MTV airs in black and white for Martin Luther King Jr Day to spark conversation on race

2015-01-19 11:19

Washington - MTV is taking the colour out of its programming on Martin Luther King Jr Day to encourage people to talk about what race means in their lives.

The youth-oriented TV network is airing its programming in black and white on Monday, a first in the cable channel's 34-year history.

The programming move is meant to promote #TheTalk initiative, encouraging viewers to discuss race with their friends and family.

"The device of turning us black and white is going to be really— visually— a jolt to say, you know what, there are differences and if we are going to ever get to a freer, more equal society the best thing we can begin to do is talk about them," MTV President Stephen Friedman said.

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The retro-look programmes will air for 12 hours and will include personal reflections on race from entertainers and public officials, including Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean, Jordin Sparks, Pete Wentz, Republican Sen. Rand Paul, Democratic Rep. John Lewis, Democratic Sen. Cory Booker, Selma director Ava DuVernay and actor David Oyelowo, who portrayed King in the film.

The Oscar-nominated film Selma chronicles the 1965 marches for voting rights that King led through Alabama. Lewis, one of the student leaders working with King, suffered a skull fracture when Alabama state troopers, sheriff's deputies and county posse members wielding bullwhips, clubs and tear gas advanced on the marchers on the outskirts of Selma.

In addition to entertaining its audience, MTV has traditionally engaged viewers in social issues, Friedman said.

"We thought what better day than MLK Day to really use, not only the history and the power of what Dr King said with the "I Have a Dream" speech, but hear it from artists, political leaders and the audience to really spark a national conversation," Friedman said.

The latest MTV initiative is a part of its Look Different anti-bias campaign that launched in April 2014 to get young people talking about race, gender and sexual orientation.

The campaign created commercials with civil rights groups in the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old black man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer. The network also aired a special, Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word, about transgender youth with the Orange is the New Black star.

An MTV study found that 91% of millennials believe in equality and believe everyone should be treated equally. About 61% of teens and young adults say they have been the target of bias. The percentage is even higher among women, people of colour and LGBT.

Here is an exclusive video of Rep. John Lewis and his powerful reflections as part of MTV's campaign:

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