For the first time in its 34-year history, MTV will be without color. In an effort to “encourage its audience to have candid, confident and ‘color brave’ conversations on race,” the station is broadcasting in monochrome for 12 hours on Martin Luther King Jr Day, starting at 9 a.m.
“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.
Throughout the day, reflections and commentary will be offered by Kendrick Lamar, Common, Big Sean, Ava DuVernay, David Oyelowo, Penn Badgley, Jordin Sparks, Pete Wentz, Sen. Rand Paul, Rep. John Lewis, Sen. Cory Booker and more.
Ava DuVernay is the director of the new film “Selma” about one of the bloodiest chapters of the civil rights movement in the lead up to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. When the Oscar nominations were announced last week, not a single actor or actress of color was nominated, which many saw as a snub to DuVernay. On Friday, the White House screened the film.
The MLK programming on Monday is meant to promote MTV’s #TheTalk initiative, an expansion of the network’s “Look Different” anti-bias campaign that launched in mid-2014 along with an MTV study on race and bias.
“We did a study and found that 73 percent of 14 to 24-year-olds believe that having more open, constructive conversations about bias will help people become less prejudiced, yet only 10 percent report having those conversations often,” Friedman told the Huffington Post. “That’s just not good enough.”
The nationwide study found that nine in 10 Millennials believe that everyone should be treated the same, no matter what their race. As far as interpreting the current state of affairs, 68 percent of those identifying as Democrats said they believed whites have more opportunities while just 40 percent of those identifying as Republicans held the same point of view. Two-thirds of respondents agreed that America is still a deeply divided place despite having a black President.
There are some 80 million Millennials (those between the ages of 18 and 33), according to a Pew analysis of Census Bureau data. They are the largest generational cohort in American history — and also the most diverse. Around 43 percent of adult Millennials are non-white, and almost half of newborns in the U.S. today are non-white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which predicts that the full U.S. population will be majority non-white sometime around 2043.
According to Pew Research, this racial makeup is one of the primary factors in explaining the political liberalism of today’s youth.
This increased racial diversity may be one self-serving reason that MTV is ratcheting up its efforts on racially engaged programming. Millennials are digital natives, the first generation to have come of age with the Internet and social media readily available. By catering towards these high-profile issues, MTV maintains its relevance. “Video Killed The Radio Star” was in fact the first video ever aired by MTV back in 1981 — the same year many consider to be the cutoff of the Millennial generation.