NU World Focus
Maverick - a lone dissenter, as an intellectual, an artist, or a politician, who takes an independent stand apart from his or her associates... Synonyms: nonconformist, individualist; free thinker; loner, lone wolf.
What we collectively think of as ‘Hollywood’ today was actually started by what could only be termed as a group of entrepreneurial mavericks. Certainly that was the case in 1919. “In fact, the idea was common sense, and that is why it has never gone away. It ought to be possible for a collective of film-makers to share a marketing operation and keep a bigger share of the profits. It ought to work well enough to enable them to tell their stories without undue external interference,” quoting from an article in The Guardian by David Thomson on the 90th anniversary of United Artists in 2009.
I've always wondered why a group of A-list “black” stars and directors have never come together to tell their stories? Only during the era of ‘Jim Crow’ where theatrical exhibition was segregated by “race” did Oscar Michaux and the Lincoln Film Company produce and distribute films dealing with all aspects of life and culture from a “black” point of view.
'Hollywood' itself has been called a "factory" and a "plantation" among other things. Dissatisfaction with the then studio system led to the independent United Artists, founded by the likes of Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin who wanted to control their own stories. Genre films like Westerns or 'Film Noir' always have a subtext that has to be looked at not just taken at face value. Is their purpose to enlighten, inform, entertain, and inspire, or just to titillate? Ultimately it is called show business for a reason. The question is 'black Hollywood' ready willing or able to create its own United Artists. And control its own stories from inception through distribution?
"Every day we are bombarded with movies and television shows in which white faces, white families, white marriages are plugged as the "default" experience... and no one would say that these films are about race. No one would say, 'Oh, that's an all-white cast. It must be about what it means to be white in America.' No one." But that is the point. The movies and TV shows the writer refers to in the quote from a Huffington Post piece about The Best Man Holiday does just that, tells us -"...what it means to be white in America." Privileged. That is always the subtext. Everyone takes that for granted. It's only when the protagonists are people of color that that becomes what the movie is about. It is still very difficult because of our collective history for folks to get past the exterior and the supposed meaning of that exterior. We still too often, particularly in the media, "judge the book by the cover."
Some black A-Listers have their own production companies primarily to produce their own vehicles like Will Smith's Overbrook Films, then there's Tyler Perry Productions or CoadeBlack Films which come under the the Lionsgate banner. But where is the version of Bruckheimer Productions, The Weinstein Company, or Dreamworks, SKG that controls financing, production and distribution of its own product and brand over multiple production platforms and distribution channels?
Ava DuVernay, producer, director, writer insists "...a larger problem is at the studio level. While a black filmmaker can scrap together support for a film with a modest budget, securing the support of a major distributor or financier has proven far more challenging." Hollywood tends to see films which feature African Americans and other "minorities" as protagonists except for those few A-listers as "niche" films for niche audiences. Of course the idea of something that at first appeals only to a small portion of the population then becoming a world-wide phenomenon can be seen in the history of American popular music which has its roots in Blues, Jazz and R&B.
As some are now suggesting with the release of theatrical features, Fruitvale Station, The Butler, 12 Years a Slave, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, Best Man Holiday may just be the tip of the iceberg representing a renaissance of sorts that may be in the works around the “black experience” throughout the Diaspora. “At the Toronto film festival in September, the producer Harvey Weinstein, a Barack Obama supporter who has released three recent movies with African-American protagonists, said that the sheer quantity of these movies is in itself a sign of racial progress. It’s a ‘renaissance’ he attributes to what he calls ‘the Obama effect’, so says columnist Frank Rich.
The question however is who controls the product? Tyler Perry Productions and CodeBlack Films are affiliated with Lionsgate. Where is the equivalent of DreamWorks, SKG or The Weinstein Company that brings together stars, writers, producers, directors and craftspeople to create product that deals with every aspect of human existence, but from a black perspective? Like those mini-majors develop and control the process from inception through distribution.
The audience is certainly there as Americans of African descent have a consumer buying power of more than a trillion dollars, are the most avid TV watchers, attend movies with more regularity, and have a greater impact and influence on trends in popular culture so says the latest survey by Nielsen on the African American market.
The NU World focus holds that from that African American base the concentric circles move outward on a global scale not unlike the way Hip Hop has become a global phenomenon. The model exists. Is it the old bugaboo, of closed mindedness which continues to get in the way?
Walt Gavin is a writer, producer, author, and 'maverick' the driving force behind Gavin Media's NU World focus.