Inside Fortnite's Disastrous Martin Luther King Jr. Tribute
What were they thinking?
On today’s episode of “literally nobody asked for this cursed-ass Fortnite collaboration,” TIME Studios hooked up with the overwhelmingly popular gaming franchise to develop “A March Through Time,” which opens a new area called D.C 63—a “reimagined Washington, D.C.” where you can explore the Lincoln Memorial and watch Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
In their press release announcing the event, the Fortnite team notes that players will be able to not only view the 17-minute-long speech but also hit “museum-inspired points of interest” and play “collaborative mini-game quests you complete with others” in order to honor the dreams of the late freedom fighter and “unlock a new DC 63” spray for your costume locker. (Ya know, where you hold all the skins that have made Fortnite’s developer, Epic Games, billions since their launch in 2017.) And while you’re listening to Marty go deep on the need for racial equality and a multiracial coalition against injustice, players dressed like pink teddy bears, hot dogs, astronauts, and cops can hit all the fun “Fortnite” dance moves they stole from Black creatives.
There are a number of reasons why the scriptwriters of this godforsaken year deserve to be catapulted into the stratosphere, but this perverted cash-grab of an event in the name of one of America’s foremost freedom fighters and anti-capitalists takes the cake.
The disrespect is heightened in their announcement video, which featured an MLK rendering that looks like the queerphobic charlatan Dr. Umar Johnson and his equally problematic contemporary Charlamagne tha God had a middle-aged manchild. Black and white photography and videos from Black marchers all those years ago are juxtaposed against cartoonish players with camouflage face paint and purple hair who are positioned as marchers in their own right. By the end, the ridiculous call-to-action hashtaggery asking players to use “FNDC63” to share their experiences of the event seems pretty tame by comparison.
Longtime players of Fortnite and other “free” battle royale games are used to the foolishness at this point, and while events like Travis Scott’s virtual concert and being able to play as Thanos sort of fit within the game’s outlandish sponcon, using MLK’s famous speech to make even more money while feigning interest in actual Black struggle is a level of bullshit on a par with putting Harriet Tubman's face on a $20 bill. These are people who actively stood against American capitalism and, for whatever reason, King’s estate has allowed Dr. King’s likeness to be used callously in favor of corporate interest.
The integrationist greed and vulgarity of it all brings to mind one of the lasting mistakes of the civil rights era, articulated by Dr. King himself: “We have fought hard and long for integration, as I believe we should have, and I know that we will win. But I’ve come to believe we’re integrating into a burning house. I’m afraid that America may be losing what moral vision she may have had.”