By Rachel Yang
October 06, 2020 at 01:47 AM EDT
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Credit: Christopher Polk/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank

The Good Place actor William Jackson Harper shared what he described as a "rather disturbing experience" he encountered recently. On Monday, he condemned President Donald Trump's new executive order for encouraging "censorship," after he says two military academies cited the order as the reason for pulling out of an event aimed at discussing the biopic Malcolm X.

"So I’ve had a rather disturbing experience this past week," Harper tweeted. "I agreed to a virtual event with one of the charities I’m involved with, Arts In The Armed Forces (AITAF). As the son of a Marine I have a deep respect for those who serve in our military."

According to Harper, the event would feature a screening of a movie for cadets, followed by a talkback/Q&A via Zoom. Harper said AITAF selected Malcolm X after he provided a list of options including the Denzel Washington-starring biopic as well as Citizen Kane and American Honey. 

Malcolm X, directed and co-written by Spike Lee, centers around the civil rights activist, who was outspoken about the U.S. government's injustices toward Black people. Washington's critically acclaimed performance in the film earned him an Oscar nomination.

"It’s arguably the greatest biography committed to film. Washington’s performance in this movie is a thing to behold. The restraint, the fire, the commitment, the physical and intellectual rigor of his work is beyond anything I’ve ever seen," Harper said about why he picked the 1992 film.

He continued, "Additionally, I was happy to discuss the themes of this movie, the historical significance of the man, and hoping to have a wider discussion about how we view our past, and how those we venerate or revile were just people, complex, flawed people who were full of contradictions."

But then came "the disturbing part," Harper tweeted. "Two days before the event, I was informed that students at two of the academies would not be taking part for fear of running afoul of President Trump’s 'Executive Order Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping.'"

He then quoted the White House's official site, which said the order, issued by Trump on Sept. 22, was enacted to oppose "the pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors."

The executive order also prevents federal contractors, agencies, and grant recipients from holding workplace training that explores "divisive concepts" like unconscious bias and stereotyping on the basis of race or sex.

Harper called out the executive order as "censorship" and "an attempt to censor certain difficult truths that still haunt our society."

"This executive order denies the very real experiences of so many minorities in this country," he added. "This executive order is rooted in the fictitious idea that the scourges of racism and sexism are essentially over, and that the poisonous fallout from centuries discrimination isn’t real."

Harper also wrote, "The film Malcolm X is history. American History. This film is not propaganda meant to teach one to favor one race or sex over the other. It’s History. It’s an admittedly thorny history, but it is history."

Although the actor said that in the end, three of the four slated academies did participate in the event, the fact that one withdrew was "very frightening."

He ended his thread by calling on his fans to closely scrutinize the Trump administration and to vote in November.

"We can’t let this slide," Harper said. "I would encourage us all to stay vigilant, to question every single decision this administration makes, and every single word out of their mouths. Most importantly, WE HAVE TO VOTE. If we don’t, we are whistling past the graveyard. K. Bye."

EW has reached out to representatives for AITAF for comment.

Read Harper’s full Twitter thread below:

“So I’ve had a rather disturbing experience this past week. I agreed to a virtual event with one of the charities I’m involved with, Arts In The Armed Forces (AITAF). As the son of a Marine I have a deep respect for those who serve in our military.

The event was an all-academy virtual screening of a movie I selected, that cadets would watch on their own, which culminated in a Talkback/ Q&A session via zoom. I thought this was a great idea. I think exposure to and interaction with the arts is a necessary part of any education. Furthermore, I think watching a movie with an eye toward discussion is an effective way to explore differing viewpoints, mindfully interrogate our own responses to a piece of art, and to expand our capacity for empathy.

I gave them a list of three films for AITAF to choose from. American Honey, Citizen Kane, and Malcolm X. Malcolm X was selected and I couldn’t have been happier. I love this film. I have a very specific and deep connection to this film. It’s arguably the greatest biography committed to film. Washington’s performance in this movie is a thing to behold. The restraint, the fire, the commitment, the physical and intellectual rigor of his work is beyond anything I’ve ever seen.

Additionally, I was happy to discuss the themes of this movie, the historical significance of the man, and hoping to get into a wider discussion about how we view our past, and how those we venerate or revile were just people, complicated, flawed people who were full of contradictions.

Now the disturbing part. Two days before the event, I was informed that students at two of the academies would not be taking part for fear of running afoul of President Trump’s 'Executive Order Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping' which requires that federal and military institutions refrain from training material that promote a 'pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors…'

Which meant they possibly couldn’t watch Malcolm X.

I would encourage everyone to go and read it in its entirety here:

I don’t disagree with the idea of combating race and sex stereotyping. But that is not what this order is about. This is censorship. This executive order is an attempt to censor certain difficult truths that still haunt our society. This executive order denies the very real experiences of so many minorities in this country. This executive order is rooted in the fictitious idea that the scourges of racism and sexism are essentially over, and that the poisonous fallout from centuries discrimination is not real.

But all of these things are real, and they remain to this day some of the most salient malignancies in our society.

The film Malcolm X is history. American History. This film is not propaganda meant to teach one to favor one race or sex over the other. It’s History. It’s an admittedly thorny history, but it is history.

I believe that the selective censorship of certain chapters of our country’s because we find it disquieting, or because it disrupts our narrative and tarnishes our self-image, is cowardly at best, dangerous at worst, and dishonest either way. And honesty is paramount if we are to ever continue to progress as a society.

I feel we have a collective duty to engage in self-reflection, and to hold ourselves accountable when we don’t live up to our professed American ideals. However, I feel we cannot do that without a thorough, unflinching, unpleasant dialogue with our past. A dialogue that so many brave educators and activists are attempting to have right now. A dialogue that this President and his administration are trying their damnedest to silence.

In the end three of the four slated academies did participate. We had a lively discussion, and there were some very incisive questions from the community. However, one did not for fear of potential consequences of stemming from an Executive Order from the White House. The fact that the film Malcolm X could be considered 'Anti-American' by this administration is very frightening to me.

We can’t let this slide. I would encourage us all to stay vigilant, to question every single decision this administration makes, and every single word out of their mouths. Most importantly, WE HAVE TO VOTE. If we don’t, we are whistling past the graveyard.”

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