Amazon Cancels Shelby Steele – WSJ
As a documentary, “What Killed Michael Brown?” has everything going for it. Its subject is timely, about the pre-George Floyd killing of Michael Brown by a police officer that set off riots in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.
It’s written and narrated by Shelby Steele, the prominent African-American scholar at the Hoover Institution, and directed by his filmmaker son, Eli Steele. Its subject—race relations—is a major fault line in this year’s presidential election, one reason the Steeles scheduled their film for release on Oct. 16. Our columnist Jason Rileywrote about the film on Wednesday.
One problem: “What Killed Michael Brown?” doesn’t fit the dominant narrative of white police officers killing young black men because of systemic racism. As a result, says the younger Mr. Steele,
rejected it for its streaming service. “We were canceled, plain and simple.”
In an email, Amazon informed the Steeles that their film is “not eligible for publishing” because it “doesn’t meet Prime Video’s content quality expectations.” Amazon went on to say it “will not be accepting resubmission of this title and this decision may not be appealed.”
On their website—whatkilledmichaelbrown.com—the Steeles offer other options for people looking to watch their documentary. But it’s sadly telling about elite political conformity that an intelligent film that gives voice to a variety of people, almost all black, who would otherwise not be heard is somehow deemed unfit for polite company. As Eli Steele puts it, “When Amazon rejected us they also silenced these voices and that is the great sin of a company that professes to be diverse and inclusive.”
We’re skeptical of the many calls in Washington to break up large tech giants such as Amazon since that might do more economic harm than good. But political pressure is building on the left, which dislikes Big Tech’s success and size; and on the right, which resents its leftward bias in suppressing cultural messages it doesn’t want people to hear. By canceling important dissenting voices like the Steeles on such a vital subject, Amazon is inviting a political backlash.
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Appeared in the October 15, 2020, print edition as ‘Amazon Cancels Shelby Steele.’