Tom Hanks expressed guilt over his role in an industry that "helps shape what is history and what is forgotten" in a powerful op-ed for The New York Times about the strikingly overlooked 1921 Tulsa race massacre. In the essay, published Friday, Hanks described himself as "a lay historian," but confessed to knowing nothing about the murder of as many as 300 Black residents at the hands of a white supremacist mob until last year.
"History was mostly written by white people about white people like me, while the history of Black people — including the horrors of Tulsa — was too often left out," he writes. "Until relatively recently, the entertainment industry, which helps shape what is history and what is forgotten, did the same. That includes projects of mine."
Hanks makes the case that the history of the massacre should be taught in classrooms "even as early as the fifth grade," and that educators "should also stop the battle to whitewash curriculums to avoid discomfort for students. America's history is messy but knowing that makes us a wiser and stronger people."
Hanks also used his essay to urge the entertainment industry to consider its role in shaping the narrative as well:
Today, I think historically based fiction entertainment must portray the burden of racism in our nation for the sake of the art form's claims to verisimilitude and authenticity. Until recently, the Tulsa Race Massacre was not seen in movies and TV shows. Thanks to several projects currently streaming, like Watchmen and Lovecraft Country, this is no longer the case. Like other historical documents that map our cultural DNA, they will reflect who we really are and help determine what is our full history, what we must remember. [The New York Times]
Read the full essay at The New York Times here.