MTV will use the occasion of its Video Music Awards on Sunday night to highlight the ongoing civil rights struggles in Ferguson, Missouri. During a commercial break in the broadcast, the network will be airing a public service announcement reflecting on the protests that have erupted following the police shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown earlier this month.
The spot features a quote from writer James Baldwin unspooling against chants of "Hands up, don't shoot," a slogan that has arisen from the protests in the St. Louis suburb. An image of a sign with the town's name on it makes the reference unmistakable. "Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced," reads the quote.
Another PSA set to air during the broadcast features a variety of young people getting hit by sheets of shattered glass as a voiceover describes ethnic stereotypes, ending in a title card with the motto "Look. Listen. Change."
As the Washington Post reports, both 15-second spots are part of a larger campaign called Look Different that MTV developed with organizations including the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.
"Eighty percent of our audience believes that bias is at the root of racism and prejudice," MTV President Stephen Friedman told the Post. "But when cultural explosions like Trayvon Martin, or the recent death on Staten Island, or what is now happening in Ferguson occur, our audience often feels paralyzed to discuss the issues."
The events in Ferguson have already prompted a number of high-profile musicians, including T.I., Lauryn Hill, Sky Ferreira, Cat Power, Billy Bragg and Killer Mike, to publicly share their reactions or take stands in support of the protestors.