History Lesson

If you’re not watching Justin Simien’s TikTok history lessons, what are you doing?

Hollywood is completely on fire right now, and not in the good way. AI is taking over, the streaming bubble has long since burst, and it feels like nothing original can get pushed through.

But guess what? This has all happened before, and all we have to do to understand the present is to look at the past.

That’s exactly what Black queer filmmaker Justin Simien is doing in a recent series of film history TikToks ahead of the Dear White People creator’s upcoming docuseries Hollywood Black.


People are going to say its a reach but the dark origins of Hollywood were buried for a reason terribly familiar to anyone who creates content while Black. More on all this in my doc series HOLLYWOOD BLACK coming Aug 11 to @MGM+ #creatorsearchinsights #animation #darkhollywoodsecrets @CuIture Machine

♬ original sound – Justin Simien

The reason people are freaking out and treating AI like an unforeseen threat in Hollywood, Simien explains in a recent video, is because many of us “don’t know enough about Hollywood’s Black origins.”

It’s true: from the very beginning, white Hollywood has stolen from Black ideas and Black labor. Jordan Peele’s Nope was partly about understanding this history and its far-reaching consequences, and Simien goes even deeper into the story, explaining that minstrelsy was “America’s first popular culture, and its first cultural export.” It was a way for white people to commodify Black art and labor and use it to turn a profit.

Simien explains how American animation—from characters like Mickey Mouse and Betty Boop to the Animaniacs—has long been part of the white effort to turn Black bodies into profit. By stealing the work of Black stage and silent film performers like Bert Williams, white Hollywood was able to do what they’re basically doing with AI now: steal the labor and reap the financial rewards.

So what happened then? Black creatives started to create their own Hollywood. In an earlier TikTok, Simien speaks on the work of Black auteur Oscar Micheaux, whose groundbreaking silent films Within Our Gates and Body and Soul set the standard for an independent film market.

“If you’re into history, you should really be into Black film history,” Simien explains. “Black people really do set the floor of how Hollywood operates.”


Replying to @mandogood The House Is on Fire part 3

♬ original sound – Justin Simien

Basically, if you’re a film history nerd, someone who’s interested in what’s going to happen in the wake of AI, or just someone who wants to learn more about Hollywood’s Black origins, Simien’s work is unmissable. Personally, we can’t wait for Hollywood Black to drop in early August.

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