By: Carrie Sheffield
You’d think that Black History Month would be the wrong time to erase the legacy of the only African American justice currently seated on the U.S. Supreme Court. But Amazon disagrees.
As Jason Riley at The Wall Street Journal reports, “Early last month Amazon deleted a documentary film about Justice Clarence Thomas from its popular streaming service. Titled ‘Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words,’ and culled from more than 30 hours of interviews with its subject, the film recounts Justice Thomas’s rise from poverty in segregated Georgia to Yale Law School and, eventually, to the Supreme Court. Along the way, viewers learn about the justice’s views on race, religion, politics and the role of the judiciary.” PBS first aired the film in May 2020 and Amazon started streaming it in October.
In December, I watched the documentary and found it deeply moving. I give the film five stars! Thomas is known for being notoriously press-shy—thanks to his partisan, biased grilling during his SCOTUS confirmation. So it was inspiring to hear from Thomas directly about how he matured from an angry, Black Panther-sympathizing nihilist while in college to a powerful legal trailblazer and devout Christian with a deep respect for America’s laws and history. But Thomas doesn’t sugar coat anything. He gives the viewer an unvarnished criticism of America’s troubling racist past, though he doesn’t stop there.
Thomas acknowledges America’s capacity for redemption, its need for grace and its tremendous progress. We’ve tried the liberal approaches to poverty for decades, with trillions of dollars spent. This has resulted in limited improvement and in some cases, regression. We all need and deserve grace, and America can’t move forward unless we’re open to alternative viewpoints—like Thomas’—about how to address the deep challenges facing black Americans.
I’m friendly with the film’s director Michael Pack, who told Riley that the film was taken down by Amazon on Feb. 8, without warning or any reason given. Pack said that Amazon hasn’t violated any contract, and he also rightly noted that as a private company, Amazon has the right to pull anything from its site, and they don’t have to give an explanation.
But just because a company can do something doesn’t make it wise, just, or beneficial to society. Amazon tried to cancel another black conservative documentary by Eli Steele, called “What Killed Michael Brown?” It’s narrated by scholar Shelby Steele, who asks tough questions about liberal policies that have held back African-Americans. Riley reported the film “was slated to stream on Amazon in October, then held up for reasons the company never fully explained. Amazon eventually relented and made the film available, but only after these pages weighed in and made a fuss.”
Now it’s our turn to make a new fuss, to protect Justice Thomas and his incredible legacy. As an Amazon member since 2006, I’ve long enjoyed the company’s lightning delivery speeds and ubiquitous product offerings that make modern life comfortable. I know they can do better. Amazon, please don’t cancel “Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words.” Let us have an honest and open dialogue about race in America.