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Why The Black Lives Matter Movement needs star amplification and solidarity

Taking the knee: Why it matters in post George Floyd killing for public personalities such as Denzel Washington, Lewis Hamilton, Jamie Foxx and other accomplished black celebrities, influencers and commentators to speak out against white supremacy and racial injustice.

A glittering film career spanning several decades has seen Denzel Washington mature from yesteryear productions such as NBC’s medical drama; St Elsewhere which ran from 1982-1988, when he cut his teeth on the screen with a mesmerising performance as Dr Phillip Chandler. More stellar performances were to come. Who can forget that emotional whipping scene as a bare chested young Denzel announced his advent on the film scene to contemporary films such as Glory in (1989), in which he played, a belligerent, defiant, self-absorbed ex-slave. Throughout his illustrious career, one thing remains conspicuous, Denzel is a grand master at his craft, acting, delivering his multifaceted roles with a nonpareil passion. Here is a man, a living legend whom today I seek to celebrate his success and achievements through delving into three of his films; Cry Freedom (1987), Malcolm X (1992), and American Gangster (2007). In equal measure, this piece will seek to consider other high profile black actors and athletes, among them, Formula One motor racing maestro; Lewis Hamilton; film star cum musician, Jamie Foxx who “killed off” Ray Charles’ performance in the biopic, Ray (2004), with his sublime performance. Aside from acknowledging these black icons’ contribution to the arts sector, it is integral to consider the role of the artist in aiding The Black Lives Matter Movement, (BLMM) cause. To remain neutral, see no evil, hear no evil, should not be a dilemma for the artiste. There is a clear choice to be made, in the interests of serving posterity as the article argues.

A protester holds a sign saying “I Can’t Breathe Mama,” at a Black Lives Matter Rally in Dumfries, Virginia. “I Can’t Breathe Mama,” was one of the last words said by George Floyd before he was killed. Photo:Wiki/CC BY-SA 4.0

The knee gesture protest was popularised by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016. Premier League footballers in England have been taking the knee gesture signal at the start of their matches, following the resumption of the League after the Covid-19 lockdown. At the recent season opening, Austrian Grand Prix, Formula One star, Hamilton and 13 other drivers took the knee gesture on the starting grid, with six drivers refusing to take the symbolic gesture, citing lame excuses on why they couldn’t do so. Such dissonance amongst high profile F1 stars beggars’ belief. Perhaps, it’s no wonder Hamilton has openly acknowledged, “silence from some circles is concerning,” which silence and lack of support from other key voices (far and beyond) constitutes the centrepiece argument advanced in this narrative.

What the BLMM movement represents are noble and forward-thinking ideologies of racial harmony, integration and tolerance, decent human values to the core. It has been disturbing to see those from the other side of the divide, the far-right players like Nigel Farage and the right-wing media in England try to foment this debate into an us versus them binary dichotomy, deliberately misrepresenting and distorting the BLMM remit and well-meaning demonstrations. This is counterproductive, it doesn’t work and will never work, and there is no place for this divisiveness in our global society, today, tomorrow ad infinitum. One lame way critics have tried doing this is by bandying around a counter slogan to BLMM by charging “white lives matter”, as if black people ever said by insinuation white lives don’t matter. For the avoidance of doubt; white lives do matter, no one is saying they don’t matter.  Sky News Television sports presenter; Mike Wedderburn does a brilliant job in explaining why the white lives matter counter refrain to the BLMM is offensive, when taken within context. As Mike aptly explains; taken within context; white lives matter is indeed offensive as it flies in the face of what BLMM is striving to achieve for the black community, especially as historically, black people have had an unfair advantage in spheres of life due to the endemic prevalence of systemic racism and white privilege. Thus, the aforementioned anti-slogan undermines the BLM cause.

Denzel joins an array of black actors who have excelled in their field, performers such as, Morgan Freeman, Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Jamie Foxx among others, comes to the fore. Even though this piece is about lauding black icons cultural ambassadors, nonetheless it would be amiss not to acknowledge the role these aforementioned icons should continue to play in raising and nurturing the profile of race relations in our contemporary world. They are luminaries in an industry often hogged by charges of ingrained, institutionalised racism, which have denied them due recognition by way of Oscars; hence the  #oscarsowhite campaign, which has sought to highlight the skewed landscape when it comes to black actors winning Academy Awards in Hollywood. In the United Kingdom, the Baftas have also been lampooned by critics over similar charges. Therefore, our esteemed cultural icons have also experienced this racism first hand, they understand the streets we’ve walked. They have a legitimate duty to highlight the injustices of white supremacy and racism, and fully endorse the BLMM cause, as some of them have been doing.

For so long, the Academy Awards Adjudication Board has been preoccupied with overlooking talented black actors because “they didn’t fit the bill.” Critics point out, the real reason why great actors of Washington and Freeman’s ilk have not won so many awards, is not so much the dearth of their savoir faire, but an extension and perpetuation of “the knee on our neck.” Perhaps, this diversity debate in film and television awards explains why some black actors and film producers have mooted the formation of rival acknowledgment bodies to compete with established Oscars and Bafta awards. However things pan out, the diversity debate discourse resonates well with BLMM fight for racial injustice and greater diversity. 

We all need to play our collective part in speaking out against the ills of racism, bigotry, sectarianism and white supremacy permeating our inner (societal) psyche.  Sitting on the fence or quiet acquiescence is simply not acceptable and not good enough. As renowned civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton succinctly puts it; “get your knee off our neck,” should be a rallying cry, society ought to adopt in fighting these unfettered ills. The George Floyd killing may well be the Black Lives Matter Movement magna

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About the Author

Andrew Chatora

Andrew Chatora

Andrew Chatora is a Zimbabwean novelist, essayist and short-story writer based in Bicester, England. He grew up in Mutare, Zimbabwe, and moved to England in 2002. His debut novella, Diaspora Dreams (2021), was approvingly received and nominated for the National Arts Merit Awards (2022). His second book, Where the Heart Is, was published in the same year to considerable acclaim. Chatora’s forthcoming book, Born Here, But Not in My Name, is a brave, humorous and psychologically penetrating portrait of post-Brexit Britain. Chatora is noted for his acerbic and honest depiction of the migrant experience. Heavily influenced by his own experience as a black English teacher in the United Kingdom, Chatora probes multi-cultural relationships, identity politics, blackness, migration, citizenship and nationhood.

''Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories affords Andrew Chatora to tell his story with more urgency than before. Chatora roars into centre stage with this charmed confluence of the novella, the essay, the treatise, the short story and the vignette. Here is a collection to startle you out of your complacency.'' – Memory Chirere, University of Zimbabwe

In his fourth literary offering, Andrew Chatora gives us eleven stories written in a wide range of settings and painting the lives of Zimbabweans from different walks of life. From the impenetrable Harare prison to the working class Mutare and its domain of shebeen queens to suburban Harare and a politically charged United Kingdom in a post Brexit world, Chatora takes the reader on a grand tour of outrage. Notwithstanding the shifts in scene and setting, these stories have one pervasive theme in common - they capture the suffocation and desperation of Zimbabwe and her Diaspora and fully describe the precariousness of living in environments that are increasingly hostile.

Inside Harare Alcatraz and Other Short Stories transcends the grass is never greener perspective with a nuanced interrogation of the socio-political realities of its characters. Chatora fashions a diverse cast of characters whose complexities and eccentricities evoke the utmost in us.
"Where The Heart Is offers a nuanced view of one family’s struggle to negotiate cold Britannia as they face dicey neighbourhoods, sketchy liaisons, and perennial ill-fate. Chatora’s diaspora is not the glorified El Dorado; it is an honest place of grit and survival. A stellar contribution."

– Tariro Ndoro, Author Agringada: Like a Gringa, Like a Foreigner

For migrant Fari Mupawaenda, life cannot be complete without quitting the back breaking struggle for survival in the UK and returning to the laid-back streets of a warm Harare… but does it make sense for him to want to return to the periphery once more? The man who returns, why does he return? To what does he return?

His wife, a zealous cosmopolitan, the daughter, a conflicted bed-hopping undergraduate, and the son, a budding homosexual, will not follow Fari in his trip to what they see as the back of beyond. They have decided to invest fully where they are.
Fari’s reverse trip is a story about the human body, a tight memory test and a duel between geography and anticipation…

Masterful in style and form, the narratives in Andrew Chatora’s Where the Heart Is are intensely provocative.

-Memory Chirere- University of Zimbabwe
“Chatora gives us an honest account of the migrant’s experiences in a world that seeks to silence him. Diaspora Dreams is simultaneously suffocating and isolating. Battle after battle, the reader is constantly thrown into the unforgiving world of a black man in a white man’s world.” – Tariro Ndoro, Author, Agringada: Like a Gringa, Like a Foreigner

Diaspora Dreams is Andrew Chatora’s debut novella. It details the life and struggles of Kundai Mafirakureva, a Zimbabwean immigrant living in the United Kingdom. When Kundai departs a failing Zimbabwe for the greener pastures of England, he is convinced that his luck will immediately change. Yet what he finds in the UK convinces him that all that glitters is not always gold.

Chatora takes us on a journey that acquaints us with Thames Valley, where Kundai must negotiate his place and his voice in a world where African men are not welcome, a world where racial prejudice is still rampant. Set against the backdrop of petty classroom squabbles that constantly remind Kundai of his lower status as an immigrant and as a black man, Diaspora Dreams exposes the tensions of working in the diaspora and the complicated dynamics between community and authority experienced by black men.

The pressures of Britain also bear down on Kundai’s family and relationships, threatening, in the words of du Bois, to “tear his soul asunder.” This is a novel with comedic elements gleaming with personal values and beliefs, sometimes an aching story to read, but never without excitement and hope as you watch this black man’s life unfold.
“Harare Voices and Beyond takes us on a journey through the dark recesses of the human psyche.”

─Sue Quainton, Bicester, United Kingdom

A drunken confession exposes a dark family secret. Rhys appears to have it all. A white Zimbabwean living in affluent Borrowdale Brooke area he gets involved in a freak traffic accident. Therein unfolds a confession which unleashes a cathartic chain of events in the family’s hitherto well-choreographed life, a family whose lived experience becomes microcosmic and an eye opener to Zimbabwe’s seemingly closed, forgotten, white minority community.

Through offering a rare insight into lives of the white community in post-independence Zimbabwe, Harare Voices and Beyond explores the dynamics of love, money, family feuds, identity politics, false philanthropy, and respectability inter-alia. Two families’ lives are inexorably linked in this fast-paced narrative which not only traverses multiple locations, but also juxtaposes the seedy underbelly of Harare with the leafy northern suburbs, and little-known Marina Thompson from UK Durham University all appear linked in a drama-infused finale that will shock and numb the reader.

Today in Literature

Andrew Chatora’s Debut Novella “Diaspora Dreams” Stares Back at the White Gaze


The Breaking of Our Tribe: A Review of Where the Heart Is by Andrew Chatora


Charles Lovemore Mungoshi – Eulogy to Greatness


Navigating New Identities – A Review of Andrew Chatora’s “Diaspora Dreams”


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