tamale lady, the ice cream truck circling the block with its melodic jingle or the sound of children playing on street corners and swimming in the apartment’s communal pool —there was the sound of the family reunion coupled with BBQ and grandma’s gumbo. There was the sound of joy, laughter and togetherness.
So much vulnerability happened in Black and brown communities, usually matriarchs taking care of the entire block. This is what abolitionist storytelling reveals. The nuances of human life, specifically Black life. And this is what I plan on sharing as I continue to develop television shows and films for people globally.
In the work I’m developing for Warner Bros., I am choosing to focus on abolition as a way to tell a complicated and powerful story about the flaws and the gifts of our communities. I’m interested in shaping new realities for Black people based on the lived reality we experience daily.
My work will focus less on “Black Excellence” and more on Black humanity.
We must retool the vision and perspective the white carceral gaze has injected on all of us. Our job is to create a reflection and a mirror of sorts to help bring us back to who we truly are. Science-fiction, drama and comedy, scripted and unscripted stories can and will be told from an abolitionist perspective.
This way we begin to transform the visual conditions for the next generation of Black artists, educators, elected officials, and organizers who will be able to see a new version of themselves on screen.
This Black Futures Month we chart a new vision for the world we all deserve. The world we all long for. The world that does not rely on punishment and revenge to tell the stories of the future. I’m excited to share with y’all. Join me on this journey of telling abolitionist stories.
Patrisse Cullors is a best-selling author and political activist, known for her work as a co-founder of Black Lives Matter. Cullors has written and appeared as herself on Freeform’s “Good Trouble,” executive produced the HBO Max documentary “Eyes on the Prize: Hallowed Ground” and, in 2020, inked a multi-year deal at Warner Bros. Television Group to develop and produce original programming across all platforms, including broadcast, cable and streaming.
Throughout the month of February, Variety will publish essays from prominent Black artists, artisans and entertainment figures celebrating the impact of Black entertainment and entertainers on the world at large.