Issue 33: Deal making and deal breaking, news you can use...our way!
BOLLYWOOD, HERE I COME...According to one India's top entertainment companies, UTV, it has inked a groundbreaking deal with Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment and Sony Pictures to produce two movies for $30 million. Under the international agreement, Overbrook and UTV will jointly produce the movies; Sony will distribute worldwide. Rumor has it that one film will probably be live-action; the other an animated flick. Pass the Chicken Tikka-Masala!
SEGREGATED SURVIVOR....Well by now you certainly have read about the most controversial grouping of contestants on the show "Survivor" yet. The next season the contestants will be divided by race--blacks, whites, Asians, Latinos (where do black Latinos go?). But what you many not know is that NYC politicos of color--the Black, Asian and Hispanic caucuses--are already calling for CBS to pull the show and have planned protest rallies. Clearly these political bigwigs are feeling our same vibe. But The A-List has to ask: Does a show like this hurt or help U.S. race relations? Is competition really to be encouraged? Is this just a blatant thing for ratings? Could have long ramifications just so creator Mark Burnett can make more money. If "Survivor" producers are trying to make some bizarre race relations effort, might we suggest a donation to an urban organization instead?
OFF THE MARKET..."Tyler Perry's House of Payne" has found a permanent home. Lionsgate's TV unit, Debmar-Mercury, signed distribution deals reportedly worth about $200 million with TBS and Fox for the sitcom. The deal includes 100 episodes of the series to air in a first run on TBS starting in 2007. Then from September 2008, four Fox-owned stations will have syndication rights. Creator Tyler Perry initially used his own money to produce a two-week test run of the sitcom in 10 major markets instead of giving up control and ownership of the show. Debmar-Mercury footed the marketing bill and made a deal with the 10 test stations to promote "House of Payne" as if it were a regular series in exchange for free test episodes. The strategy paid off: Perry will retain ownership and creative control of the series--and it now has a timeslot in the lineup. Now that's what we call, thinking out of the box!
ONCE IN A LIFETIME...It was great news for Lifetime and Fantasia. The Lifetime's original movie, The Fantasia Barrino Story: Life Is Not A Fairy Tale attracted the second largest audience in the cable channel's 22-year history. Some 12 million viewers watched the biopic, which aired twice last weekend. And, according to Lifetime 4.5 million black households watched (about 30 percent of all viewers), making the feature first and second on the week's top 25 most popular cable shows. There were only two other cable offerings that attracted at least a million households for the week--VH1's "Flavor of Love 2" and BET's reality series with Keyshia Coles. And, the overall network winner was BET with eight top ratings winners.
INDUSTRY POWWOW...It's time for the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters' (NABOB) 30th annual fall management conference on September 6-8 at DC's Fairmont Hotel. Keynote speakers: Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean and former NAACP leader Kweisi Mfume, now a U.S. Senate candidate representing Maryland. This year's focus: “Growing Your Business During A Down Cycle--Creative Strategies for Success." NABOB is the only trade organization representing African-American owners of radio and television stations. With NABOB's conference sponsors--Arbitron, Nielsen Media Research, Coca Cola, Interep, and Fox News Corp.--this sound like one event you might not want to miss.
CUBAN LINX...Controversy is brewing around a new Charlize Theron-produced documentary about three rappers in Cuba, with critics saying it has a pro-America bias and ignores the effects of the U.S.-led embargo on the small island. Theron has publicly defended East of Havana (directed by a former editor at Jane magazine Jauretsi Saizarbitoria and newcomer Emilia Menocal), stressing that it highlights the censorship rappers feel in the country. Obviously, the three probably haven't attended the annual mega state-sponsored Habana International Hip Hop Festival, now in the 12th year where hip hop flows free.
YOU ARE THERE...Can't get there to the Video Music Awards in person? Well, MTV is taking Web surfers backstage at Radio City Music Hall during showtime on August 31. The network will offer a live broadband program, according to MTV president Christina Norman. Catch all the backstage antics without the bonus of networking.
MAC ATTACK...Bernie Mac is developing a concert film and a series of celebrity roast DVDs under a new production deal with indie producer Lionsgate and his own production company--MacMan Entertainment, according to the Hollywood Reporter. A minimum of four roast DVDs under the two-year deal, with a third year option. It's a big Mac feast.
DR. WHO GETS DIVERSITY DOSE...The popular BBC series "Dr. Who" has just added a new sidekick for the third season--and Freema Agyeman hopped on board the sci-fi vehicle late last season with a guest spot, and now will be in her role full blown when the show hits the air for the new season. It's the first time any of the versions of this cult show has had a regular character of color.
The offerings however, are sorely lacking in urban content. So far only mainstream content is available--Fox television series "24," "Prison Break," and "Bones"; * Fox Classic Television, including "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Hill St. Blues"; FX Network's original series "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" ; Speed's "Pinks" and "Unique Whips"; and Fuel TV's "Firsthand."
BLACK ENTERPRISE MAGAZINE EXPANDS TV PRESENCE
Chicago-based Central City Productions Inc. and Black Enterprise magazine have entered into a joint agreement to create a new television show to air in late September. "Our World with Black Enterprise" will be hosted by African-American journalist Ed Gordon, and will fill in many of the syndicated timeslots left vacant by the now defunct "America's Black Forum." Graves Ventures LLC, which produced Black Enterprise magazine, purchased the assets of "America's Black Forum" in December 2005 and together and Central City Productions formed New Millennium Media Partners (LLC). Black Enterprise already produces the "BE Report" TV series.
RADIO ONE SELLS BOSTON STATION FOR $30M
Radio On has agreed to sell its Boston station WILD-FM to the nation's fourth-largest radio broadcaster Entercom Communications Corp. for $30 million. Entercom plans to use WILD's signal to simulcast the rock format of its WAAF-FM station. Regulatory approvals are still pending, but the deal allows Entercom to begin using WILD-FM's signal immediately. Radio One operated two Boston stations with the WILD call letters--WILD-FM, which was predominantly urban music, and talk radio station WILD-AM, which was not part of the agreement. With WILD-FM gine, there will one just one urban commercial station left--JAM'N.
Far from Idle: An Idlewild Review
Bryan Barber, Antwan “Big Boi” Patton, Andre “Dre” Benjamin and the rest of Idlewild’s team could have played it safe. But thankfully, didn't. Taking its lead from Stankonia and Aquemini, two of OutKast’s most innovative discs, Idlewild (Universal Pictures) defies cinematic categorization.
More closely aligned with African-American literature, particularly novels by Toni Morrison and Gloria Naylor, Idlewild, set in the 1930s South, employs allegory and other elements of magical realism. Attentive viewers will recognize Southern superstitions like the darkness one’s reflection in a mirror foreshadows. The “jook” joint is “Church” for a reason. In Black culture, the blues and Gospel share the same roots that also birthed Hip Hop. Longtime friend/collaborator Bryan Barber, Idlewild’s writer/director, took inspiration from Big Boi and Dre’s contradictory closeness. Rooster and Percival, their respective characters, literally breathe life into one another and music is the glue. At Rooster’s urging, Percival, an unwilling mortician, is Church’s pianist. An interesting parallel to music’s mythical power within African-American culture, Rooster's rousing performances there literally calm rowdy patrons.
A riff on how Black people, in slavery and in “freedom,” have continually undergone cultural reconfiguration, Idlewild combines the old with the new, the profane with the sacred. Undoubtedly, some people will find Idlewild messy. They won't get Barber’s subtle cultural links. The experimentation might lose them and the need for greater cohesion will frustrate them. Even with its flaws, however, Idlewild breaks much needed artistic ground. While it doesn’t realize all of its artistic possibilities, it certainly plants the seeds. Its high notes are so much greater than its low ones. More than just a visually stunning film, Idlewild, whose production costs surpassed $20 million, is an important milestone in the outstanding tradition of African-American cultural production. We can only hope that others will lift the torch even higher. Idlewild (www.idlewildmovie.net) opens nationwide August 25th. Cast also includes Terence Howard, Paula Patton, Cicely Tyson, Malinda Williams, Faizon Love, Ving Rhames, Patti Labelle, Macy Gray, Ben Vereen. A-List rating: B+ --by Ronda Racha Penrice
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem In Four Acts
1. a mass for a dead person; also: a musical setting for this
2. a musical service or hymn in honor of the dead
Spike Lee is a filmmaker renowned for being forthright. With every film he lays his views on politics and race bare. If there’s a point to be made, Lee will make it even if that means sacrificing character, story, and structure to do it. It’s a trait that has become more pronounced over the years and has made for an unsatisfying and unfocused ending of Bamboozled and She Hates Me a cinematic quagmire. But even at their most disjointed, Lee’s films have expanded the discussion of race and have challenged the United States to look inward.
While Lee’s uneasy combination of nuanced storytelling and blunt agenda can make for puissant yet uneven films, it’s this same approach that infuses Lee’s documentaries with a ferocity and undeniable truth that Michael Moore can only dream of.
In his new documentary, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, Lee, effortlessly recounts the story of Hurricane Katrina, capturing the confusion, anger, despair, grief, and even the dark humor that has injected this catastrophe with an emotional resonance that will be felt by the city of New Orleans for decades.
Lee opens Levees with images of a pre- and post-Katrina New Orleans backed by a melancholy jazz score. Faces of smiling black children are juxtaposed against the gutted remains of flooded homes. A vibrant, culturally alive New Orleans is contrasted with a dormant New Orleans that lies open like an infected wound. It’s a tribute that makes Lee’s use of “requiem” in the title a literal manifestation. Yet, it’s also a celebration of New Orleans cultural heritage and the resilience of its citizens. From there the documentary traces a mostly chronological path from the days just before Katrina made landfall and to the rebuilding effort afterwards.
This isn’t an easy film to watch. While displaying reverence and empathy, Lee doesn’t restrain himself as he pulls back the covers and shows you all the ugliness that was Hurricane Katrina.
There’s the political finger pointing by New Orleans Mayor Nagin, Louisiana Governor Blanco, and other politicos. There’s the footage and audio of experts foreshadowing the devastation. There are the families who recount stories of how they learned which family members lived and which died. At one point, Levees follows the mother of frequent Lee collaborator/composer Terrence Blanchard. Returning to her house, she breaks down as she walks among the wreckage. Her son tries to reassure her that it’s only things she lost and that she still has her life. She admonishes him because her home was her life. It’s filled with memories physical and literal. Simplistic platitudes, be they from her son or as demonstrated by Vice President Cheney and President Bush, arent an adequate response.
Levees even does what our PR-minded government and timid media is afraid to do and shows the bodies of dead New Orleans rotting in the streets.
Some will be surprised that there’s quite a bit of humor in Levees. And after reliving the most destructive event in American history since the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, it’s a much welcomed cathartic release.
The true power of Lee’s documentary will be not in its immediate impact, but in what it portends for the future of New Orleans. Encapsulating the raw emotion and the disaster’s complex timeline had to be a Herculean task, but by doing so, Lee has created a cinematic yardstick by which the rebuilding effort can be measured.
Years from now, there will be no hiding behind a veil of we didn’t know and we don’t remember. Nor will the people of New Orleans, especially the poor and the Black, have to fight to keep what happened alive in America’s memory, because Lee has remembered for them all.
All four parts of When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts will re-air on HBO August 29, the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Check local listing for time. A-List rating: A --Charles Judson, special to the Robertson Treatment (www.robertsontreatment.com) for The A-List.
At the Idlewild Atlanta screening at Atlantic Station: Director Bryan Barber with cousin Munson Steed, publisher of Rolling Out Urbanstyle Weekly; stars Big Boi and Dre; Idlewild co-producer Erika Conner; Reuben Cannon; Bow Wow; and music hitmaker Jazze Pha.
At the Idlewild Atlanta after-party--specifically in the crowded VIP section in the pool area--at 1150, Allen Iverson and crew; music producer Bryan Michael Cox; film stars Dre, Big Boi along with director Barber; OutKast manager Michael "Blue" Williams; Stacey Dash; and Ludacris Foundation executive director Kim Hutchens.
Beyoncé, Janet Jackson, Danny Glover, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Jay Z, Russell Simmons, Jermaine Dupri, TimeWarner chairman/CEO Richard Parsons, Johnson Publishing's Linda Johnson Rice, activist Dick Gregory, Essence's Susan L. Taylor, Ruben Studdard, Eric Benét, music industry exec Sylvia Rhone, Pharrell, Dallas Austin were just a few of the A-Listers celebratin' Radio One's 25th anniversary at the J.W. Marriott in Washington, DC, last week.
Sheryl Lee Ralph speakin' at the International AIDS conference in Toronto.
Isaiah Washington ("Grey's Anatomy"), Quincy Jones and his son QD3, Bahar Soomekh (Crash), Roger Cross, and DB Woodside ("24") hangin' at Social Hollywood for the release of Ludacris’ new album called Release Theraphy.
SHOUT OUTS TO THE GLOBETROTTING GIL L ROBERTSON IV, TORONTO FILM FEST-BOUND LEANNE LINDSAY, AND NEW CONTRIBUTORS ANTHONY DAVIS, CHARLES JUDSON, AND RONDA RACHA PENRICE!