New Jersey NAACP chapter cancels screening of ‘Harriet’ to take stand in Comcast battle

Cynthia Erivo stars as Harriet Tubman in HARRIET, a Focus Features release. Credit: Glen Wilson / Focus Features

In solidarity with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s ongoing fight with Comcast, its Southern Burlington County, New Jersey chapter decided to cancel a screening of the upcoming biopic about Underground Railroad trailblazer Harriet Tubman.

When local NAACP leaders realized that Comcast is the parent company of the film’s production company Focus Features, they decided it would not be such a good kick off to their annual Joint Freedom Fund Banquet. The national branch of the civil rights group has been vocal against Comcast.

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According to the Burlington County Times, Comcast has been accused by the NAACP’s national office of seeking to undermine a critical part of the 1866 Civil Rights Act.

“The branch decided to take a stand as a long standing civil rights [law] is being threatened in court by the owner of the film’s production company, Comcast,” Marcus Sibley, the Southern Burlington County NAACP’s spokesman and communication chair told the Burlington County Times.

For those that are not familiar with the case, Comcast has been a part of a longstanding lawsuit filed by Byron Allen, who is the Black entertainment mogul behind Entertainment Studios. Allen accused Comcast of refusing to air his various channels, including JusticeCentral.TV, Cars.TV, Pets.TV and Comedy.TV., on its cable devices, which he believed violated the 1866 Civil Rights Act’s Section 1981 that states Black people should not be discriminated against in business contracts, Burlington County Times reported.

Comcast denied any wrongdoing and claimed that they did not agree to air Allen’s channels due to low ratings.

“Mr. Allen’s frivolous, baseless claims — which a judge appointed by President Carter threw out three times as having nothing to do with race — debase and distort those laws. We are fully aligned with the view that this case should never have happened and we continue to hope that Mr. Allen will do the right thing and withdraw his claim — a move that would promptly terminate the Supreme Court case and bring this entire episode to an end,” a Comcast spokesperson said.

According to Burlington County Times, the NAACP became involved after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Comcast’s appeal of a 2018 decision by the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in California overturning several lower court decisions dismissing the case. With Comcast arguing that race should be a determining factor instead of a motivating factor, the NAACP fears this case gives a devastating blow to the landmark civil rights act.

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“The Civil Rights Act of 1866 rendered equalizers for black people in this country as it relates to employment, contracting and building wealth. Our expectations of Comcast, Byron Allen (Entertainment Studios) and ALL companies are that they employ and/or contract with black people and not discriminate based on race,” Southern Burlington County NAACP president, Crystal Charley said. “At stake here is far bigger than Comcast or Mr. Allen. Our position regarding this case is based on irretrievable harm to black people and other marginalized communities.”

Despite the controversy, Comcast is still holding out hope that moviegoers will go out to see “Harriet” in November.

“Focus Features has a longstanding history of releasing and telling stories that matter,” the spokesperson said. “This film and seeing Harriet Tubman’s life on screen is about celebrating her courage and legacy, and we hope as many people come out to theaters to do just that.”

The Supreme Court is expected to begin hearing arguments in the case next month.

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