Filmmaker Byron Hurt’s Open letter to Debra Lee & BET



I wrote this letter and sent it to,,, and
Feel free to copy, paste, and customize this letter to adequately express your thoughts. If anyone has better ideas on where this letter should be sent, i.e. executives at Viacom (BET’s owner), please let me know. I am open to ideas and suggestions.
Be fearless, feel empowered, and raise your voice.

-Byron Hurt-
June 29, 2009

Dear Debra Lee,

Sunday night’s BET Awards show was a disgrace. It’s sad and unfortunate that your network, owned by Viacom, continues to crank out mediocrity and perpetuate negative stereotypes of black men, women, and children. Although you likely received high ratings for the awards show, there is no honor in reinforcing the status quo’s opinion of black people. Your tribute to Michael Jackson and the overall show had its great moments, however, BET failed to deliver a solid, quality show. Rather than “raising the bar” and presenting African-Americans as a creative, proud, dignified people, BET lowered the bar for the entire world to see. The BET Awards drew a huge audience to watch a tribute to Michael Jackson, but left millions of viewers feeling disappointed, embarrassed, and reduced to classic stereotypes.

During the most blatantly sexist performances of the night, the executives at BET failed to act and display intelligence, courage, and leadership. Show executives watched, approved, and applauded as artists Lil’ Wayne, Drake, and Cash Money brought young, under-aged girls onto the stage to dance and serve as window dressing while they performed “Every Girl,” a song that reduces girls and women to sex objects. In a culture where one out of four girls and women are either raped or sexually assaulted – and where manipulative men routinely traffic vulnerable women into the sex industry – it is not okay that BET allowed this to happen. BET owes its entire audience – particularly girls and women around the world – an apology for its failure to intervene. BET should also take immediate steps to ensure that this kind of sexist performance does not happen again. Sunday night’s show epitomizes why so many black people worldwide are fed up with BET and feel strongly that your network inaccurately represents black men and women.

Please take my letter and criticism as one that represents millions.

Byron Hurt


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22 comments on “Filmmaker Byron Hurt’s Open letter to Debra Lee & BET

  1. Perhaps we should all buy a share of Viacom stock, attend the shareholders meeting, and demand accountability.

  2. Jaime Fox seemed to be making fun of Jackson and did a horriable attempt at the famed moon walk. I was left feeling even more loss for Jackson.What a poor Awards show.

  3. I rarely watch anything on BET and did not watch the awards show but have definitely heard comments reflecting the same things Mr. Hurt has said.

    I applaud Byron Hurt for not just talking about it and actually doing something. I always thought that by not watching the channel, I was doing my part but now I’m wondering if I should be doing more about it.

  4. While I appreciate BET for revamping their awards show on 3 days notice in light of the passing of MJ, I did not appreciate Lil Wayne and comrades throwing out profanities and a subject content that was not in line with the mood of the time. I understand BET is a business that plays what the people want, however, the people did not want this at this time. There is a time and a place and BET being the only Entertainment Channel for black people, should have known better.

  5. Pingback: Byron Hurt’s Letter to BET – Thanks Davey D! « Pissinthewind’s Blog

  6. I don’t know how stage production of this magnitude is done, so I will try to avoid criticism. I will say that past BET Award shows were much better than the 2009. I am sure their are a lot of factors, other than the obvious last minute change to incorporate the tribute to Michael Jackson that contributed to the less than stellar show. Having to supervise adults I do know it is damn near impossible to try to get grown folks, to follow rules put in place. I am sure that rich young folks with huge egos are far worse to get to cooperate. I’m refuse to judge because I just don’t know. Knowing that she can’t please everyone, I do hope that Ms. Lee takes note of what failed, this time and do what she can to improve for next time.

  7. I was disgusted, and that was based on the afterparty alone….Queen Latifah (Ms. Ladies First!) endorsing Drakes lyrics as positive to women? Jamie Fox, blown away by Drakes “metaphors”…all these ads for Tina and Tiny and now keisha coles mom and sister got a reality show??????? I AM VERY ANGRY…and know that none of this is by accident. It has given me more motivation to continue to create the good music that i do and continue to motivate these youth to do and be more!


  8. ya know I saw the show (and I rarely watch BET these days) and when the Drake Lil Wayne song came on, I remember saying out loud “What them children doin’ on stage while they’ performing this grown folks music!!??” I think this is a good lesson that we have to take back our culture, our music in order to expect that it is portrayed in its actual light. This open letter is a start, I’m working on mine to send next, but how about us spreading the word, an open boycott of BET and it’s top sponsors for that matter, hell- coca-cola aint good for us anyhow!! what would the asian or jewish communities do if they were being portrayed in a stereotypical manner? which begs the question why can’t we?? stay up and stay ready ya’ll!


  9. BET don’t care about nothing but the ratings. The awards show is a celebrity culture cash cow. M.J’s passing was just an oppurtunity. Jamie Foxx was extra corny. Unlike the Grammy’s or even Soul Train awards the emphasis doesn’t even seem to be on serious competition. The BET awards is like an excuse for niggas to show their ass for each other, and you know niggas love to watch niggas. Now they’ll rerun it a dozen times to make sure it sinks in.

  10. It was pure torture watching the BET Awards. The only reason I watched it, when I wasn’t stomping out of the room mad and cussin’, was that I was hoping to see something that really honored Michael. Unfortunately, that never happened.

    Thank you Mr. Hurt for writing this letter.

    Peace & Blessings!

  11. Well as much as mike is known accross the world as an excellent entertainer this wasn’t an excellent show it was terrible – yeah it had some exciting moments but they was far and few in between. I just felt sad looking at the show and I don’t care if you had 3 days or not the stuff was very much sambo, white lips and black face. Very sad…What’s happening?

  12. Everyone now knows BET e-mail address. Drop them an e-mail. Don’t complain to Davey D, complain to them and the FCC. “Talk is cheap”, do what’s called activism – write BET, the FCC, and the commercial sponsors that you see on BET yourselves about that award show and them supporting “Helping Ignorant People – Hurt Our People”. The only way you affect these people is by withholding your dollars. Write McDonalds, Walmart, and whoever else supports BET about this crap. Viacom are apart of the same people Michael Jacskon, Prince, and Black Rock-n-Roll bands have been complaining about.. The new age boycott is your dollar and to confront all ethnicity’s; without fear of being labeled, about their part in the degradation and exploitation of Black people.

  13. The award show was a tragic spectacle. In general, BET programming makes me truly sad for my people. We have beauty, resilience, talent, humor, specialized skill sets, a history of inventors, and, most of all, variety that needs to be revealed and celebrated . It is a well-known fact among black people that one has to “admit” to watching BET when in public. Please refuse to continue to perpetuate ONLY the negative stereotypes about our people; choose instead a fair representation of ALL types of our beauty.

  14. As one of my friends said “Black Embarrassment TV. I will not support this network. I haven’t for years. But now, I will even ban it from my household. I have considered calling my cable company to have them remove it from the lineup.
    I am disgusted with Jamie Foxx…UTTERLY DISGUSTED. He grabbed his crotch and called it a “boa constrictor”. Just disrespectful. LET’S ALL SAY NO MORE!!!

  15. I 100% agree with what Hurt is saying and it IS why I do not ever watch BET. The performance that he is referring to- I missed, thank god, but it is no different then any of the misogynistic buffoonery that is on that station any other day of the week.

    BET does NOT rep Black folks. BET reps what White people and people of color around the world THINK of Black folks. BET reps what corporate wants them to rep to keep drugs, alcohol, rape and guns in the Black Community and BET reps what Black people, plagued by internalized racism and self hatred think of themselves.

    I’m clear, My sons don’t have to be gold toothed, drug sellin’, gun shootin’ thugs and my daughters don’t have to be big assed, alcohol drinkin’, half naked, open legged hos on the arm of a man to be successful, BET!

    If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention.

  16. Pingback: Filmmaker Byron Hurt’s Open letter to Debra Lee & BET | Happily Natural

  17. this is what I sent to BET…

    Baltimore, MD 21214
    June 29, 2009

    Black Entertainment Television Network
    C/O Black Embarrassment Television
    1235 W Street, NE
    Washington, DC 20018 – 1211

    Debra Hill, Steve Hill, Executives Producers and Associates of the 2009 BET Awards show:

    On June 28, 2009 I tuned in to watch the “2009 BET Awards show” to celebrate the life, times, and memorial of Michael Jackson, based on the words spoken by (you) Debra Lee during (your) {brief} CNN interview with Don Lemon on the red carpet. Ms. Lee insinuated that the show had been revamped to honor the passing of Mr. Jackson. She (Ms. Lee) implied that her staff as well as the scheduled performing artists worked diligently to make unplanned and last minute changes {successful}. She concluded the same interview by asking viewers of CNN to tune and watch the entire show, for the following reason…the tribute would not only occur at the beginning of the show…Mr. Jackson would be honored throughout the entire evening.

    Regrettably and sadly to say, this wasn’t the case for this award show. This was the worse BET award show ever. I was appalled, embarrassed, and insulted by the antics of the host, the skits, and some of the performances. It is not tribute to play his hits before and after coming from commercials. A tribute is not having drunk stars speak on the deceased. I understand a lot of people in the industry have been influenced and had a personal relationship with Mr. Jackson; however, one does not show respect by being inebriated on national, better yet, international television.

    Michael Jackson was a walking ICON. There will never be another “Michael” in some of our lifetimes. He should have been honored for his musical genius. His contributions to Black and world music; he crossed several barriers that a lot of these young artists of today will never have to see due to his due diligence. Michael Jackson had rare, raw, and beautiful talent that is no more as of last Thursday (June 25th).

    On Thursday, several news outlets had video clips, articles, and even previously aired documentaries on him that they cut and pasted throughout the weekend highlighting the lows of this man’s career. This was the perfect chance to remind the world of his accomplishments; meanwhile, BET decides to have clownish behavior, buffoonery and coon-ism as a means to celebrate this great ICON. This was an opportunity to self promote the network, artists, and the legend had it be done tastefully; however, this didn’t happened. It is unfortunate. Instead of making strives on Sunday, BET took us back to yesteryear. Regrettably, Sunday’s night show showed the world that we as a people still cannot get it “right”. It’s a shame that MTV, your parent company (Viacom) will be ready and willing to step on toes to have a proper tribute ready for Michael Jackson when their award show is scheduled. In addition to other musical outlets such as the Grammy’s; BET could have been the first and had the chance to set the bar on tributes to this man.

    The most embarrassing moment of the evening was the Baby Boy skit and the Lil Wayne performance (going forward, BET should require all rappers / artists to perform the radio edit of their songs). I could go on and on with the negativity of the show, but these two incidents rank highly on my list. The worse moment of the evening was when Ving Rhames an accredited black actor (Mission Impossible 1 & 2, Baby Boy, Pulp Fiction, Holiday Heart, and the list goes on) asked the crowd to say the following; “Michael Jackson is a gun”. When was Michael Jackson ever a thug, hustler, or a street person? I felt awful for the family, friends, and fans of Mr. Jackson. An apology needs to be issued by BET and Ving Rhames for that moment. It was downright distasteful while his father and sister were present. Additionally, when editing it done for repeats that part should be removed. Let’s be professionals.

    Wait, Jamie Foxx’s inappropriate jokes were extremely ill-mannered. Honestly, did you think it was appropriate for him (Jamie Foxx) to ask millions of people, black and white children and adults alike, to look at his “camel toe”? …saying that Michael Jackson made it alright for men to touch their genitals? Are you serious? Was he serious? Did he even think before those words parted from his lips? Was that professional? What was he thinking?

    June is recognized as Black Music Month and Sunday’s performances were neither in good taste nor the best representation of our music. I cannot nor will I deny those individuals whose performances rocked. Musically, Jamie (Foxx) did his best accompanied by Travis. As a fan of Michael Jackson and black music -period, those same artists could have performed a Jackson song throughout the night. Michael Jackson has a huge catalog; there aren’t any excuses for the lack of recognition.

    Last but not least by any means, BET used today’s technology to inform the world that Chris “Breezy” Brown would be performing at the award show to pay homage to the greatest entertainer of our time. And what happens… NOTHING!!! If the rumors circulating around New York are true, I am even more disappointed in BET. I will not use this platform to name names; however, I will say this… no man is an island and untouchable. A lot of people have done wrong in their lives, publicly and privately, and to hold this “one” incident over this young mans head for the rest of his career and / or life is not fair. The Lord said it best, “ye without sin throw the first stone”. Based on news reports, YouTube clips, and fan encounters most of the artists that have appeared on your network in one form or the other over the years have sinned, and BET still support them. Simply said, Chris Breezy should have performed.

    In closing, there was so much that could and should have been done. Once again, we get outshined by news outlets and “white” media because of the lack of consideration, lack of motivation, and people’s egos. It’s a shame that the generations after us will view this show on some social network or YouTube and wonder – “What the Hell?” It is disappointing to know that songs like Birthday sex, Boyfriend #2, and the like is what your network and labels are promoting today and then people question why there is increase in pregnancies and HIV infections. Back in the day, music used to uplift us, motivate us, encourage us, strengthen us, and represent us when there wasn’t much out there for us. We as a people danced, laughed, expressed ourselves, and cried through our music.

    We all have a Michael Jackson song that rings supreme in our heart or soul.

    Just imagine how many people were introduced to the BET network on Sunday and tuned in to watch this alleged tribute, and remember what they walked away with. Jamie Foxx’s tour, Alicia Key’s request for money, Tiny & Toya’s reality show, Frankie & Neffie reality Show, Mo’Niqua’s talk show, Wendy Williams show, etc…..Ms. Debra Lee please think about this the next time you open your mouth and insert your foot.

    Forever a Black music fan, even during times of bewilderment,

  18. While I commend many folx for sending their letters and comments, I respectfully think that people have forgotten that this is an white-owned conglomerate that NO LONGER REPRESENTS AFRICAN AMERICANS!!! Just because it continues to call itself BLACK entertainment television doesn’t mean its beholding and representative of BLAQ/AFRICAN AMERICANS. We are, as intelligent beings, wasting our time continuing to ‘hope that they’ll do better’ when its clear that the masters never will!!!

  19. jew el thief, “activism: starts with putting things down on paper and coming up with a plan, then we “bum rsuh”. Doing and saying nothing is called “defeatism”, not activism. I don’t care who owns the station, its needs to be fixed. The people who watch 106 and Park and that other garbabe more than likely look like me, so I’ll continue to write BET and their advertisers. jew el thief, who side are you on?

  20. Kudos my man for mouthing what needs to be said directly to the executives at BET. I was nervous once I realized all the media attention that BET was receiving in anticipation of a great Michael Jackson tribute. I wanted someone to step in and downplay the event so that the world would not have an opportunity to witness this television that is supposedly represents Black Americans- because it is in deed mediocre television.

    During the show, as expected, my friends and I were embarrassed. To know that audiences outside of our culture, most for the first time, were viewing this network’s portrayal of black people in such an unfavorable light as they perpetuated stereotypes that we struggle against daily. I concur, Byron- the show had it’s moments but those beautiful moments were overshadowed by the pimps/hoes effect, bad taste and insensitivity.

    I’m tired of BET glorifying everything about our culture that is sub-par. I used to feel guilty that I only watched about about 20% of BET programming because I wanted to be supportive of Black television.. But I can’t subject myself to television that continuously offends me as black female. I tune in for select BET specials and some of my favorite sitcoms & that’s it. Later for the big bootie hoe videos, unoriginal programming & ghetto representation of our people. I hope BET once again can concern themselves with quality television so it appropriately represents Black America’s dynamic culture.

    Thank you Byron Hurt for your letter & awareness.

    Follow me!!!

  21. BET is a minstrel show channel and the white folks over at Viacom will continue to promote this stuff.The GAME is the only show I can stand to watch and sometimes I try to watch Mo’Nique at times even thoug she’s loud as hell,I try any way.

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