‘I Absolutely Lost Jobs Because of It’: Jesse Williams Speaks on the Aftermath Following His Viral 2016 BET Awards Speech

Jesse Williams’ acceptance speech for his 2016 BET Humanitarian Award may have been the highlight of that night, but the darkness that drew from it came in the form of death threats and even lost opportunities.

During an interview with the Daily Beast, the “Grey’s Anatomy” star opened up about the reaction he received from Hollywood following his powerful speech denouncing police brutality while giving gratitude to activists, civil rights attorneys and Black women. 

CAGLIARI, ITALY – JUNE 14: Jesse Williams attends the Filming Italy Sardegna Festival 2019 Day 2 Photocall at Forte Village Resort on June 14, 2019 in Cagliari, Italy. (Photo by Daniele Venturelli/Getty Images)

Williams explained that he had no qualms about the remarks he made on June 26. However, the reality was he “absolutely lost jobs because of it.” Still, he added, “I also became more known. People felt like they really had a sense of who I was and who I was going to loom large.”

The actor expressed that around that time, stories being told were compromising the humanity of Black people, and that wasn’t something he could accept. He explained that working with him as an artist meant that certain narratives would be forbidden. “ ‘We’re going to have to take out that unnecessarily racist trope there and shift focus on that,’ ” he said. 

Subsequently, Williams found himself on the tail end of “a ton of very specific death threats” and “lost a few jobs because of it.” And despite the glorification he received, Williams felt conflicted even to accept that.

“I just didn’t feel comfortable blowing up off of our suffering. I didn’t want to monetize or become more of a celebrity off this,” Williams expressed. “I’m actually in the streets, watching people sacrificing their lives organizing from Ferguson to Philly to Oakland and everywhere I’ve been, and I wasn’t trying to do a damn photo shoot and pretend this is a reality show and not real life. 

Nonetheless, the actor maintains he doesn’t regret any of the actions he took. “It was my truth at the time,” he said. “I stayed back and stayed close with my activist-organizer people. It was more, who do I have to help or bail out of jail? That was my focus. I didn’t want to become a celebrity for it. And I think the business found that curious, to be honest. I wasn’t playing the game to be on their talk show.”

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