Why We Shouldn’t Fear the End of Black Twitter (Even if X Tries To Erase Us)

I remember the first time a hashtag from Twitter touched me personally. It was the 2015 Academy Award nominations and all 20 acting nominations announced were white actors. As an entertainment reporter, it hurt that I couldn’t write about talent who looked like me. And then, there it was: April Reign’s hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite. Three simple words that changed the face of entertainment, leading to more actors of color getting their rightful due.

There are the moments explored Black Twitter: A People’s History, a new documentary airing May 9 on Hulu. The three-part series digs deep into how Black Twitter came of age and realized its power.

“I think Black folks are so naturally protective of our stories. We don’t want to give away the secret sauce. We don’t want to air the family secrets in public,” declares Jason Parham, the journalist who penned “A People History of Black Twitter” for WIRED magazine in 2021, which inspired this three-part doc.

“But all the moments, the memes, all the things that we had created and done and changed and influenced in the culture—from Scandal to Insecure, this deserves its own place in history and its own story.”

The documentary unveils the best meme you’ve ever encountered via Black Twitter, shared by those who created or lived it.

“I wanted it to feel the way that Black Twitter feels when you’re on the platform,” shares executive producer and director Prentice Penny, who was the showrunner on Issa Rae‘s Insecure. That is why there are avatars and scroll shots and meme-inspired segments throughout the conversations with thought leaders like W. Kamau Bell, Roxane Gay, Jemele Hill and more.

It also means telling the story in the spaces where we’ve most likely tweeted in the past. “Prentiss had this great idea to have the sets be places where people actually will tweet, so from your bedroom, the subway, the barbershop—all those spaces,” says fellow executive producer and showrunner Joie Jacoby. “The biggest part, the most important part is that this is a people’s history.”

And in that history, there are so many stories to tell. Y’all remember #MeetMeInTemecula?

“Hashtag #BlackThanksgiving is really formative in my mind,” says Parham, who was working as a GAWKER editor at the time. “I remember being in like the offic and the hashtag popped off. It was the perfect mirroring of Black tradition and Black futurism.”

For Penny, it’s all about #NegroSolistice. “You’ve got that Black friend who puts you up on something about your ancestry and she’ll say we’re gonna get superpowers on this day because our Egyptian ancestora.”

Joie got rolled up in Zola. “Being in the live tweet like of that happening in real time … this is riveting. And it’s so messy. I like a soap opera, so I was in and so invested in what’s going to happen.”

But the series also explores what we all have on our minds: Will the new owner of Twitter—now known as X—make sure it’s still a safe place for Black people?

“Was Twitter ever a safe space for Black people to express themselves freely? I think we made it a safe space for ourselves in different and our own ways,” Parham declares.

“These platforms are never built with us in mind. You know, whether the owner is Jack Dorsey or [current owner] Elon Musk, whether it’s somebody else who comes after, we find a way to make it ours. Black folks are very good at the remix.”

Joe adds that Black Twitter has “always been about community, right? It’s about us finding ourselves and finding each other in a digital space.”

That connection can–and will–continue, according to Penny.

“The power is not in the platform—we just used it. I’m more excited about where it will be going in real life,” he exclaims. “My kids are 16 and 14 and they’ve never been on Twitter. Twitter doesn’t even exist for them as an app anymore. But they benefit from the hashtags that were created on Black Twitter.”

#WeAintGoing

Black Twitter: A People’s History airs on Hulu May 9.

Updated: May 9, 2024 — 12:03 pm