Dance off: Why are Black TikTok creators going on strike?

by Sharon Kimathi | @sharon_kits | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 6 July 2021 16:45 GMT

FILE PHOTO: The TikTok logo is pictured outside the company's U.S. head office in Culver City, California, U.S., September 15, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

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Black choreographers are boycotting the platform for a second month, charging that their dances are being co-opted by white influencers without credit or compensation

By Sharon Kimathi

Black dance creators are boycotting TikTok on the grounds that their viral routines are being co-opted by white social media influencers without credit or compensation.

How did the strike start and what steps could the Chinese video app take to meet the demands of those protesting?

How did we get here?

TikTok is a social media app that hosts short musical clips ranging from three to 60 seconds where people lip-sync, perform skits, take on challenges and perform dance routines.

Top-performing creatives use the app to gain followers and become ‘influencers’ which can lead to lucrative opportunities in entertainment.

 Young Black choreographers based in the U.S such as 14-year-old Jalaiah Harmon and Keara Wilson have created viral dance routines to hip-hop songs like K Camp’s “Lottery”, renditions of which have been viewed billions of times on TikTok.

Black TikTok users say the popularity of viral dance challenges that have followed one-off spontaneous routines like Harmon's have helped propel artists like Megan Thee Stallion to stardom.

Megan Thee Stallion won best new artist at the 2021 Grammy awards, the first female rapper to do so in 22 years.

"The young Black women who created these dances were often initially uncredited and uncompensated for their work," said Amanda Bennett, creative director and co-founder of define&empower, a U.S.-based diversity consultancy, via email.

Who is being accused of appropriation?

In April, U.S social media influencer Addison Rae “taught” dance routines to stars such as Khloe and Kim Kardashian and The Tonight Show host, Jimmy Fallon, without acknowledging their creators.

Social media influencer Charli D’Amelio was also criticised by 'The View' talk show host Sunny Hostin for not crediting Black TikTok dancers for their routines.

Hostin said that D’Amelio is "making millions of dollars off stealing dances created by black creators".

Musicians don’t directly make money from their songs being used on TikTok but many see the app as a powerful marketing tool, and some artists and labels pay famous TikTokers to dance to their music.

What are the demands of Black TikTok creators?

Several prominent Black TikTok creators have been on strike for nearly a month, according to Black TikTok user and strike participant Miss Lyric, who spoke to the Thomson Reuters Foundation via a video call.

The hashtag 'blacktiktokstrike' on TikTok currently has 3.5 million views with hundreds of videos about the strike.

"Our content is undervalued and unappreciated," said Miss Lyric.

The creators collectively decided to stop forming new dance routines on the platform for Megan Thee Stallion's new song "Thot Sh*t" released on June 11.

TikTok user Maya Cherry said that the collective withdrawal of Black choreography has led to a decline in viral dances on TikTok.

What does TikTok say?

A TikTok spokesperson said via email that the plaform "cared deeply about the experience of Black creators" and would "continue to work every day to create a supportive environment for our community while also instilling a culture where honouring and crediting creators for their creative contributions is the norm."

What happens next?

For TikTok users like Bennet and Miss Lyric, the solution lies in addressing the creators’ concerns as opposed to them exiting the platform for good.

"I would like TikTok to acknowledge us and show our content to more people - since sometimes it feels hidden - and allow us to grow like any other creator," said Miss Lyric.

To avoid any potential “mistakes” in crediting the choreography, Miss Lyric suggested that all users should tag the original creators and choreographers so talent agencies and other users can identify where a popular routine originated.

Bennet said the strike will only conclude once "Black creators begin receiving more equitable treatment".

"In order to stop discrimination against Black creators, companies like TikTok would need to totally redesign their algorithms, branding strategies, philanthropic models, and workplace culture," said Bennet.

Miss Lyric said she loved using TikTok as it creates a sense of community but hopes that the platform goes beyond "issuing out bland statements".

"I want to make sure people understand I love using TikTok and I think it is a great platform, but I want Black creators to have that same opportunity for success as well," said Miss Lyric.

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(Reporting by Sharon Kimathi Editing by Tom Finn. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org”)

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