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.

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.

ABFF 2

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.

Before Black Panther: Black Superheroes Who Laid the Foundation

It’s safe to say that with just under a week to go until it’s theatrical premiere, Marvel’s newest film Black Panther, is already a cultural phenomenon.

The film debuted last month in Los Angeles for it’s first official screening and the red carpet looked very different than what one would see at these types of events. Folks dressed in beautiful African garb and a who’s who of Black Hollywood, showed up in addition to the cast and crew for Black Panther. From that moment, the effervescent reviews have been flowing.

BP Premiere

Lupita N’yongo’ and Chadwick Boseman at Black Panther premiere in Los Angeles

Black Panther is a cultural landmark not just for audiences, but also for the film’s parent studio — Marvel. As the the 18th movie in Marvel’s ever expanding cinematic empire, it’s the first film to feature a majority black cast. With Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther himself and featuring Lupita Nyong’o, Daniel Kaluuya, and Micheal B. Jordan, the film encompasses some of the leading young black actors of today. Not to mention it’s directed by Ryan Coogler (this is his and Micheal B. Jordan’s third film together) the film certainly has many people excited.

Black Panther comes at an interesting time for Marvel. For 2018 marks the 10 year anniversary of Marvel’s first picture that ignited the studio’s resurgence: Iron Man. Since then, the studio has earned more than $12 billion dollars from it’s films as of 2017. Things weren’t always so lucrative however. As of matter fact, in the mid 90s Marvel the brand was nearly bankrupt and theatrical success for its comic book characters seemed little more than a pipe-dream at the time. That was until a gun-wielding vampire slayer showed up onscreen and ignited a sleeping giant.

When Blade debuted in 1998, Wesley Snipes was still a megastar. From New Jack City to White Men Can’t Jump to Passenger 57 and Money Train (OK, maybe not Money Train), Snipes had established himself as one of Hollywood’s more bankable stars during the 1990s. After a fair amount of success, Snipes wanted to make a film based of the comic book character Black Panther. Unfortunately for Snipes, the timing just simply wasn’t right.

Blade_movie

“I think Black Panther spoke to me because he was noble, and he was the antithesis of the stereotypes presented and portrayed about Africans, African history and the great kingdoms of Africa,” Snipes said recently in an interview to The Hollywood Reporter. Snipes also mentions that although he had the blessing of Stan Lee at the time to make the film, they couldn’t get the right screenwriters and a director who shared the same vision as Snipes.

“We went through three different scripts and couple of different director options,” Snipes says in the interview. But where Black Panther failed to launch, that opened the door for Blade and the rest is history as they say. “They both [Black Panther and Blade] had nobility. They were fighters. So I thought, hey, we can’t do the King of Wakanda… and the hidden kingdom in Africa, let’s do a black Vampire.”

Blade would make more than $100 million at the box office and spawn two more films for the franchise. As successful as it was however, there were other black superheroes during the decade who were leaving their mark as well.

In 1993 MGM’s The Meteor Man starred Robert Townsend as a D.C. school teacher just trying to do good until he’s hit by a meteor one day and wakes up with super powers. Though a light-hearted comedy, the film did touch on issues regarding gangs and the drug trade. What’s also interesting about this film is that Townsend’s character never wears a mask, and hence, everybody knows who he is.

Meteor Man

Robert Townsend as Meteor Man

There was Daman Wayans in Blankman in 1994 and also Micheal Jai White’s Spawn in 1997. Even Shaq got in on the act during this era with his movie Steel that also starred a young Ray J, who himself would go on to make very different films a decade later.

Fast forwarding back to today, what these films show is that black superheroes aren’t exactly a new thing, but that there has been some time since they’ve had their due. It’s self affirming to see people who look like you onscreen and even better when they’re kicking ass and taking names.

Films like Black Panther help to open up the comic genre movie-going experience for more audiences. Knowing that a film like this has been in the works for over 20 years and is finally coming to fruition, is an achievement not only of the cast and crew, but for those pushing all these years for a day like this.

The Role of An Eclipse and Nat Turner’s Rebellion

Here in the United States, people were obsessing about an eclipse that could be viewed by millions throughout the country. Apparently this was possible for the first time since the 1970s. The eclipse was treated with a lighthearted celebratory fare, with the only concern being people not look directly into the sun for fear of damaging their eyes. Not everyone got the message however. It was on this day though, 186 years ago, that an eclipse proved to be a harbinger of one of the most storied rebellions in American history.

1503340485

Continue Reading

Filmmakers Remember the L.A. Riots

25 years ago this week, Los Angeles was up in flames over the acquittal of four police officers who were caught beating up Rodney King on videotape. Now filmmakers are using their craft to reflect on what was, and what has become of Los Angeles since that day.

NPR has a list of films commemorating the 25th anniversary of the riots, and one film of particular interest to me is “Gook.”

Directed by Justin Chon, “Gook” tells the story of two Korean-American brothers and their friendship with an African-American girl during the outset of the riots. Chon actually lived through the riots himself, witnessing his father’s shoe store get looted as a child. Chon felt it was important to tell the riots from the perspective of two Korean brothers rather than immigrants, as he points out that too often recent immigrants and those who had been living in L.A. for sometime were just lumped together as Koreans without much context.

Continue Reading