Friday, April 8, 2011

Diversity in Hollywood 2011 and Addendum

Last time I talked about diversity I stated:
Yes there is a big diversity problem as there has ever been in Hollywood. I personally started my company to try in my little way to combat that. Hence the mission of 'Nother Brother Entertainment is "To further propagate diverse images through development of films."

I was tired of seeing substandard television in particular featuring African Americans ...something I have been keenly following for about 20 years now...
Of course this discussion can (and probably will) go on forever, but some more examples and ideas came to mind and had to post them as well.

Even though I have loved television for…ever, I have always been aware, even acutely aware of black stories on television. When a black show came on I would always try to check it out. In the 90’s a plethora of black shows debuted on television and probably not for the reasons you think. Dr. Jason Johnson explains a lot of it in the excerpts below as he compares it to the predicament of former RNC Chairman Michael Steele.

Quiz Time: Do you remember “Sister, Sister,” “The Jamie Foxx Show,” and “The Steve Harvey Show?” What do all of these shows have in common?

Each of these shows was part of the now defunct WB network’s television line-up from the mid-90’s. They were all popular African-American sitcoms that were ranked in the top 10 in black households before getting the axe in 1999. Basically the WB used black shows to stabilize the network then dumped them all when things got better. This “WB” syndrome as I like to call it, can also apply to politics, as it perfectly explains the recent plight of former RNC Chairman Michael Steele.

Broadcast television was dominated by NBC in the 1990s, so when the WB was launched across the nation in 1995 Warner Brothers executives had a novel idea: Why not create programming for a niche African-American audience that was all but ignored by other networks at the time? From this idea shows such as “Jamie Foxx,” “Steve Harvey” and “Sister, Sister” were born to huge ratings and critical acclaim across black America. In fact, it was black programming that kept the WB alive in the ’90’s as most of their other show attempts had failed (Anyone remember Kirk Cameron’s sitcom “Kirk”? Didn’t think so).

Then, in 1999 it all changed. The station had finally stabilized financially and began to focus exclusively on creating and promoting shows targeted at white teens and young adults. Goodbye “The Hugleys”, hello “Dawson’s Creek,” “Smallville,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Charmed.” It didn’t matter that the black shows were successful. Executives at the WB always aspired to grab the white teen audience like Fox and MTV and had no problem using black shows to get there. I call this the “WB syndrome” – throw some blacks in there early on to sell the product then dump them the moment the white audience is secure. You saw the same thing with Jennifer Lopez’ dating life and Timberland boots.
...

In order to avoid cancellation, the WB eventually merged with UPN, both stations purged themselves of any remaining minority targeted programs and created the CW. Despite their best efforts to survive on white viewers alone the CW is still firmly planted in last place.
Excerpted from "Michael Steele: The WB Network of Politics" You can read the entire editorial here

Ever since “the purge” there really haven’t been that much minority programming on broadcast television. Even the newly formed CW purged itself of all minority shows in 2009 (something I posted in our sister blog Cool Black Media here )

It is also important to note that UPN , The WB and eventually The CW “borrowed” the model that the Fox Network started of “narrowcasting” when it began in 1986 to build an audience. In 1994 after Fox cancelled the black shows The Sinbad Show, Roc, South Central and In Living Color, Representative Ed Towns (D-NY) stated
“Fox-TV created its niche based programming based upon racy, black, and youth oriented programming. Apparently as the network moves to become more mainstream, its attitude to positive black programs is, we don’t need, nor want them anymore…” - The Fox Network and the Revolution in Black Television (linked below)
Again this discussion happens over and over and over and over and…well you get the idea. I even dug through my uncle’s old Jet magazine collection and…well not really I’m a little more advance than that. LOL. Through a Google search I found a Jet magazine article from Aug 9, 1999 titled "Why Are So Few Blacks Starring On TV?" You can read it here

There has been recent news of a deal to bring an African American broadcast network to television, something that has only antecedently been achieved only in cable and satellite. (You can read about that in our sister blog Cool Black Media here )

There have also been several sound bites by film stars Idris Elba and Morgan Freeman on the matter

"Can I be candid? I don't like all of Tyler Perry's films. Yes, I did work with Tyler for 'Daddy's Little Girls' because it portrayed a positive image of a black father. I am happy for Tyler's success...we need Tyler Perry ... by going to support his movies, we need to show economic strength. But we are also responsible for elevating film. I'm not with buffoonish characters like Madea or Big Momma."
-- Actor Idris Elba weighing in on Tyler Perry's success in Hollywood and buffoonish imagery. (Vibe)

When asked by BET for his take on the lack of African-American actors on stage, at this year’s Oscars, Morgan Freeman replied,
“I think we need to get over that sh*t. How many Chinese do you see? You don’t see them out marching and sh*t. Oh God please. I think … We need to get over it, that’s all.”
You can read more info on the Morgan Freeman quote, as well as a lot of reader comments at the great website Shadow & Act here

When it concerns diversity like I stated before “IT HAS been the same ol’ song and things probably won’t change that much. We just have to do what we can to ensure that our stories are being told.”

Related Link 1-
FROM

MEDIA AND POPULAR CULTURE

Apr 11, 2011

Panelists talk about media and popular culture. This program was part of an Aspen Institute symposium on the state of race in the United States. (1 HR 41 MIN)

Panelists

Will Griffin
Chair and CEO
Hip Hop on Demand

Donna Byrd
Publisher
TheRoot.com

Mona Eltahawy
Middle East Columnist

Spike Lee
Filmmaker

CLICK the graphic below to view the video


Related post-
Diversity in Hollywood 2011 and Beyond

Related Link 2-
The Fox Network and the Revolution in Black Television
http://nettrice.us/media_lit/zook_fox_network_and_the_revolution.pdf

Monday, April 4, 2011

Dr. Martin Luther King & Me

CLICK on graphic for BIGGER view
The news about the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination today (April 4, 1968) got me thinking about the script I wrote about it, Down with the King, and the large amount of research I did to validate what is a fictional story or as Hollywood likes to say “Based on a True Story”.

Even though I didn’t start actually writing Down with the King until the summer of 2001 it was around this time I was seriously considering this to be my next script. I think about a script A LOT before I ever put pen to paper so to speak (I actually prefer a computer). I was actually struggling through MCOM 411 Comm Process that semester, a mass communications theory class that was required for graduation in my major. It probably wouldn’t have been that bad if it wasn’t a three hour class--on a Friday afternoon--in the spring. While everyone else was enjoying the new warmer spring weather we were in class talking about what the red in Run Lola Run represented. In retrospect I liked the class, but at that time it seemed like torture.

Anyway as stated below, after I saw a news report about the assassination I thought to base a story around it and yes the script was heavily influenced by the conspiracy theory film Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991). You can read more about the script below, but on this day I wanted to revisit a script and subsequent film I wrote a decade ago. Rest in peace Dr. King. Your dream does indeed live on.

Down with the King
(article written circa 2004)

Synopsis: Two sisters uncover clues leading to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Characters:

Adina Shawnessy-FBI agent

Vera Shawnessy-Journalist

Hershey-Vera and Dina’s cousin

Maranthol-Mysterious old friend of Vera and Dina’s father

I wrote Down With The King the summer of 2001. It was my ninth entry into the Scripps Howard Broadcasting contest. Down With The King won first place in 2002 making it my third first place win.

The script was produced by the local Scripps Howard station, WMAR Channel 2 (an ABC affiliate) and theatre company Arena Players (The nation's longest, continuously running, African American community theater.) Basically the station handled the technical part, and the theatre company handled the theatrical part. Arena Players auditioned and hired all the actors and directors, Channel 2 personnel, who would normally work on news programs, handled the filming aspect.

After viewing a news report on the inconsistencies in the murder investigation of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., I thought what if someone found this one little thing and it snowballed into uncovering one of the greatest crimes of the century.

I also wanted the person/people who uncovered it to be investigators by nature and profession, a cop and a reporter. I made the two sisters. Then I chose to make the “cop” a FBI agent and make it the same character from my first winning play Without a Doubt. I wanted to make these two sisters augmentative, but also have an underlying love for each other. I patterned this contentious relationship and named the characters after my aunt and mother “Adina” and “Vera”.

The play had its “world premiere” party at Arena Players February 13, 2002 and aired on Channel 2 February 17, 2002. For the first time the premiere party had a “celebrity host” Judge Hatchett whose eponymous television show was of course shown on Channel 2. (That is an example of the invitation at the top)

Even though all of my plays are special, this one had its distinction also. It was not only my third first place win (something no other writer had done), it was the 20th and subsequently the final winner of the Arena Players/Channel 2 competition for they chose to end the annual competition.

Even though I “retired” from the contest after “setting a record”, [they didn't announce the end of the contest until a year later] I was sad to see the contest end. It was and could have been a great opportunity for aspiring writers.


• The lead character of “Shawnessy” was originally introduced in my play Without a Doubt as just “Shawnessy”. In this play she finally gets a first name [Adina] as well as family members.

• The actress who played “Shawnessy” in Without a Doubt, Laura Sligh, reprised her role in Down With The King.

• In my research for this play I actually contacted the FBI and found out these facts:
As of 2001 there were:
  • 11,275 agents overall
Of them:
  • 9,439 white
  • 1,996 women
  • 830 Hispanic
  • 631 Black
  • 327 Asians
  • 48 Native Americans
Below is a slideshow of stills from the televised play. (*Note: The stills are so small because they were captured from videotape and to make them bigger will distort the quality.)





You can read the Baltimore Sun article about Down with the King here

Related post-
Sun Days