Black Digital Media Members Speak on Diversity and More in New Emerging Platforms

Saw this last week and thought it is an interesting view from some media professionals on where they feel the future of media is going — specifically regarding people of color. The event was put on by the National Black Programming Consortium and featured a panel of experienced media professionals.

One of the things that struck me was not only the continued development of television as a venue for telling stories (as opposed to feature films) but how ideas and stories that can fit into a series platform instead of a just one time two hour special, are seen as much more valuable. If you have some time, definitely check it out.

Richard’s Rant Heard Roun’ The World

Richard Sherman sure was hyped following the NFC Championship Game last weekend. The post rant fallout hasn’t been nearly as fun however.

In the last couple of years the loquacious cornerback, Sherman, has gained a bit of a reputation for getting in to people’s faces and not being afraid to make a point. He did it to Tom Brady. He did it to offensive tackle Trent Williams and received a parting shot by way of a right hook. Neither of these two previous episodes received the attention of Sherman’s latest post game faux pas.

Here’s the video for those who might have missed it.

As you can see, Sherman is clearly excited and maybe just a tad vindictive towards 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree. The reporter, Erin Andrews, is clearly caught off guard.

I must admit when I first saw the interview as it was happening, my first thought was, “This guy sure is mad.” Then I thought about it more and remembered this man literally just made the game saving play against a guy who he feels slighted him in the past. Oh, and that play is one of the key reasons why the Seahawks are going to their second Super Bowl in the last 8 years.

In the days following the interview, the condemnation was swift.There were those who said Sherman was classless, a poor example of sportsmanship, and showed firsthand what not to do in a post-game interview. There were also those that used code words like ‘thug’ to describe Sherman’s antics. Some on social media even went as far as to refer to Sherman as a monkey.

Clearly, Sherman probably could have handled the post-game interview better, and he has since admitted as much. However, I think we have to remember that he was interviewed moments after he made the biggest play in the game, at home, and that he sealed his team’s trip to the Super Bowl in New Jersey (yes, New Jersey).

So to not expect him to be hyped and animated isn’t exactly fair. We want our athletes to be motivated, animated, and using whatever slights against them (real or imagined) to up their game even more to perform at the highest level. You can’t expect guys to be making tackles, taking hits, putting hats on people, and then get mad when they may not show the best decorum in a post-game interview. I have no problem with people who criticized Sherman’s rant for him going after Crabtree. But calling a man a thug (this so called thug also happens to be a Stanford grad) just based off nothing more than his appearance and an interview, reveals a lot more about some of Sherman’s critics than it does Sherman. Stay classy, folks.

The Importance & Significance of 12 Years A Slave

When it comes to the film “12 Years A Slave,” which hit theaters a few weeks ago, my recommendation is to see it while it’s still playing. This article isn’t so much a film review as it is a look at some of the themes at play in “12 Years A Slave” and its larger significance on society beyond the realm of cinema.

I went to see “12 Years A Slave” about a month ago with a lady friend, and at $14 a ticket (Manhattan prices) I was hoping that this film would live up to the all the praise it had been receiving up to its theatrical launch. It certainly did that for me and more as it left me intrigued and analyzing a number of topics upon leaving the theater.

“12 Years A Slave” tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free black man kidnapped and sold into slavery, and the harrowing 12 years of his existence in America’s ‘Peculiar Institution.’ Through his eyes we see the horrors of slavery up close: a mother having her children sold from her arms, brutal beatings, working on the plantation, and a sense of despair festering throughout the film like rotting meat on a summer afternoon. Though “12 Years A Slave” is the story of Solomon Northup, it really could be the story of any enslaved black person at that time. But because the story is specific to Solomon and based on true events, it simply can not be dismissed as an over-dramatization or the imagination of a director like last year’s “Django Unchained.” “12 Years A Slave” gives an unflinching and very hard look at American slavery and quite frankly, it’s a story that needed to be told.

In the last few months I’ve read articles and heard from more than a few people that they’re tired of black people being portrayed in ‘hardship roles’ in films, such as butlers, slaves or having to march and be beaten while fighting for their civil rights. While I understand the sentiment, I think it’s misplaced. While these certainly shouldn’t be the only roles in which we see blacks play major parts, they are nevertheless important to the education of our nation at large.

Slavery is one topic that I feel by and large the United States school system does a pretty terrible job of educating people about. I remember attending an event for the commemoration of the TV miniseries “Roots,” where one of the cast members remarked that when he was in school slavery was reduced to a paragraph in his history textbook. An institution that affected tens of millions of people and lasted for well over 200 years in this nation, reduced to a paragraph. That’s not history, so much as HIS STORY.

The one thing “12 Years A Slave” does exceptionally well is illuminate this dark period of our nation’s history, even if it is but a small glimpse into a past most would like to forget. At a time when national figures are comparing a health system to slavery and a senator from Nevada suggested he would not be opposed to bringing back slavery if his constituents wanted it (yes, a politician in 2013 really did say this) movies like “12 Years” are vitally important. It has become clear through comments such as the ones above, that there are a good amount of people in this country who truly don’t understand just how terrible slavery really was.

Slavery wasn’t simply not having your freedom. It was knowing that your family members could be sold off. It was knowing that you could be beaten to death and that your life had about as much value as cattle. We see this in “12 Years” when Solomon himself barely survives a lynching only because his owner deems him too valuable to be killed. What is interesting is that more of these stories have not been told on the big screen.

Most people have heard of Harriet Tubman. A good amount have probably heard of Fredrick Douglass as well. But what about Denmark Vesey? Nat Turner? Gabriel Prosser? Phyllis Wheatley? These were all prominent names who either spent their lives as slaves or fought tirelessly against it during their time. I was disappointed when Fredrick Douglass was nowhere to be found in “Lincoln,” but not necessarily surprised.

One aspect that “12 Years” did not leave out, was the treatment of slave women during the era. We see a woman who has her children sold, and the audience is introduced to Patsey who is on the same plantation as Solomon. Patsey is beaten, forced to spend backbreaking hours picking cotton and raped. The sad fact is rape of women during slavery was rather pervasive. I suggest people read Harriet Jacobs’s book, Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl, which details her struggles with slavery and the repeated sexual advances made by her master. These types of relations weren’t just limited to little known slave owners. While it is well known that Thomas Jefferson was guilty of such a crime himself with his lovechild between Salley Hemmings, less is known about George Washington. As it stands, there is presently a black family in the United States who claim to be direct descendants of America’s Founding Father. According to them, Washington impregnated a teenage slave girl by the name of Venus who was owned by a man who was housing Washington at the time. When questioned as to who was father of the child, the girl pointed out George Washington.

So against this backdrop of torture, oppression, and sadness, there is also a sense of great relief for Solomon as his 12 year nightmare does eventually come to an end. However, there is no such relief for Patsey as the audience is left to watch a heart wrenching scene where it becomes apparent that there will be no cavalry for her. Patsey is a person stuck in circumstances she did not create, and subjected to a fate she doesn’t deserve. I believe in the power of films to educate, entertain and enlighten, and while “12 Years A Slave” is not the type of film to see from an entertainment aspect, it certainly does educate and enlighten and give empathy to those who lived under such harsh conditions for such long periods of time.

 

More Diversity for a Better Bottom Line?

According to a UCLA study released last month, television programs with more diversity tended to get higher ratings than those with more homogeneous casts and writers. Diversity is apparently good business.

Among some of the findings in the study was that shows in which minorities made up 31 to 40 percent of the cast members tended to do better with viewers, and shows with a higher percentage of minority writers benefited from increased ratings as well. Ultimately what does this mean? In essence I think studies like this show not only how we as a society are becoming more diverse, but that people want to see characters who look like them and share similar experiences as themselves. Considering the lack of diversity in television, it would behoove the producers and network honchos who greenlight these shows to really take a look at the members of their casts and the talent writing for these shows. You can check out the article here.

Actress Tired of Hollywood’s Stereotypes Decides To Do Something About It

Iyin Landre is an actress. She’s determined. She also happens to be Asian.

Iyin points out how she believes her race may be a hindrance in Hollywood when it comes to getting cast in films. As she demonstrates through her video, it seems casting directors only view her through a stereotypical lens. Whether it’s been the woman who provides manicures at the nail salon, or the buttoned up scientist in a lab, Iyin believes she’s more than just an ancillary character in somebody’s picture. She aspires to be the leading lady one day.

Thanks to KickStarter, that day has come sooner then she probably realized. Iyin successfully raised more than $75K for her independent feature entitled “Me + You.” Instead of lamenting the fact that she wasn’t getting consistent work and sitting by the phone, Iyin took action and is now making the films and characters that she wants to see. Gotta respect the hustle. Here’s the Kickstarter link.

After A 20 Year Hiatus Arsenio Hall is Back

Arsenio Hall made his triumphant return back to late night television this month and the initial results have been promising.

In its first full week on the air, “The Arsenio Hall Show” won the coveted 18-49 TV demographic, which is certainly a good sign. Arsenio has had on a number of well known entertainers and musical guests ranging the gamut from Chris Tucker, to Magic Johnson, to Angela Basset and Kendrick Lamar. I only got see the first show, but I enjoyed it.
I will say this however. If anyone from “The Arsenio Hall Show” happens to be reading this (and just in case you are, I’d love to come visit Los Angeles) it’s not a good look to have ads literally in the middle of a show. As a matter of fact, while ads are common on internet streams and on podcasts (Hello, ESPN) I have never seen ads in the middle of a live show. It just seems jarring, which is why I took a photo of it. Also, it just had to be McDonalds? Maybe it’s just my television that saw this, or perhaps others saw it as well, but please, no more ads in the middle of interviews.