Netflix Bets on Black

One of most enduring images of last Sunday’s BET Awards had nothing to do with the award show itself, but of the commercials that ran during it.

Netflix seems to be expanding every year with new shows and new programs for just about any audience. Its also made a concerted effort to invest in one group that had been mostly ignored for much of television’s history: black actors. The ad was simple, yet empowering. Take a look for yourself.

 

Now with that being said, Netflix still has some work to do in the boardroom considering black folks make up only 4% of the people who actually work there, but this is a good start.

Filling the Void: Black Fathers Impact Felt Far Beyond the Screen

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Black fathers have gotten a pretty bad rap lately. Usually portrayed as deadbeats or simply not as loving or caring as fathers of other groups, that perception has begun to change recently, even if it was never backed up by statistics.

T.V. and film have helped in recent years to bring black dads from outside the margins of media, and into the presence of American’s homes. Films and shows like South Central, He Got Game, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, showed the nuances of black dads (or uncles) and the relationships with their children at various stages of their lives. Each portrayal left an impact well beyond the medium it was broadcast in.

In the 1992 film South Central, we meet Bobby (played by Glenn Plummer) who is a small time dope pusher and gang member who just had a baby. He winds up doing time for his crimes and watches as his son not only grows up without him, but starts making the same bad decisions that he did just a few years earlier. We watch as Bobby eventually leaves prison as a changed man, and risks his own life to rescue his son from the streets.

 

With the film He Got Game, Denzel Washington also plays a formerly incarcerated father to a son living in the hood, though the circumstances are far different than South Central.

Here we see Jesus Shuttlesworth (played by NBA hall-of-famer Ray Allen) become a top prospect while playing ball during his senior year of high school. We witness him have to deal with all the trials and tribulations of his new found fame. Between the influencers, coaches, and his girlfriend tugging at him, there’s his father, Jake Shuttlesworth, currently rotting away in prison who’s just been freed temporarily. The catch is that his son must sign with the alma mater of the warden or Jake goes back to jail. We see the two fates of these men become intertwined with literally everything hinging on the outcome of a game of one-on-one.

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Ray Allen and Denzel Washington in He Got Game

Finally, there’s everyone favorite dad: Uncle Phil. Uncle Phil, played by James Avery, who sadly passed away recently, was a staple on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Uncle Phil was the stern, but fair patriarch of the Banks household, who always seemed to get into it with Will.

It was one scene however that truly showed Avery’s emotional touch, not only as an actor, but as a person. When Will’s father has to leave suddenly, Will gives a speech about how he doesn’t need him and he’ll be just fine. The thing this, it just wasn’t true. Will begins to break down and Uncle Phil rushes to  console him.

What’s amazing about this scene is that up until Will’s father leaves, everything else after that is unscripted. Will Smith, the person, actually broke down and started crying, not the character he was portraying. James Avery realized this immediately and doesn’t hesitate to hug him. For Avery, being a father meant stepping in, even when the cameras stopped rolling.

If your reading this and you’re a father, Happy Father’s Day to you. I’m curious, who were some of your favorite T.V./film dads? Feel free to comment below.

It’s ABFF Week on South Beach

The American Black Film Festival kicks off this week in its 22nd year and the festival really does give black filmmakers a chance to laugh, celebrate, and fellowship around film and cinema.

The festival is back to its original home of Miami after taken a two-year hiatus up north in New York a few years back. ABFF brings industry insiders and newcomers together for a chance to really talk about what projects are going on and how to break into the industry.

I actually had the privilege of attending the festival in 2015, one of the two years it was held in New York (2014 being the other) and had a really good time. In addition to meeting people like Andrea Lewis (you may remember her from her role on Degrassi) and Sali Richardson-Whitfield (she played ‘Angela’ in A Low Down Dirty Shame), I got to meet people like Pete Chatmon, an up and coming director who actually directed an episode of the hit series Insecure for season 3. Seeing these people in the industry and being able to speak with them made the dream of working full-time in the entertainment field feel more real.

In addition to networking opportunities, there were informative panels, the comedy show and plenty of vendors as well. It was at one of the vendor stations that I got to interact with former NFL running back turned actor Thomas Jones. I remember him telling me that acting was always something he felt he could do and once his football career ended, it seemed only logical to pursue it full-time.

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Me at ABFF in 2015

There was a panel with Kenya Barris and Tracy Ellis-Ross emceed by Larry Wilmore that talked about the behind the scenes work that went in to making Blackish a hit sitcom. It got a lil awkward though when during the question and answer session someone from the audience asked Kenya if he was hiring.

For any reading this who has even an inkling of wanting to attend an event where they’ll get a chance to learn about film and interact with people doing the work they envision themselves doing, I definitely recommend going to ABFF. I definitely hope to be back next year.

It Doesn’t Take A Hero To Make an Impact

This superhero possess the uncanny ability to make people smile while lending a helping hand. And he’s all of 4-years-old.

Austin Perine is a young kid making a huge impact in his community of Birmingham, Alabama. About once a week he puts on his cape and delivers sandwiches to homeless men and women in and around town. This has turned him into a local celebrity of sorts.

He doesn’t do it for the attention of course, but because it’s the right thing to do. After each sandwich he hands out, he says his trademark slogan: “Don’t forget to show love.” Sometimes love and a warm meal are all one needs. Much respect to President Austin.

 

King’s Relevance Still Resonates 50 Years Later

Dr. Martin Luther King is known for giving one of the most famous speeches in american history, yet it’s interesting how much of his other words and actions have been forgotten over the years.

This month marks 50 years since King’s assassination and tumultuous summer of 1968 that was to follow. Most people today when they think of King, probably think of his landmark “I Have A Dream” speech. They’re not wrong for thinking that, it’s just that King was so much more than just a speech.

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You’re talking about a man who went to college at 15. A man who became one of the face of Civil Rights Movement while still in his mid-twenties. A Nobel Peace Prize winner. One of the greatest speakers this country has ever produced. A man went to prison numerous times fighting for what he (and millions of others) believed in.

These are the facts that most history text books and politicians and other figures will talk about when remembering King. The fact is however, this is an incomplete history. King wasn’t just some passive leader arguing for equality, but was active in the movement against white supremacy and income inequality.

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Martin Luther King wasn’t always so popular. Hindsight as they say is 20/20.

This is a man who was arrested numerous times for simply pushing for equality. A man who admonished those who said black folks should “just wait a little longer or for a more convenient time” to argue for Civil Rights – as if you can put a timeline on a people’s freedom. While King is known for speaking out about segregation and inequality, his words and action weren’t just reserved for the south, as evidenced by the treatment he received when he lead a march against housing segregation in Chicago.

Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy today is one of reverence, if a bit softened to say the least. People talk as if the man died of old age warm in his bed instead of via a bullet to the neck at just 39-years-old. King is used against the protesters of today — specifically Black Lives Matter — as the pedestal in which people should look upon in how they should dress and behave when protesting literally for the lives. It’s ironic, the man who’s become synonymous with the fight for Civil Rights is now used to castigate those arguing for the same things 50 years later.

King wasn’t about being bigger than the people – he stood with them and marched forward with them. 50 years later, we have to continue moving forward if we truly want to honor the man’s legacy.

More than a Movie: The Cultural Significance of Black Panther

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Some might say that based off audience reactions and box office numbers, Black Panther is more than a movie. They’d be right. It’s a movement.

From enthusiastic audiences to one of the highest ratings of a super hero film ever by critics, Black Panther has done quite well for itself. There were reports of folks showing up with drums to the premiere last month and numerous photos of others posing next to the official film poster. The film has not only been been popular, but profitable, even beyond Marvel’s (and parent company Disney’s) own dreams.

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Black Panther (Marvel/Disney)

As of this writing, Black Panther has already grossed more than $1 billion globally and over $600 million domestically. To put that in perspective, it is now one of the Top 15 10 highest grossing films in American cinematic history. Much of this money is coming from people seeing the film not just once, but multiple times with friends and family.

Black Panther has been the #1 movie at the box office for five weeks running, something not seen in eight years here in the United States. Most studios are happy if they win the box office on back-to-back weekends, let alone five straight weeks. By tapping into a relatively under-served market, Black Panther is reaping the benefits, and then some.

The dearth of diverse stories in Hollywood is both a pertinent issue and a persistent one.  It hasn’t been much better in the super hero realm with black actors appearing in films but usually as sidekicks and never as the main story. Black Panther changes all that with a majority black cast and a story told from an afro-futuristic perspective.

Even the individual roles have been no less significant. From Shuri, who is the real brains behind the operation and enhances her older brother’s Black Panther capabilities, to Okoye, who is the leader of the fierce all female Dora Milaje unit that protects T’Challa and Wakanda, these roles are deeply impactful. There’s also the significance of M’Baku, played by Winston Duke, a role that was written very differently then what had been portrayed in the comics. Finally, there’s the land of Wakanda that was never touched by colonialism and has thrived as a hidden kingdom for centuries.

In recent weeks #WakandaForever has taken root and been embraced by a wide array of folks. Though this is a fictional land, its influence is very real. For black folks to simply imagine a land where they get to be themselves, far from the white gaze and troubling histories of colonialism and enslavement, is a truly refreshing thought during times of such heartache.

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Athletes embracing #Wakandaforever

So will the commercial appeal and success of Black Panther open up the lane for Hollywood to tell more diverse stories in the future? I remain skeptical, but we’ll see. These days, the T.V. networks along with heavyweights like HBO and Netflix, seem more committed to a diverse palette of stories being told on their platforms. Clearly, there is serious money to be made in well done diverse pictures that entertain a cornucopia of audiences.

If nothing else, Black Panther shows that there is a real thirst among audiences for well done films by and about people who remind them of themselves. To see yourself onscreen is a subtle, yet powerful affirmation of one’s humanity. Inspiring a generation of kids to look and see themselves in a different light, may be Black Panther’s greatest achievement yet. #WakandaForever

Voices Beyond the Baseline: Lebron and KD share their thoughts on the ‘Bad Coach in Chief’

Athletes speaking out about social issues isn’t exactly a new thing, but the way today’s players are using their platforms to express their views against a sitting president is anything but routine.

Case in point are the comments NBA stars Lebron James and Kevin Durant had to say in a recent interview regarding President Trump and his leadership — or lack there of.

The comments were featured in a 16 minute video on Lebron’s media site Uniterrupted. The video is done in partnership with the ride-sharing company Uber, and features Espn’s Cari Champion playing the role of chauffeur/interviewer while asking guests in the back seat a series of questions regarding their career on and off the court. There have been two other videos I know of thus far featuring Paul Pierce and Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball, with Ms. Champion being the driver in both instances. These videos give the viewer a somewhat more intimate look at today’s athletes thoughts and answers to challenges they face on and off the court.

On this particular ride, Ms. Champion had the opportunity to interview two of the NBA’s biggest stars for a somewhat unfiltered discussion on sports, politics, influence, and what drives them not just as athletes — but as men. The ride takes place in Lebron’s hometown of Akron, Ohio and features pit stops at the places that influenced him growing up.

During the ride a number of topics are discussed regarding money, influence, growing up and social responsibility. It’s enlightening to hear these two talk about things outside of basketball and give the audience some insight into what fuels them beyond the 94 feet of NBA hardwood.

One of the more interesting segments were each man’s thoughts on president Trump when prompted by a question by Cari Champion. Lebron came out and laid it right on the table when he said that Trump, “doesn’t give a fuck about the people.” Meanwhile, Durant added that the president should be showing more leadership and empowering people. Instead, according to Durant, Trump was doing just the opposite and running America like a “bad coach.”

These comments in of themselves aren’t all that noteworthy, but the mouths through which they were uttered, certainly are. The NBA — perhaps more than any other league –has been rather outspoken on number 45 and his policies. The fact that Durant and Lebron are speaking out, being the league’s two best players, only strengthen’s the NBA’s position as the league most likely to stand up to Trump.

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Lebron lets his stance be known via Instagram

Suffice to say, there were some not too happy with Lebron and KD’s words. Laura Ingraham of Fox News, called them two “dumb jocks,” “barely intelligible,” and that they should just “shut up and dribble.” In Ingram’s view, she doesn’t believe athletes should have a voice, let alone speak out against a president her employer just can’t stop fawning over.

What’s interesting is that Fox News has had plenty of entertainers and sports figures on their airwaves freely discussing issues and topics beyond their realm of expertise. Philadelphia Eagles player Chris Long, created quite the Twitter story of Fox’s hypocrisy of athletes and entertainers speaking out.

When asked about host Laura Ingraham’s comments during NBA All-Star weekend, Lebron James responded, “we will definitely not shut up and dribble. I will not do that.”

There has been a long history of black athletes speaking out in America. From Jackie Robinson, to Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Althea Gibson and others, many of them understood that their talents gave them a platform. That platform, in turn, gave them an opportunity to speak out on issues affecting millions of lives in the communities in which they grew up in, many of whom could only dream of such an audience. Even the notoriously quiet Michael Jordan has in recent years opened up.

With the ever evolving prevalence of video and social media, it’s never been easier for today’s athletes and superstars to lend their voice. With millions of followers and watchers around the world, it’d be foolish to expect them to just “shut and dribble,” without taking note of the world around them.