NJ mayor cancels Netflix actor’s reading time for kids at public library
MONTVALE — Actor Timothy Ware-Hill said he was uninvited from reading virtually to children for Black History Month at a Bergen County public library because of pressure from the public and police union.
Police, however, denied that they pressured public officials to uninvite the actor. The mayor has since taken responsibility for getting the actor's appearance canceled, calling it a "distraction."
The Peabody Award winner said on the podcast Higher Learning that the Montvale Diversity and Inclusion Committee extended an invitation for him to read a children's book called "The Sweet Smell of Roses" by Angela Johnson. It's about two young black girls to see a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Ware-Hill said that the police union, PBA 103, raised concerns about him after learning about his Netflix animated short called "Cops and Robbers," which he calls a homage to the arrest of Ahmaud Arbery and victims of police violence.
The library session would only be about the book. It's not known if there would be a question-and-answer session during which the film could be brought up.
"I want to go to a day when we used milk crates for basketball hoops. When hands up don't shoot was for B-boys blocking jump shots. Now brown boys blocking cop shots. Instead of hoop dreams, it's now cell blocks," an animated Ware-Hill said in the film as an animated oversize white police officer points a gun at five small children holding their arms up.
The union in a letter denied that they did any research on Ware-Hill or contacted Ghassali about his participation in the reading.
"In fact, the Montvale PBA supports all aspects of diversity and wholeheartedly supports Mr. Ware-Hill's participation in any of our community events," PBA 103 said in its letter.
'Cops and Robbers' is my perspective as a black man in America
Ware-Hill said that the union and unspecified members of the community interpreted it as he hated cops. They threatened a boycott of the library and to remove funding if he were allowed to speak.
"'Cops and Robbers' is my perspective as a black man in America from my personal experiences of being pulled over approached harassed for no reason by police officers. Nowhere in my short does it say that I hate cops. Nowhere in the short does it say I dislike cops," Ware-Hill said.
Mayor makes a decision
Montvale Mayor Mike Ghassali in a statement said he said made the decision to uninvite Ware-Hill because of "statements and imagery" in the short not because of any pressure.
"In summary, the borough has decided that Mr. Ware-Hill’s participation would be an unnecessary distraction from what should be an otherwise non-controversial children’s Storytime event," the Republican said in his statement. "The borough looks forward to bringing Storytime to the community on February 22, 2022, as originally planned, as an important part of its Black History Month celebration."
The mayor said he watched "Cops and Robbers" after his initial conversation with Ware-Hill. Subsequent calls and texts have not been returned, Ghassali said.
"The borough would like to invite Mr. Ware-Hill to discuss these important issues, along with other individuals with varying viewpoints, to a forum that is more appropriate for such a discussion," Ghassali said.