Ending in TEARS: Behind the “Virtual Conversation” Between Melina Abdullah and Michel Moore That (Obviously) Never Was
How did Richard Stellar and the Man/Kind Project get BLM-LA and LAPD to the table for their first and only joint panel? Easy: they didn’t.
On Sunday, The Man/Kind Project announced the third installment of “TEARS: The Event Against Racism and Prejudice.” By Tuesday night, the event had been postponed amid accusations that the group had misled participants from Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, who demanded that The Man/Kind Project remove them from the event and its promotional materials.
TEARS was advertised as a “Virtual Discussion” between Black Lives Matter Los Angeles co-founder Dr. Melina Abdullah and LAPD Chief Michel Moore. When The Hollywood Reporter published a story on the event Monday afternoon, allies of BLM-LA were quick to question the story.
“If a person knows anything about what BLM-LA does and advocates for, they would know that they aren’t sitting down with people like Michel Moore and Charlie Beck,” said Adam Smith, an organizer with White People for Black Lives who was among those who spotted red flags.
Later that night, Abdullah confirmed those suspicions. In reply to The Hollywood Reporter on Twitter, she wrote “I WOULD NEVER BE IN CONVERSATION WITH LYING-ASS, MURDEROUS CHIEF MOORE! Please remove this story and print a retraction!”
A late night correction from The Hollywood Reporter clarified that the event was a “virtual discussion,” and that Moore and Abdullah were not actually in conversation with each other.
“Black Lives Matter threatened us over that article,” said Richard Stellar, event organizer and Founder of The Man/Kind Project. “The Hollywood Reporter retracted it and rewrote it.” Stellar contends that the problem was the headline’s portrayal of this event as a “conversation,” though The Man/Kind Project described the event as a “discussion” in promotional materials for the event.
Both parties agree that last year, Abdullah was approached for an interview, and that BLM-LA helped facilitate interviews with two other organizers. Richard Stellar, founder of The Man/Kind Project, said “we told her we had not decided on a format, but that we were trying to get everyone together. We were discussing the LAPD, but there were no ground rules. We referenced the LAPD a lot.”
“Dr. Abdullah was interviewed, and then a month later Chief Moore was interviewed,” said Anne-Marie Johnson, an actor/activist and organizer of the event. “Both were asked the same questions in the same order,” she added. Their answers were then edited together to create a virtual back and forth between the two.
“That’s not ethical to basically splice things in, present it as a conversation that we would never agree to, and without our consent,” said Abdullah. “We’ve always abided by a strict practice of never doing panels or engaging with police.”
“Why would I, as a Black woman, as a woman whose ancestors were enslaved, why would I want to build bridges with the descendants of slave masters and slave-catchers?” said Abdullah. “We don’t believe that the system of policing is reformable. We are abolitionists, and believe in the reimagining of public safety and the ushering in of community solutions rather than policing solutions that have never meant freedom or safety for Black people.”
In a promotional interview with The Real Chat Daddy on Sunday, Johnson acknowledged that she was aware of the unprecedented nature of this “discussion.”
“I had complete participation from both Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Police Department,” she said. “So this is the first time that they are discussing the same issue at the same time and it is an eye opener.”
When Johnson approached Abdullah through a mutual friend, Abdullah said, “I thought she would be ethical and honest, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.”
“I don’t think I would be as successful as I am in my work off camera and on camera if I were an unethical and dishonest person, so I take that criticism to heart,” said Johnson. “It’s unfortunate that Dr. Abdullah did not feel the need to speak to me personally.”
According to Johnson, no releases were exchanged, but that The Man/Kind Project captured video of the agreement between interview subjects and production staff about how the videos would be used. When asked if she would share video or transcripts of those portions of the interview with Abdullah, she declined.
Abdullah says that the plan to put her in “discussion” with Chief Moore was never run past her.
“This kind of presentation of BLM and of me personally as someone who would do something that I swore that I would never do, and is damaging to the organization’s reputation,” said Abdullah. “We did see comments on Instagram, like ‘this is some bullshit,’ ‘why would Black Lives Matter do this?’ We had to really be assertive and convince folks that no, we would never do this.”
Stellar pointed the finger at BLM-LA for disrupting the event, which focused on themes of unity.
“We’re talking about the unity in the community, we’re trying to find common ground. The police have not come back to us and made demands, but BLM has,” said Stellar. “In searching for unity you have to shine a light on where the gridlock is.”
When asked to clarify whether he was referring to BLM-LA as “the gridlock,” he immediately denied it, but went on to add “when they see the music video that we shot, with the combined choirs, they’ll probably have a problem with that,” said Stellar, referring to a performance of Lean On Me featuring choirs from the community and the LAPD.
Asked whether he had any regrets about the way the event was produced and promoted, he replied “absolutely not.”
As of Tuesday morning, he still planned to use the clips of Abdullah.
“This is going to come out. It’s a very well done piece. She sounds great. She’s extremely articulate,” said Stellar. He added that people should “let the viewer decide.”
After KNOCK.LA spoke to Stellar Tuesday, the event page was updated to clarify that the interviews were recorded separately. Dr. Abdullah’s name remained the program, but curiously, her photo was with a stock photo of a protesting Black woman taken in the Canary Islands.
Johnson, Stellar’s partner in organizing the event, was more apologetic.
“I’m sorry that that’s how she feels, and we respected that immediately when she asked that all of their materials be removed,” said Johnson, contradicting Stellar’s earlier statement. She particularly regrets that the episode will not air. “It’s a shame, but we respect their position, and we’re sorry it’s not going to happen, because it’s one of the best episodes we’ve ever done.”
Johnson sees this as a learning opportunity for herself: “[The Man/Kind Project’s] position is that we believe that through respectful and direct conversation or communication, through words and music and arts, we believe we can strengthen the empathy muscle. What’s transpired in the last 48 hours has certainly been a challenge, and has certainly strengthened the empathy muscle.”
The event has been postponed, which the organizers blame on Chief Moore’s recent hospitalization. The event page no longer lists Michel Moore or Melina Abdullah by name, though it still features Moore’s photo.
Abdullah hopes that journalists will learn from this experience.
“Real journalists need to stop printing press releases as if they’re stories,” she said. “We need to think about how the Hollywood Reporter accepted this very small group’s word and ran with it. The Hollywood Reporter which has over 1m followers and elevates the story. There’s some journalistic integrity we should call for.”
Stellar seemingly remains unremorseful, and posted this tweet Tuesday night.
Additional reporting by Devon Manney.
Update: Shortly before publication, The Man/Kind Project sent the following tweet, which contains a link to a promotional video for the event which still included Dr. Abdullah and BLM-LA as advertised participants, and the original March 6th premier date:
Thanks to readers like you, KNOCK.LA is able to keep you informed on local politics and uplift marginalized voices in LA. Click here to support KNOCK’s independent journalism.