The death of Naya Rivera and why African people need control of our own culture

On July 8, 2020, actress, singer and author Naya Rivera drowned in California’s Lake Piru after saving her four-year-old son. Rivera, who identified herself as “one-quarter [African], one-quarter German, and one-half Puerto Rican,” was best known for her role of Santana Lopez on the popular musical TV series “Glee.” 

The Ventura County sheriffs who interviewed her son Josey stated that Rivera and Josey were swimming in the lake when it is believed the lake’s currents, which reportedly become stronger in the afternoon, became too strong. She “used the last of her strength” to help Josey out of the water and up onto the boat before he saw her disappear under the water. 

Someone later saw the boat drifting with Josey asleep and alone on it and reported the situation. Rivera’s body was found on July 13 after an involved search. She was only 33 years old. 

Rivera stated in her 2016 autobiography “Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up” that she was always asked “What are you?” by white people about her nationality. She therefore wanted to make sure her son always knows who he is. She considered her son her “greatest success,” and like any other colonized mother, did all she could to ensure her son’s survival, even until her last moments. 

The “kind of sleazy” entertainment industry is part of the super structure of colonialism

Naya Rivera began her varied and critically acclaimed career as a child actor and model when she was still in diapers. There were limited child labor laws in modeling until the year 2015. Despite her parents being protective of her, the pressures of the industry and of colonialism on the whole took their toll on her. Due to feeling like her life was out of her control and losing her self-confidence, she developed anorexia and underwent breast enhancement surgery when she was still in her teens. 

Documentaries such as “An Open Secret” and “Showbiz Kids” highlight how child actors are abused and used within the Hollywood industry and by the media. One particular interview in “Showbiz Kids” lays out how it is a contest to see who can withstand the most abuse because actors, especially children, are seen as such replaceable commodities. 

Chairman Omali Yeshitela of the African People’s Socialist Party sums up that within capitalism, “everything is a commodity,” even men, women and children. This reflects white power society’s economic base of enslavement and genocide of African people and Indigenous people. 

Rivera was also involved in the music industry on and off from the age of fourteen. She states in her autobiography that “the entertainment industry has a reputation for being kind of sleazy, but in my experience it has nothing on the music business.” 

The Chairman sums up that Hollywood and the music industry are “the superstructure” of capitalist-colonialism, which is founded in ongoing “slavery and genocide.” Capitalism has an interest in oppressing African people both physically and psychologically. It utilizes everything from school curriculum to TV programs to put down and shame African people into not resisting their oppression. 

“I had to hate white power before I could love myself!” says Chairman Omali Yeshitela

The Chairman says because capitalism has taught African people to hate themselves and their African features and bodies, the statement “Black is Beautiful” was so revolutionary in the 1960s. He says, “I had to hate white power before I could love myself.” 

Rivera states in her autobiography, “Toward the end of my sophomore year of high school, I became friends with a group of black girls at school who – unlike the white girls I knew who considered a Slim-Fast bar to be a meal – had no desire to be skin and bones.” 

Before meeting these girls, Rivera had had mostly white friends due to living in a mostly white neighborhood for much of her life. These African girls, however, encouraged Rivera to embrace her curves. Thanks to their friendship and support, she recovered from her eating disorder. 

White artists and studio execs owe us reparations!

The Chairman has summed up that the white power capitalist-colonialist State is not only comprised of the government, military, school system, media and other institutions, but also consists of white people themselves.  

In May and June of this year, African singer Samantha Ware and others who starred on “Glee” exposed the show’s white female lead Lea Michele Sarfati as making “life a living hell” for African actors on set. After public pressure, Michele released a statement on instagram, apologizing for her “behavior and any pain that [she had] caused.” 

In her autobiography, Rivera states that while she and Michele began as friends, as Rivera’s role grew in screen time, Michele “didn’t like sharing the spotlight.” Rivera took this in stride, stating that Michele wasn’t the one “writing [her] checks.” 

If Lea Michele Sarfati or any white person does want to defect from white power and come into solidarity with the African Revolution, they can certainly make out a check of reparations to APEDF, the African People’s Education and Defense Fund, and become a member of the Uhuru Solidarity Movement. 

African people are building control of our own media to forward the African Revolution!

The African People’s Socialist Party’s Director of Agitation and Propaganda, Akilé Anai stated in a 2018 interview that white power media continuously “steals our genius and uses it for themselves. They take black talent [and] art and they extract all of that from our community. They steal it and they exploit it every single day and use it against us.” 

White power currently controls the narrative of African people in film, TV, radio and other media, with six corporations controlling the content of 90 percent of radio stations. They control what words come out of whose mouth. 

Rivera stated that “I recently had a white executive tell me that the size of my lips was “too distracting” for the role I wanted to play.” She continued:

“The sad truth is that a lot of the roles that are available for black or Latino actors are stereotypes. They are not nuanced, three-dimensional characters; they’re black guys who have only white friends but still call everyone “my brotha.” Whenever I see a role like this, I’m reminded that somewhere there’s a white executive who shoehorned a few nonwhite characters in last minute, because they didn’t want to get fired for not having any diversity on the network that quarter. And that sucks.”

The African People’s Socialist Party and Uhuru Movement recognize that demanding white power have more “diversity” leaves the power of our narratives in the hands of such white executives. With Black Power, political State power and control of our own lives, comes control of our own art, culture and media. 

This is why our sister organization the African People’s Development and Empowerment Project (APEDF), the “baddest non-profit on the planet,” has created Black Power 96.3 FM radio station in St. Petersburg, Florida.  

Director Akilé Anai spoke in support of Black Power 96.3 FM, stating:

“Black Power 96 is an institution of Black Power and self-determination [is about] controlling the narrative of our people and having a place where our culture can thrive and having a space where all this talent can be unleashed within the African working class community. Black Power 96 is an institution that makes that happen. It’s a part of the whole vision of Black Power and self-determination. 

“African working class people coming, engineering and programming our own station, having our own shows. …so many Africans within our community who would never have that opportunity anywhere else […]. Black Power 96 is our station, owned and controlled by us for us. …that’s what makes it different from anything else. I don’t know what other station you can hear Chairman Omali Yeshitela speak but this is it.” 

Black Power Matters!

By achieving Black Power through the international African Revolution, leading the anti-colonial Revolution worldwide, we will be able to end our oppression and create and control our own media. Our children will have confidence in who they are and what they look like. The full genius of the African working class will be unfettered, celebrated and able to mobilize our people to revolutionary action. 

We have lost yet another African sister too soon, but the talented and hardworking Naya Rivera lives on through our struggle for freedom and an end to all colonialism. 


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