Criterion Channel Lifts Paywall on Films by Black Filmmakers in Support of Black Lives Matter

Image: Criterion Channel
Image: Criterion Channel

The Criterion Collection has removed the paywall on many films that focus on Black lives and works by Black filmmakers on its streaming service the Criterion Channel, allowing users to stream them for free even if they do not subscribe to the service.

Criterion said that it will make free films by Julie Dash, William Greaves, Kathleen Collins, Charles Burnett, Khalik Allah, and Maya Angelou, among others. The company said in a statement sent to Gizmodo on Thursday that it has removed the paywall from “as many of these titles as we can,” adding that it hopes viewers “will join us in speaking out and making a meaningful commitment to battling systemic racism in our country.”

“The disproportionate toll that covid-19 has taken on communities of colour; the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Tony McDade; and the casually lethal racism of the Central Park dog walker who called the cops on bird-watcher Christian Cooper have once again thrown into sharp focus the inescapable reality of systemic racism in our society and the many kinds of violence it inflicts on black Americans every day,” the company wrote. “Black Lives Matter. The anguish and fury unleashed all across the country are rooted in centuries of dehumanization and death. This pattern must stop.”

In addition to lifting the paywall on films by Black filmmakers and about Black lives, Criterion said it also established a $US25,000 ($36,078) initial contribution and another, ongoing $US5,000 ($7,216) monthly contribution to various unnamed organisations, including bail and legal defence funds, groups advocating for police reform, as well as community organisations. The company said it would post information about the groups to which it’s donating on its social channels.

The announcement follows days of protests in cities across the nation calling for an end to systemic racism and police brutality. While many companies have issued statements about the events unfolding in this country, few have explicitly condemned systemic racism and the murder of Black Americans, spoken out in support of protesters, or pledged to support people and organisations actively working to fight racial injustice.

Criterion added that it has convened as a company to address ways that it can create a “better, more equitable, more diverse Criterion,” including by committing to education for its workers and ownership, as well as by “examining the role we play in the idea of canon formation, whose voices get elevated, and who gets to decide what stories get told.”

Looking for additional ways to advocate for black lives? Check out this list of resources by our sister site Lifehacker for ways to get involved.