Monday, December 19, 2016

2016: The New Renaissance in Black Television

I explain how 2016 kicked off a brand new era in black television.

2016 saw an unprecedented number of television shows with black creators and I not only break down how that was different than years past, I detail the black creators as well as the huge ratings these new shows are bringing in.

  Read it all at Shadow & Act HERE

Friday, August 26, 2016

How Much Everyone Working On a $200 Million Movie Earns [VIDEO]

Great video by Vanity Fair enumerating the salary of EVERYONE on the film set of a blockbuster film makes. As Jay-Z said "Men lie, women lie, the numbers don't!"

Check out the video below via our Facebook page

Monday, May 23, 2016

Actors Talk the Acting Process [VIDEOS]

Found via website Shadow & Act, a series of videos courtesy of “The Off Camera Show” with host Sam Jones – featuring several actors like Don Cheadle, Michael B. Jordan, Tatiana Maslany (“Orphan Black”), Robert Downey Jr., Ethan Hawke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Krysten Ritter (“Jessica Jones”) and Kevin Bacon.

Topics discussed include the auditioning process, building backstory for characters they play, prepping for roles, playing multiple characters simultaneously (in Maslany’s case), working with acting coaches/mentors, and more.

As Shadow & Act said “If you’re an actor (especially if you’re still new to the craft), you may get something out of what they each share about various aspects of the work. And if you’re a filmmaker, you may learn something here as well."

See more videos embedded together at Shadow & Act by clicking the graphic below 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

My 2015 Maryland Film Festival Experience [VIDEOS]

Last year for the Maryland Film Festival was totally surreal. The festival started three days after the curfew was lifted following the Baltimore Riots (also called the Freddie Gray riots, the Baltimore Uprising, the Baltimore Unrest etc). It was a tumultuous time in Baltimore. Baseball games were being played without crowds, people were afraid to come into the city, the police were still dealing with after effects of the unrest. It was a heck of a time to have a film festival, but MFF did and I was a part of it.

In the midst of the turmoil, I wrote what is becoming an annual article for indiewire blog Shadow & Act 2015 Maryland Film Festival Kicks Off This Week (May 6-10) - Black Films to Put on Your To-See List  detailing the films playing at the festival featuring black personnel (cast, subject or crew).

At the festival, one of the first feature films I saw was also a surreal moment. As I said then "Do The Right Thing in Baltimore a week after the Baltimore Riots"

Seeing that classic film that captured racial strife so brilliantly a week after the riots was just wild. It was quite a somber moment in the city at that time and this screening was equally somber.

The next day I attended a great panel, "A Work in Progress: Writing Race". As the Baltimore Sun put it:
In the wake of unrest in Baltimore, a panel discussion [A Work in Progress: Writing Race] at this week's Maryland Film Festival will feature four notable writers whose works touch on Baltimore, race or some combination thereof:  "The Wire" creator David Simon; Pulitzer Prize winner and Baltimore writer Taylor Branch; National Book Award winner James McBride; and essayist and commentator Ta-Nehisi Coates, a National Magazine Award-winning editor at Atlantic magazine.
From Left to Right: Ta-Nehisi Coates & David Simon
All four men are working on the script for the upcoming HBO mini-series, "America in the King Years," which is being produced for HBO by Simon's Blown Deadline Productions. It is based on Branch's three-volume history of the Civil Rights movement.
(You can see video of the "A Work in Progress: Writing Race" panel at the end of this post.)

That next day it was my pleasure to introduce the film Girlhood at the festival.

I really loved that film and it was my pleasure to present it to the MFF audience. You can read my review of Girlhood here )
I was planning on seeing several other films after Girlhood, but I was asked to do this.
CLICK for a bigger view
BREAKING NEWS: MFF announces a discussion about filmmaker responsibility and engagement with the community from 3pm-4pm in the Tent Village!  All Tent Village panels are FREE and open to the public!  Our Tent Village is located in the east lot at the MICA Lazarus Center (131 W North Avenue).

This panel will feature Stanley Nelson, director of MFF 2015's THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION; Steve Hoover, director of MFF 2015's CROCODILE GENNADIY; Ramona Diaz, director of DON'T STOP BELIEVIN': EVERYMAN'S JOURNING; and Chip Dizard, director of OH, BALTIMORE.  The panel will be moderated by Dankwa Brooks, Multi-award winning writer and director of MAKING HISTORY.
I guess it was my turn to be on a panel LOL, but a chance to moderate a panel with a filmmaker I admired–no brainer! 
I had a chance to hang out with Stanley Nelson before the panel at the festival and it was really a great moment. The panel went really great as well as our filmmakers had great answers about filmmaker responsibility and community engagement.
Top left to right: Stanley Nelson and Dankwa Brooks
Bottom left to right: Steve Hoover, Chip Dizard and Ramona Diaz
We covered issues like telling your story without exploitation and more. A really great discussion.
Later on that evening was the Maryland Film Festival premiere of
Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
Of course I was right there, it was another great film by Mr. Nelson and I wasn't the only one to think so! Here’s video of the audience reaction from the 'Nother Brother Entertainment Facebook page.

(I wrote more about Mr. Nelson on the 'Nother Brother Entertainment blog here )

So as you can see I had an extremely busy time at the 2015 Maryland Film Festival and even though it was busy it was still a blast!

 You can see all of our posts about the Maryland Film Festival here

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Master Documentarian Stanley Nelson

So I was looking for some films to see at the 2010 Maryland Film Festival decided to see Freedom Summer and WOW! I was really blown away by this film.

As I said back in 2010 "The official website’s description “powerful harrowing and ultimately inspirational story” is absolutely right." I also said "Excellent work by the filmmaker Stanley Nelson and makes me want to check out his other work." And that's what I did! I watched his film Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (2006) and another excellent work!

When his next film came to the Maryland Film Festival 2014’s Freedom Summer I KNEW I had to see it and meet the man.The below picture is right after I saw Freedom Summer.

Freedom Summer was another excellent film and of course last year when his latest film was coming to the festival The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015) (Poster below)

I actually got a chance to hang out with Mr. Nelson last year, but that’s a story for later. I urge you to check out the works of this “Master Documentarian”.

Here are some of the titles from his filmography (hyperlinks lead to more of what I said about the films here on the blog)

Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind (2000)
The Murder of Emmett Till (2003)
Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (2006)
Freedom Riders (2010)
Freedom Summer (2014)
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015)

What’s Mr. Nelson’s next films? Let him tell you via the tweets below

It goes without saying that I’m looking forward to BOTH films!

APRIL 2016 

Emmy-winning nonfiction filmmaker Stanley Nelson will be honored at the upcoming 75th Annual Peabody Awards.

The George Foster Peabody Awards (or simply Peabody Awards) program, recognizes distinguished and meritorious public service by American radio and television stations, networks, online media, producing organizations, and individuals.
A prolific documentary filmmaker, a seeker of truth and justice, Stanley Nelson Jr. has examined the history and experience of African-Americans in a powerful, revelatory body of work that includes three Peabody winners–The Murder of Emmet Till, Freedom Summer and Freedom Riders —and ranges from Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple to Sweet Honey in the Rock: Raise Your Voice. A MacArthur Genius Fellow, Nelson is also co-founder of Firelight Media, a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing young documentary filmmakers who advance underrepresented stories.

 Read more about Mr. Nelson in a 2011 New York Times article below.


An Explorer of Black History’s Uncharted Terrain
Stanley Nelson
Mike Hale, New York Times
May 3, 2011

FOR some people, filmmaking is a lifelong dream. For Stanley Nelson, it began as more of a situational thing, a response to time and place. The time was the late 1960s and early ’70s, the place to be avoided was Vietnam, the refuge was film school at the City University of New York. “It was kind of my motive to stay in school no matter what, you know what I’m saying?”

In some ways Mr. Nelson, whose graying hair is the only thing that betrays his 59 years, has been in school ever since. An accomplished director and producer of documentaries, primarily for television — his latest film,“Freedom Riders,” makes its debut on Monday night as part of the PBS series “American Experience” — he has spent his career exploring the byways of black history and culture, and passing along the stories he finds.

“I feel like I’m trying to tell African-American audiences something they haven’t heard,” he said, “because I feel like if I tell African-American audiences something new about their history, then it’s definitely going to be new for white folks too.

“In some ways,” he continued, “I’m trying not to be that guy in ‘Tarzan’ who interprets the drums for Tarzan. I don’t want to be that person.”

“Freedom Riders” is Mr. Nelson’s first film to deal directly with the civil rights movement, and he has stayed away from the “great men” of black history: Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. His subjects, in television terms, have been more everyday or more offbeat, but no less important for that: African-American newspapers, professors and vacation resorts; the black nationalist Marcus Garvey and the murder victim Emmett Till; the suicides at Jonestown; and the music of Sweet Honey in the Rock.

The breadth and seriousness of his work documenting black life in America, assembled with little fanfare and sometimes less money, place him in a select group of filmmakers that would include his mentor, William Greaves, as well as more famous names like Gordon Parks and Spike Lee. But speaking at the temporary offices of his production company, Firelight Media, on 131st Street in Harlem recently, Mr. Nelson was more the weary traveler than the auteur. He had just returned from trips to China, Houston, St. Louis and Chicago, promoting his new film, about the 1961 Freedom Rides across the South and the violent reaction they inspired.

Taking a break from his producing chores on a Firelight film about Jesse Owens, Mr. Nelson recalled the reactions to “Freedom Riders” in China.

“It was crazy,” he said, settling into a chair and commencing an off-and-on struggle to stay awake. “Some of the questions were the same as here, and some were really very, very different. One that kind of stood out was, one guy asked, ‘Why was there segregation in the U.S.?’ Which was such a beautiful question. You know, it’s so beautiful.”

Mr. Nelson’s word choices sometimes hark back to the days of peace and love, when he was an aspiring director with no interest in nonfiction (“What I knew about documentary films were those terrible documentaries that I saw in school”) and a disdain for the blaxploitation movies that constituted the movie industry’s depiction of African-Americans on-screen.

For his thesis, he made a “kind of crazy” short film about a dead woman. “I was very influenced by foreign films,” he said. “So she wakes up in the middle of a field and she goes to a psychiatrist who gives her some mumbo jumbo, and then she goes to a priest and he gives her some mumbo jumbo, and then she goes to a drug dealer and he gives her some mumbo jumbo. And then she kind of wakes up, and she’s been hit by a car.”

Out in the world, he first apprenticed with Mr. Greaves, a prolific documentary and television director and producer best known for the experimental film “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm,” and then worked for five years for the communications branch of the United Methodist Church, where, he said, he learned how to make films with a message that were still entertaining.

While there he began work on his first feature film, “Two Dollars and a Dream,” about the pioneering black businesswoman Madame C. J. Walker. The church allowed him to use its facilities for his own work one day a week. The idea came from closer to home.

“Well, my grandfather was her business partner,” Mr. Nelson said. “So the story had been circulating around my family for a long time. What’s embarrassing is that it took me so long to think of it as a film.”

It also took him a long time to make it: seven years, much of it spent raising money. The film was finally released in 1989. While conducting research on Walker, he stumbled on the subject for his next movie, “The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords.”

“Here were these papers that were owned and operated by black people,” he said. “And the writers were black, and the editors were black, and the photographers were black, and the cartoonists were black. I mean, somebody was making a living as a black cartoonist in 1920 — well, how about that? That’s incredible.”

Mr. Nelson’s second film took as long to make as his first, and he suspects that has had something to do with his determination to avoid familiar topics. “It took me seven years to make Madame C. J. Walker, it took me seven years to make ‘The Black Press,’ ” he said. “So going into a film, it has to be something that is really important to me. You know, because I might be seven, eight years down the line, still working on it.”

Research for “The Black Press” led Mr. Nelson to Garvey (who published the influential newspaper Negro World), and “Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind” initiated his relationship with “American Experience,” for which he has done five projects so far, including “The Murder of Emmett Till” and “Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple.” Despite the steady collaboration, each film has required a new pitch and a new negotiation. “PBS has been great, but it’s been one film after the other,” he said. “And there’s been no kind of relationship, in some terms. It’s like we meet in a bar by accident.”

“Freedom Riders” is the first film Mr. Nelson has written and directed that was not his own idea — PBS brought the project to him after optioning Raymond Arsenault’s 2006 book, “Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice.” Asked if he had any qualms about the work for hire, Mr. Nelson laughed and said, “Well, I think they had raised all the money.”

“And I always kind of wanted to do a film about the civil rights movement, about one piece of the civil rights movement,” he added. “About dissecting a piece of it, because I think ‘Eyes on the Prize’ was a great, great, beautiful series, but it kind of made this whole lump thing of the movement.”

Mr. Nelson’s “American Experience” films can be found on DVD from and other online retailers, but his other films are harder to track down. (“Two Dollars and a Dream” can be bought at, which caters to institutional customers, for $350.) Those with a Netflix subscription, however, have access to a special treat: “A Place of Our Own,” his best and most atypical film, is currently available for streaming.

That 2004 work, conceived as a straightforward documentary about black resort towns around the country, became a poetic and highly personal film about Mr. Nelson’s family summer home at Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, his parents and siblings, and a set of issues not often aired in public: the fault lines of class, generation and skin color that exist among African-Americans.

“It was more personal than I ever realized it would be, than I ever wanted it to be, than it will ever be again,” he said of “A Place of Our Own.” He had to be persuaded — “over and over and over again” — to allow the editors to put the focus on his fractured relationship with his father and to record the wistful first-person narration that sets the film’s tone.

Part of the story it tells is of Mr. Nelson’s upper-middle-class upbringing, with a dentist father and librarian mother who sent him to a progressive private school in Manhattan and whisked him off to Martha’s Vineyard every summer. Both “pieces” of his childhood, as he calls them, were cocoonlike (to put it one way) and intensely supportive (to put it another).

They did not remove “the kind of disconnect and disassociation that I think all black people have,” he said, but they did give him “some feeling of comfort in the world.” And they informed the kind of filmmaker he would become.

“I’m just trying to make the best film that I possibly can,” he said. “I’m not carrying a lot of baggage. I’m not thinking about this or that. I’m not bitter. And that’s kind of how I see myself.”

In addition to producing the Jesse Owens film, Mr. Nelson is negotiating with PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to do a connected series of films on topics including the slave trade, historically black colleges and the Black Panther party. He would like to direct a film about the Panthers, a favorite subject, himself. But there’s another topic — another subject of study — about which he seems to be even more excited.

“I’ve always wanted to do a film about James Brown,” he said. “Because I love James Brown, and I think it’s kind of this great story, and great music. I do think there’s something about that music. You know, especially for black people. You say James Brown, people start to smile. Why? Why is it that people start to smile? I’m not there yet.”