• 10.12.16

Harry Belafonte’s Social Justice PSA Uses Star Power To Evoke Empathy

Sankofa’s film enlists celebrities like Michael B. Jordan, Michael K. Williams, and Danny Glover to transcend race and open minds.

Harry Belafonte’s Social Justice PSA Uses Star Power To Evoke Empathy

As the most divisive Presidential race in history (we’ve stopped saying ‘arguably’ here) careers to its bitter end, here is a stark reminder of where bigotry and prejudice leads the human race. Harry Belafonte’s social justice organization, Sankofa, has released a powerful PSA, which leaves the viewer unable to avoid understanding more about the experience of people of color in the U.S.


The three-minute film “Against the Wall,” shows actors Michael B. Jordan (Creed, Fruitvale Station), Michael K. Williams (The Wire, 12 Years A Slave), Danny Glover (The Color Purple) in precisely that position, with arms raised. Several activists, including Van Jones and Marc Lemont Hill also appear. Meanwhile, the soundtrack plays excerpts from the depressingly familiar police radio accounts of incidences in which unarmed black men and boys have been shot and killed by law enforcement officers.

The whole idea behind the film, created by Miami-based agency, BushRenz, and executive produced by Gina Belafonte, Raul Roach and Marvin Bing, is empathy. The concept of using admired and recognizable actors to play the roles of victims of police brutality is intended to increase the film’s potential to open viewers’ minds.

Christopher Renz, who co-directed the film with Gerard Bush, says the objective is to inspire people to act through empathy. ”People empathize with people they know, and even more so with people that they admire,” he says. “Celebrity is interwoven within our society and people feel a personal connection to the actors, musicians, athletes, etc. who operate on a global stage. Placing these faces so familiar to American audiences with the police radio accounts of victims being gunned down by police, immediately causes pause and captures the attention of the viewer.”

It sure does, and the acting skills of the cast play a major part in the power of the film. Michael K. Williams’s gaze into the lens towards the end of the film conveys a palpable sense of sorrow and loss. Renz says, “It was good for us to be able to direct the actors and obviously, as this is their craft, they can tap into a range of emotions to communicate the fear, anxiety, and humiliation of the moment.”

Harry Belafonte says in a statement, “Somehow cell-phone video, dash-cam video, and news media flashing before our very eyes, hour after hour, the murder and victimization of black and brown bodies has desensitized us. By using the faces of those we recognize, familiar faces, we look to re-sensitize the community to really see the problem. We are shining a light and calling out to all to take a look, listen, and feel within your heart to take action.”

About the author

Louise Jack is a London-based journalist, writer and editor with a background in advertising and marketing. She has written for several titles including Marketing Week, Campaign and The Independent.