J. Pharoah Doss: The Tale of Amazon and Two Black Documentaries

by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier

By June 2020, there were protests and riots nationwide over the police killings of Black Americans like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Amazon, the biggest retailer in the world, placed a “Black Lives Matter” banner at the top of its website to “stand in solidarity with the Black community”.

Amazon received complaints, customers felt that the “Black Lives Matter” banner was divisive and were offended.

Amazon’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, dismissed the complaints. Bezos said the phrase “Black Lives Matter” doesn’t mean other lives don’t matter, it speaks to racism and the disproportional risk Black people face when encountering law enforcement.

Amazon stood its ground and remained in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, but not with the entire Black community.

Months later, Amazon Prime Video refused to stream a documentary called What Killed Michael Brown? because the title didn’t meet content quality expectations and the film was not eligible for publishing. Amazon Prime also told the film’s creators, “We will not be accepting resubmission of this title, and this decision may not be appealed.”

Shelby Steele, a well-known Black conservative, wrote the script. The documentary told the story of the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, from the point of view of Ferguson residents who didn’t agree with how the media covered the story and didn’t want Black Lives Matter activists coming into their town.

In other words, the film lambasted the narrative Amazon wholeheartedly embraced a few months earlier. More importantly, the protests and riots, were revered as “America’s racial reckoning,” and Amazon didn’t want to offend a host of “woke” customers by streaming a documentary they would find offensive and accuse Amazon of being on the “wrong side of history”.

So, the documentary What Killed Michael Brown? was “canceled”.

Curious customers that wanted to watch the film, along with right-wing media outlets, complained about censorship and accused Amazon of being opposed to ideological diversity and inclusion.

Eventually, Amazon Prime Video streamed the film.

Meanwhile, Amazon has sold a book called Hebrews to Negroes: Wake Up Black America since 2015, and in 2018, the author of Hebrews to Negroes produced a 3-hour documentary under the same title. The book and documentary claim that Black Americans are the actual descendants of the biblical Israelites, modern Jews took their religious heritage from Black people, and modern Jews have conspired to cover-up those facts to prevent Black people from knowing their “true” identity.

There’s nothing new about this premise.  It was first espoused in Chattanooga, Tennessee, by the founders of the Church of the Living God, the Pillar Ground of Truth for All Nations, in 1886. Historians say that this group referred to White Jews as “interlopers” and denigrated them for denying the divinity of Christ. 

The title of the book and documentary, along with its century old premise, passed Amazon’s content quality standards, and it hasn’t offended Amazon customers or anyone else in over half a decade.

Suddenly, in 2022, there’s a controversy involving the film Hebrews to Negroes, because NBA star Kyrie Irving shared a link to the film on Twitter. In 2021, Irving became a villain to some and a hero to others by refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine mandated by his employer. During that time of intense scrutiny, Irving said, “I am doing what’s best for me. I know the consequences, and if it means that I’m judged and demonized, that’s just what it is.”

Rolling Stone magazine decided to demonize him. The magazine said that Irving’s “anti-vax” stance emboldened the far right and that Irving believed in dangerous COVID-19 vaccine conspiracy theories.

From then on, the media thought of Irving as a conspiracy theorist.

When he posted a link to a film that makes claims based on conspiracy theories, the media automatically assumed he agreed with the film’s premise and was trying to promote an antisemitic film to his 4.6 million Twitter followers.

When Irving refused to apologize for what the media labeled an “antisemitic tweet,” the NBA suspended Irving for five games, and Nike ended their endorsement deal with the NBA star.

Rolling Stone explained that what makes Irving “so dangerous and malignant” is that there are thousands of young Black boys who hear him and believe him.

If indirect influence is the danger, then Amazon is more dangerous than Irving for selling an antisemitic title for over half a decade.

Everyone who was offended by Irving should wonder why Amazon did not censor Hebrews to Negroes: Wake up Black America the same way it censored What Killed Michael Brown?. 

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