I recently volunteered at the Hollywood Black Film Festival, which took place in Beverly Hills, California. There were over a hundred full length features, shorts, and documentaries to view. Additionally, you could listen to panel discussions on various topics such as financing a film, distribution, and the state of film. I listened to one panel, the Producer’s Roundtable, and walked away a bit disturbed and perturbed by the message.
The panel discussion featured top television and film executives, who were surrounded by mostly eager black screenwriters, directors and actors. Soon, their eagerness turned to sadness as they were promptly told, in a nutshell, that films (feature and straight-to-video) are all about female-driven urban dramas (Beyonce’s “Obsessed”), and that if you want a film made it needs to have someone in it with name recognition to make it happen.
As for television, listen up folks, according to a CW programming executive, you can forget about telling “black stories” because the trend now is creating teeny-bopper dramas. But, not to worry, the African American woman exec warned that black writers/directors should learn how to write for all types of shows – you know, don’t limit yourself.
The CW exec also addressed the controversial cancellations of “The Game” and “Girlfriends.” She assured the audience that it had nothing to do with the CW not wanting black programming, but that it’s all about the green, as in money. She said that the shows were canceled due to low ratings and without those ratings the network can’t get those all important advertising dollars.
Needless to say, throughout the over-hour panel, the room turned sullen and there were several moans and groans, me included, upon hearing the dismal news.
What message does this send to up-and-coming black writers, directors, and actors? Oh, just push aside your dream and work on some silly show about snotty teens? Of course, it could be argued that working on such shows could lead to connections that could lead to a pet project, right? Or, maybe we should start our own thing and put out our own stuff, right? Well, we have that with TV One and BET, right? And, how about Tyler Perry with his own studio and all, right? And, what about the straight-to-video black companies (we know who they are), who put out all of those wonderful movies, right? And, what about the actors, who dream of being stars? Should they just be content playing the best friend roles? What are we complaining about? Shouldn’t we be satisfied?
Hmmm, I wonder what Spike Lee and Bill Cosby would have told the panel crowd? Remember, Spike Lee came out at a time when he was told that people wouldn’t watch his films. “The Cosby Show” became a hit when many told Bill Cosby that people wouldn’t want to watch a successful black family on TV.
To all those black writers, directors, actors – just keep on keepin’ on!