Shia LaBeouf's Protest: Good Intentions With A Splash Of White Privilege

By Naomi Charles

On Jan 20, 2017 Shia LaBeouf uncovered his ingenious idea. He put up a camera outside the Museum of Moving Image in Queens, NY with the words "He Will Not Divide Us" painted above. The camera is supposed to live stream whatever is in front of it for however long President Trump is in office. Shia called for people to come and chant the five words.

The idea is to encourage people to come together during a time that makes it so easy for us to do the exact opposite. 

I got the opportunity to visit the installation the other day. Because of the recent events involving immigration, there were many people rallying to protest Trump's seven-country travel ban. Who would've thought that a small camera and five words written above it would bring out hundreds of people a day? It was almost surreal. There were people of all different backgrounds there; all different colors of the rainbow. It was humbling.

It was also a reminder that despite all the hate that's apparent in the world, there is still so much love. As a woman of color in these tough times, I actually found it comforting. 

I wish I could say that there haven't been any issues since this camera went up, but that is not the case. Shia —who is Jewish— got arrested last week because he pushed a man who had made anti-Semitic comments. LaBeouf was released on bail after a few hours. But this wasn't the only issue involving the stream. There have been quite a few others

But this dialogue of contention in American society and 'us versus them' rhetoric, does raise another topic: Privelege.

Shia LaBeouf, while Jewish, is still a White man. And while his intentions are genuine, his position in society as a White male Hollywood star give him the privilege to run this installation fairly unscathed. 

Former The Daily Show correspondent, Jessica Williams expressed this divide within Hollywood  at the "Powered By Women" luncheon last week at Sundance. Yes, there is more to a person than just their race and gender, but it's is unrealistic to act like it isn't there— especially in Hollywood. No, it's not a question of victimizing oneself, but it's a part of daily struggle as women of color. We do not choose how people treat us, but simply try to be our most authentic selves within society's paradigms. 

That being said, it should be recognized that Shia has a certain position in society. This act of protest at the Museum of Moving Image would be very different if he were a Black woman. But what he's been doing so far to stand out against the hate is nothing less of remarkable and commendable.

I hope he continues to use his position to do great things, but I also hope this new movement illicits a much needed conversation in Hollywood.

Naomi Charles is a student at St. John's University. Her passions include writing and film. She is proudly of Caribbean heritage. 

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