Going for the BAG: Essence Magazine Criticized For Not Cancelling Festival Over Deadly COVID-19 Virus

Isheka N. Harrison
Written by Isheka N. Harrison
Essence Festival
Essence Magazine is catching heat on social media for failing to cancel or postpone its signature Essence Festival as of yet amid the coronavirus pandemic. In this photo, Angela Rye, left, and Tyler Perry attend the 2019 Essence Festival at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on Sunday, July 7, 2019, in New Orleans. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

The Essence Festival of Culture, held annually in New Orleans, has been called “the Blackest party in America.” However, its parent, Essence Magazine, is catching heat on social media for failing to cancel or postpone the signature event as of yet amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement on its website, Essence said it is concerned about its Festival-goers health and safety and is monitoring COVID-19 developments. At the time of the statement, the festival was still a go, however.

“Based on the latest information, including increasing public health interventions and measures being implemented domestically and internationally, and the considerable amount of time to assess and respond to developments between now and July, we are planning to proceed with the 2020 ESSENCE Festival of Culture as currently scheduled, July 1-5 in New Orleans,” the statement read.

They added they were looking at optional dates if they needed to postpone the festival – which would coincide with the iconic, Black-owned magazine’s 50th Anniversary celebration.

“Still, as a precautionary and proactive measure and with health as the foremost consideration, we are also identifying and securing alternate dates to ensure that we can adjust as quickly and seamlessly as possible in the event that circumstances require. Should that happen, we will honor all tickets sold for prior scheduled dates,” the statement continued.

However, many social media users felt Essence should have already followed the lead of other major cultural events like the Olympics and the American Black Film Festival (ABFF), which announced it was postponing its festival until October on its website and in an email to patrons Tuesday, March 24.

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Twitter user @EmergePeoria tweeted “Essence about to find out they ain’t got it like that …” while another identified as Karen Williams replied, “I think this is irresponsible of essence to do this.”

User @LuXXXurious1 echoed their sentiments in her response, which included a gif bearing the caption, “It’s a no from me.”

“So the Olympics have been cancelled. Lots of travel has been canceled. Other (excuse me) white functions have been canceled, but they’re going to stick with the African American activities? No thank you. They’re going to be spraying the entire facility/area with the Coronavirus,” @LuXXXurious1 tweeted.

“That’s some wishful thinking. I guess they feel they have time for things to resolve. But the likelihood of a mass gathering like that so soon after were HOPING to see improvements….. I really dont think so,” added user @lovesupreme13.

There were some users that came to Essence’s defense, including users @Phillysb386 and @BritniDWrites.

“Seems like they may play it by ear…if we are still on lockdown then they will probably cancel. Its in july right?,” @phillysb386 wrote.

“In short: Stop saying they’re moving forward with #ESSENCEFest based on a 2-week old article. This is a fast-moving situation and every major event is scrambling, @BritniDWrites tweeted.

A user identified as @_PamC called Travel Noire’s editors “irresponsible” for failing to note in their viral article that the magazine’s statement about its current plans amid COVID-19 was over a week old.

“I know @TravelNoire is a blog and not an actual source of journalism, but y’all need to have higher standards. Any experienced editor should’ve noticed that the post doesn’t state the date of the statement or provide essential context. That irresponsible in this climate,” @_PamC replied.

In response to the backlash, Essence tweeted they were working to implement the aforementioned Plan B if necessary.

#EssenceFest family your safety during the COVID-19 pandemic is our number one priority. As previously stated, we are working to identify & secure alternate dates and are evaluating the situation based on new information every day. We will provide updates as soon as we have them!” the magazine wrote.