Friday, March 24, 2006

Issue #11: TV-Black&White

Ladies and Gentlemen....Issue #11


ON THE LOW...The hip hop community has been talking about it for years--that it has been under police surveillance in various cities for no apparent reason. From the ongoing lawsuit by the mother of Notorious B.I.G. against the City of Los Angeles, we know the FBI was tailing Biggie earlier the night of his death and had been taking photos of him up to the minute before he was murdered. Now, the world will get an inside peek at tense relationship between the rap artists and the Feds. Look out for Rap Sheet: Hip Hop And The Cops, a documentary by freshman filmmaker Don Sikorski. We understand it even contains actual police surveillance footage taken in NYC, Miami and L.A. According to reports, interview subjects include Russell Simmons, Kayne West, Ja Rule, Snoop Dogg and Damon Dash. Watch right here for upcoming release date info just yet.

BROADCAST BUST...Okay. We may not all agree with her politics--or diplomacy style--but to go as far as calling Condoleeza Rice a "coon" on air, that's another thing. Well, that's what St. Louis' 550 KTRS radio jock Dave Lenihan, who is white and had just two weeks on the job, did. He was fired by the station just 20 minutes after the remark. Here's what Lenihan said on air when speaking about Rice and the talk of her replacing outgoing NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue : "She's been chancellor of Stanford. She's got the patent resume of somebody that has serious skill. She loves football. She's African-American, which would kind of be a big coon. A big coon. Oh my God. I am totally, totally, totally, totally, totally sorry for that." He says he meant: "coup." A major slip of the tongue, we'd say.

LUDA & THE LAW...Look for Ludacris to guest on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" as Ice-T's nephew on March 28. Good lookin' to Luda's agent at William Morris. She is really working!

JUSTICE DEFERRED....After exhuming the body of Emmett Till last June and declaring a new probe into the tragic 1955 killing of the young black man, murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman in Mississippi, the FBI has just once again closed the case last week. Maybe the new film (see Issue #2) being developed about Till will bring his spirit some justice.

DIESEL DOES HANNIBAL...No, not as in Hannibal the Cannibal, we're talking history. Word has it that Vin Diesel is actually going to tackle the epic story of Hannibal, the 3rd Century B.C. Carthaginian general who rode an elephant across the Alps to attack Rome with his army of 100,000. Diesel is going to direct himself in the title role and--with shades of Mel Gibson's The Passion--shoot the film in Greek, Latin, and ancient Punic. According to our sources, filming should start this fall with a 2007 release planned. Now, just how that New Yawk accent circa '80s of the buff Diesel will get transformed into all this loftiness will be one of the points of interest here, no doubt.

PRUDE NATION?... In case you missed it, the FCC just issued a $15,000 fine to the Martin Scorsese-produced documentary The Blues: Godfathers and Sons. Seems the doc, which aired on a non-commercial educational channel in San Mateo, Calif., used the "F" word, "S" word and various "derivatives of those words," according to the FCC. In the doc, director Marc Levin travels to Chicago with hip hop's Chuck D and Marshall Chess (heir to the Chess Records legacy) to unite Chicago blues legends with contemporary hip hop musicians. In addition to never-before-seen archival footage of Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters, there are interviews and performances by Koko Taylor, Otis Rush, Magic Slim, Ike Turner, Bo Diddley, Common, Chuck D, and others. But come on FCC, it wouldn't be a true documentary about the blues without a few blue words.

URBAN VIRGIN....Keisha Castle-Hughes, the Oscar-nominated teen star of indie distributor Newmarket Films' Whale Rider, will play Mary in New Line Cinema's Nativity, a film about the life of the Virgin Mary before the birth of Christ. Catherine Hardwicke (thirteen) is directing the flick, which is said to be told with a strong female perspective. Shooting begins May 1 in Morocco and Italy, with a Christmas season release scheduled. Castle-Hughes, 15, of Australian and Maori descent, is the youngest nominee for a best actress Academy Award. What with all the DaVinci Code pedestal placing and now this, we'd say, it's particularly good to be a woman/goddess these days, huh?

AD WOMAN...Just a few days ago, L'Oreal Paris signed Kerry Washington (Ray), to an exclusive worldwide contract as a spokesperson for the company and its brands. Washington will first represent L'Oreal Paris' HIP High Intensity Pigments, a new cosmetics collection for women who love color. The new print ad featuring Washington will debut later this year. Washington already fronts as a face for Movado watches. But we really hope they don't make her look as crazy as the naturally beautiful Beyonce does in those damn HIP ads with eye color gone crazy!

RAP SYNDICATE....For those who haven't heard yet, Naughty By Nature's Treach and Brand Nubian's Lord Jamar will both be making guest appearances in upcoming episodes of the final season of "The Sopranos." No word on the characters or plot, just yet though. Now, that's what we're talking about! Real-life reflection of racial cross-communication! We can only imagine the crime get-down on this one. Bring it on!

CALL FOR ENTRIES...Film Life and HBO's American Black Film Festival (ABFF) has just announced its film sections for this year's competition, with prizes worth up to $200,000. Set for July 19-23 in South Beach, Miami, the sections include: American Showcase, Animation, Documentaries, Narrative Feature Film, Short Film and World Cinema International. New to the ABFF this year are a screenplay and digital commercial contest sponsored by AXE Bodyspray and Lincoln, respectively. The AXE Black Filmmaker Series seeks original screenplays focusing on life experiences of young African-American males. Automaker Lincoln introduces "Define Lincoln Luxury," a contest for the best 30-60-second digital commercial. For more info, hit

GIRL POWER...The Black Hollywood Education Resource Center presents the 13th annual "Sistas Are Doing It For Themselves" film showcase at L.A.'s Raleigh Studios. Tix are $40. Moderated by filmmaker Paula Walker, there seems to be a film for everyone--mystery, mystical, AIDS and dating, gay themed, African perspective and, of course, romance. Get the jump on new filmmakers and check out this solid showcase of shorts.

It was announced late last week that Paramount Pictures will sell the film library of its recently acquired DreamWorks LLC to a group headed by billionaire George Soros for $900 million. In all, there are some 59 films that Viacom acquired when it bought Dreamworks, which was co-founded by Steven Spielberg in 1994. The film catalog includes Amistad, The Legend of Bagger Vance, and Reggie Rock Bythewood's Biker Boyz. According to reports, Viacom estimates to net about $600 million from the sale, expected to close in April.



It wasn't too long ago that the NAACP was calling for a boycott of the networks for their lack of diversity. After the showdown, some of the networks ponied up with new shows, promises, and/or diversity departments, such as the NBC Talent Diversity Initiative. But that was then, and this is now. And boy, what a difference a season can make.

Progress that was made has vanished, or so it seems. Except for a few TV shows, there appears to be less diversity than ever before on network television. "There has been talk of promoting diversity in TV—both in front of and behind the camera. But has this actually happened? Yes, to a certain degree," notes Ed Guerrero, Associate Professor, Cinema Studies, Africana Studies at New York University. "In so much as much as you can read ‘blackness’ as one of the principal markers of ‘diversity,’ there are networks with a lot of black themed or focused content, for example UPN and WB. Necessarily, the situation has led to more management, writing and production jobs. But these stations (with the exception of BET) confine most of their black content to youth oriented or suburban, domestic comedies and certain rigid time slots in their programming."

Dr. Darnell M. Hunt, Director of the Bunche Center for African American Studies ( at UCLA and Professor of Sociology, agrees
. As director of the Bunche Center, he helmed a research project exploring the representations of African Americans in prime-time television. "Numbers show that African Americans are on air disproportionately more during primetime compared to their numbers in the population of this country," he explains. "But most of the shows are on two networks (UPN and the WB), during certain time slots, in certain kinds of shows--comedies. It's segregated programming. When UPN and WB merge, then it will be probably be even worse it seems unless the new CW continues some of the [black] programming." Being ghettoized surely wasn't what the NAACP had in mind with it demanded more brown faces in production, management and talent.

"It's not as bad as say 25 years ago, but we haven't seen the numbers we'd like," continues Hunt, who is also the prime investigator of the African American Television Report for the Screen Actors Guild. The numbers are disheartening. The Directors Guild of America, which created the African American Steering Committee to address the needs and concerns of blacks in the industry, released a report on the employment of women and minority directors by television networks on the "top forty" prime time drama and comedy series in 2003-2004. According to the report, 86% of the episodes were directed by Caucasian males. In the 2003-2004 season, 10 of the top 40 shows have not hired minority directors, and minority directors directed only about 6% of episodes that season.

According to the Screen Actors Guild, African-American actors’ net role loss spiked to 1,147 in 2004, heavily concentrated in episodic television. There was a slight increase in the percentage of African-Americans female actors in supporting roles who are 40 years old and over--"the only bright spot in the report for African-American performers," said the report.

And it seems the increase in outlets hasn't really helped create more diversity, but rather more niches. "Due to the rise of cable against the 'big three' networks there are now a lot of multiple channels that allow for niche programming and narrowcasting addressing a viewer's cultural, class and ethnic tastes," notes Guerrero. "Consequently, there is a lot of creative opportunity out there resulting in a sort of controlled, liberal pluralism, but also the phenomenon of intensified audience and market segmentation according to consumer specialties, language, gender, sports activity, ethnicity and culture."

So why do some networks, like ABC, at least on the surface present diversity? After all, the lineup on the Disney owned network includes shows like "Lost," "Desperate Housewives," and "Grey's Anatomy" that have diverse ensemble casting. And top-rated "Grey's Anatomy" was created and is executive produced by an African American, Shonda Rhimes, and which last week for the first time gave ABC its only hit show with black viewers, according to Nielsen. Basic reason: They tried the programming and it worked. "Other networks are making their programming decisions based on what share of the market they feel they can successfully bite off, and not necessarily on the basis of the ideal of liberal corporate, multiculturalism," stresses Guerrero. " If stations feel that ABC has captured much of the 'diversity' demographic, in as much as it is a shifting and unstable concept they will play counter-point and perhaps go for a more 'centrist' strategy that appeals to a white, youth 'norm,’ or a white, suburban domesticity. Or perhaps, they will try for the broad homogenizing, 'crossover' appeal of sportscasting, news or stocks, etc. Most programming decisions, from the '90s on, have been influenced by multiple cable channel choices which have driven segmented, specialized audiences and marketing."

The key it seems is to create well-written shows that don't reflect one particular point of view. Most black shows are geared to black audiences. Most white shows are targeted to whites. And while blacks may watch white shows, not only because the airwaves are inundated with them but also because "blacks have always had to know more about white culture, than whites about black culture," Hunt points out. So whites fail to watch black shows because they do not relate--they may, however, watch blacks in reality shows "for the spectacle." And Hunt worries as to the long-term effects such programming will have on society, one where we are bombarded by images of a white-only world where whites only are in charge. "What does this do [to our own self-image] when this doesn't reflect reality. This is what really interests me," he says.

While everyone sees a need for change, Hunt doesn't see it coming unless networks are willing to take a chance. "There is so much pressure to produce a hit that people don't want to take any risks, and because they don't want to take any risks they tend to work with people they know, people they have worked with before--which in most cases leaves out African-Americans and other minorities."

Could the answer be in the industry finding more creative ways to finance their own projects, such as packaging shows with a set of advertisers thus leaving little room for the networks to digress into old and easy habits. Perhaps But is Urban Hollywood up for the task? Only time will tell.


Spike Lee, Wesley Snipes, Lynn Whitfield, Idris Elba, boxing promoter Butch Lewis, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Russell Simmons, Oprah's pal Gail King and Reuben Santiago-Hudson enjoyin' a post-premiere party for Inside Man at Rose Hall in NYC.

Eva (America's Next Top Model) Pigford, Leon, Robert Townsend, Megan Goode, indie producers Shandra McDonald and Cheryl Jenkins schmoozin' at the Independent Black Film Festival in Atlanta.

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Shout out to PR man Courtney Barnes who corrected us to by gmailing that no, Aaron Spelling didn't create "Dallas." FYI: It was David Jacobs, who was also behind "Knots Landing" and he's producing the Dallas movie. And to contributor Gil Robertson IV who's been reporting from the road.