Watch: Don Lemon Calls on Celebs Like Ellen, Oprah to Speak Out on Inequities, Unrest

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday June 1, 2020

Don Lemon threw down the gauntlet for America's celebrity class, wondering on air where the voices of the nation's most prominent citizens are in the midst of widespread rioting and unrest. Among those Lemon called out were Kim Kardashian, Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey, and even Ellen DeGeneres — "people who I admire and who I love," Lemon said.

"I really don't know what to say at this moment except This is America," openly gay CNN anchor Don Lemon said on the air on May 30, as a split-screen showed street scenes from a nation beset by unrest: Looters stole from a store, firefighters responding to a blaze, armored police vehicles rolling through nighttime streets. "This is what it has come to right now. And I am wondering who is going to step into the void and call for some calm and try to pull us all together instead of dividing us."

Many Americans have been wondering the same thing, with news outlets reporting on how President Donald J. Trump blasted out incendiary tweets and seemingly inviting his supporters to show up at the White House, where protestors gathered over the weekend. News reports also noted that Trump had been secured in a bunker on May 29, when protestors showed up outside the White House.

Unrest has spread rapidly through the nation in the days after the murder of George Floyd, an African American who died at the hands of Minneapolis police. One officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes, ignoring Floyd's pleas that he was unable to breathe and also ignoring the increasingly frantic warnings from bystanders — including a firefighter — that he was killing Floyd. Three other officers were present, none of whom attempted to intervene.

All four officers were subsequently fired. Chauvin is the only officer so far to be arrested. He has been charged with murder.

That killing proved to be a tipping point, coming as it did in the wake of several other high-profile deaths of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement — or, in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, a man who was chased down by a father and son as he was jogging in Brunswick, Georgia, and shot to death. The father and son claimed that Arbery fit the description of a suspect in break-ins around their neighborhood. Officials took no action in that killing for months, until a video of the killing began to circulate online.

As Trump and U.S. Attorney General William Barr pointed fingers of blame at "Antifa" and "left-wing extremists," other officials took note of how right-wing extremists seemed to be exacerbating the unrest. In recent years, white nationalists and new-Nazis have expressed a desire for a race-based civil war; recent demonstrations against COVID-19 lockdowns in various states saw "reopen" protestors carrying assault weapons to protests and even inside the Michigan state capital.

It was against this background of unrest and anger that Lemon weighed in with his musings. "It spans the entire country, from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C."

Lemon went on to comment on the lack of leadership from the country's political class, saying, "Since all of this chaos broke out this evening, no call for calm, Americans coming together, We Are All One. Not that I've heard of. I sure would like to hear that."

Lemon lamented the way the American Experiment seemed to be failing before the eyes of his viewers. "This is not Democracy. This is, quite frankly, anarchy, And so far — silence" from elected officeholders at the national level, though Lemon mentioned having heard from a handful of Democratic politicians. "I would love to hear from some Republican leaders. Please call in and talk to me — I would love to hear what you have to say about this, I really do. I want to hear what the president has to say, I really do."

Lemon then came up with an idea for where sorely lacking leadership might come from: Celebrities. Among those he name-checked, Lemon called out for Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah Winfrey, and Tyler Perry.

Lemon said he'd heard from celebrities in private, but he wanted them to get on the air with him.

"I can't do it. I'm mad. I don't want people to see me mad, it might hurt my business," Lemon said, parroting what he implied were excuses that well-to-do people had made for not speaking out publicly. "Or: I'm so upset that I had to go to my country house, and I just can't do it. Where are you? Why aren't you fighting for these young people? If you don't do it now, when are you going to do it?"

Lemon wondered if stars were afraid that commenting on the unrest might in some way hurt their "brand" — a word he said drove him "crazy" - and added, "You are your 'brand.' Step up, people!"

Vulture reported that Lemon was on the phone on air for a time with Rev. William Barber. During that call, Lemon renewed his call for celebrities to speak out.

"Yes, I'm calling you out, and you can be mad at me all you want," Lemon said, "And what they're doing, you're sitting there and watching television and you're bitching about it."

Saying that giving money was good, and "desperately important," Lemon noted that "visibility is extremely important because young people need to see people who have made it so that they can understand that they [can make] it too, and that they can know, publicly, that you have their backs."

Jezebel reported on Lemon's on-air comments, also, quoting Lemon as saying:

By me calling out your name, that doesn't mean I'm calling you out. It means I love you, Ellen. It means I love you, Oprah... You may be doing something I don't know about, and if you are then I apologize. But I want to see you, Tracee Ellis Ross. I want to see you, Tyler Perry. I want to see you, Drake... I want to see you, my friend, Anthony Anderson. I love you. I love all of you. I want to see you, Diddy, out there doing this. I want to see you, Jane Fonda, who I love and respect. I want to see you out there, fighting for these kids. Do something!

Watch a clip from Leon's May 30 broadcast, below.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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