49: JENNIFER HUDSON
OVERSEEN & OVERHEARD
THE SCHOOL OF SNIPES...Another celeb is opening up a school in Africa. While not as elaborate as Oprah's $40-million South African school for girls, Wesley Snipes has just announced his launching of a film school in neighboring Namibia. Snipes, who just wrapped filming of Gallowwalker there, opened Namibia's first On-set Film Training project before returning to the States to fight tax fraud charges. The project will run by Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the Film Commission of Namibia and the Pan African Centre of Namibia. One of the first goals is encourage Hollywood and other film industries to employ locals instead of bringing in foreign film crews. Let's hope this is the beginning of more African American filmmakers connecting with African filmmakers and the African movie market. However, the last time we looked we noted that there is still work to be done here as well on the equality front. The "winner" will be those who can think globally and connect the dots.
A SOLDIER'S STORY…You may not have heard much about him, but director Richard Willis, Jr., CEO of NYC-based production company Mozell Entertainment Group, is hoping his new documentary style film, Prison Body--Freedom Soul: The Saga of Robery Coney, will shed light on the plight of a little-known African-American man, a WWII and Korean War vet, who spent 44 years in prison for a crime he did not do. He also escaped eight times from maximum security just to see the love of his life, his wife Shirley. As we always say, there are so many compelling and untold stories still to be told about Black America. Hopefully, Hollywood will wake up. Be on the lookout for this gripping story.
ACTIVISM GOES ONLINE...BET's Jeff Johnson is looking to make his mark on the Web with the launch of My Nation Online (http://www.mynationonline.com/). PR diva Candace Reese of Envision (http://www.envisionpr.com/) tells us the social awareness site will kick off Jan. 25th in Atlanta with activities that end Jan. 27th. According to Johnson, he hopes the site fills "a void by creating a non-partisan resource to cultivate leadership and activism among young people, college students, and young adults.
BET NETWORKS WRAPS UP A RECORD-SETTING 2006
It was a history making year for BET Networks in 2006. With new original programming that drove record ratings, the emergence of BET J, the re-launch of BET International and further expansion into broadband and mobile content, BET Networks maintains its rank as the #1 cable network in Total Day and in Weeknight Primetime among Black Households.
Topping the list of a string of hit series was "American Gangster," cable’s #1 Weekday original series among Black Households and Blacks ages 18-34 for 2006. Rounding out the list of the top five original series in BET history – all airing in 2006 – were "Lil' Kim: Countdown to Lockdown," "Keisha Cole: The Way It Is," "College Hill: Season 3," and "DMX: Soul of A Man."
BET also took full control of its interactive arm, BET.com, with the cash buyout of its original investment group. This led to content that resulted in 56.9 million page views in November ‘06, an increase of +424% vs. November ‘05 according to Nielsen/NetRating (Nov. 2006) and 3.7 million registered users.
Other 2006 successes for BET Networks included: The launch of BET International and the introduction of BET programming on three continents – Africa, Europe and Asia – and on three separate platforms – broadband, digital radio and television; the creation of BET Animation and Business Affairs departments to expand original programming and strengthen BET’s relationship with the Hollywood entertainment community; the launch of BET Interactive’s BET on Blast, the first broadband player targeted towards African Americans that offers a mix of web-only original programs and live streaming special events; the convergence of BET.com and BET News to create a 24/7 newsroom that provides users with a constant stream of breaking news, exclusive content and alternative points of view with streaming video, news blogs and interactive polls;· BET Mobile’s debut on iTunes featuring top-rated original programs AMERICAN GANGSTER, LIL’ KIM: COUNTDOWN TO LOCKDOWN, DMX: SOUL OF A MAN, BEEF: THE SERIES, BET COMIC VIEW and THE CHRISTIES: COMMITTED. Within the first week, the BET docu-drama AMERICAN GANGSTER became one of the ten most-downloaded cable TV shows on iTunes and garnered a four out of five star rating from iTunes users; continued recognition of BET’s Rap-It-Up initiative, the largest HIV/AIDS effort in the country targeting African Americans, with multiple Cable Positive POP Awards; and increased growth for the BET Foundation with the introduction of “We Can For Wellness,” the Foundation’s second youth-focused initiative.
PARAMOUNT PICTURES GOES MOBILE
Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom, Inc., recently announced the launch of a mobile phone portal to deliver content to mobile devices and act as a platform to promote theatrical and DVD releases. Visitors to the mobile movie sites will be able to browse and purchase movie-related content from their mobile phones, and opt-in to receive alerts about Paramount Pictures. Crisp Wireless, a provider of mobile content management solutions, was selected as the content management software partner.
“We are delivering a movie destination site that will enable users to learn about new releases, find theatres, purchase content, buy tickets and participate in promotions,” said Sandi Isaacs, Senior Vice President of Interactive & Mobile for Paramount Digital Entertainment. “Paramount Pictures will now have a direct-to-consumer relationship to deliver revenue generating content, innovative mobile campaigns, tailored promotions, DVD/retail tie-ins and collaborative partnerships with technology and media partners.”
A STAR IS BORN: JENNIFER HUDSON COMMANDS DREAMGIRLS
The birth of a new star is a wondrous experience. Watching the buzz grow around a new talent is always exciting, however, given the precarious nature of the industry, what’s far more interesting is watching that career---will grow up against the pressures of stardom or super nova back into oblivion?
Which brings us to Jennifer Hudson. Last seen as a runner-up on the popular TV show “American Idol,” the Chicago native has nevertheless gone on to catch the real top prize when she won the coveted role as “Effie” in the much sought-after and long-awaited screen version of the seminal Broadway musical Dreamgirls. With boundless raw talent and personality, Hudson, a Golden Globe and SAG nominee, is the best reason to see this film. We happened to catch up with her as she makes her media rounds during pre-award show madness.
Q: Can you talk a little about your preparation for this role? Did you speak to any of the Broadway folks behind the production?
Jennifer Hudson: "No, I didn’t have a chance to speak with any of them, but I researched the Supremes and read books about them and footage and watched the DVDs of their old performances. I would sit and study Florence Ballard, who Effie is patterned after."
JH: "Well, I didn’t realize how much weight was on my shoulders until after I saw it. Thank God I didn’t know because then I think I would have been a nervous wreck. But I was so excited and so happy to be a part of the project that it never occurred to me that Oh God, you have a lot to do here and this is your first film and in it with all of these all stars."
Q: Did you think you’d be winning Grammys before Oscars?
JH: "Yeah! I thought I would have an album out. I don’t know if I even thought of myself as an actress. And I didn’t pursue acting actually to be honest. I’ve always been following a musical path. And to get my big break in acting and then to hear that, it’s like omigod! So, I can never get used to hearing that."
Q: What challenges does fame present for you?
JH: Well, to whom much is given, much is required—you know what I mean? I don’t think of it like that—like Oh My God, what am I going to do next—I don’t put limits on God. But, I feel like my main problem is how am I going to balance both worlds because I’ve been thinking that I am just going to sing for years. And then now I’m in between both industries. So now my main issue for myself is to decide on making the right next decision, the right move and how am I going to go between movies and music and balance them out. That’s my biggest concern."
JH: "I can’t believe it! I’m like are they serious?! People are really serious, they’re not joking! I feel very honored because that’s such a high accolade to receive and to think back to last year when I just got the part, it never crossed my mind. So, to be here today and hear that, I can’t even grasp it all."
Q: What is your next move? What do you want to do next?
JH: "Record my album will be next because I did just signed my record deal, which is very fresh and we haven’t started the whole process and know what kind of material I have. But my album is next and then I’d like to do another movie behind it. I don’t know what that will be yet, but that’s how I feel." --Gil Robertson for The Robertson Treatment (www.robertsontreatment.com)
A-LIST 2007 PREDICTIONS
For fun, we decided to look into the future and do a little predicting of our own. Here's what some of our writers came up with. Check in Dec. 2007 to see if we're right.
If someone asked me several months ago what I saw in the upcoming year for Oprah, I would have tapped into my mystical powers of seeing into the future and told them she would expand. I'm sure many would scratch their heads, perplexed on how the Queen of Media could get bigger: Produce low cost (Reality) prime time shows! And so the big "O" sold two reality skeins to ABC via her new TV development group which is yet unnamed (I predicted it will be called HarpoHOME). I can see now that this will bring forth a new phase to Reality TV. Instead of clamoring for the next cut-throat competition reality series, they will be searching far and wide for (ooops, just dropped my crystal ball) shows that show a much positive side of human nature. I see huge crossovers of daytime mid-western couch potatoes with primetime couch potatoes watching these two series. Although both shows will perform well, one will be much more successful than the other. "Oprah Winfrey's The Big Give" will surely be the big winner of the two. On this show, money and other resources will be provided to 10 people and they will be challenged to help others in a way that tests the players' ingenuity and passion. I see lots of human drama and tear jerkers here. The winner gets to realize their "wildest" dream. Of course, a dream 'wild' enough to not frighten Middle America. "Your Money or Your Life" will be the lesser of the two hits. This show will feature families who are confronted by a crisis and must change or risk being "consumed by disaster," folks will get weary of this because not enough contestants will be "Consumed." Americans only want happy endings in movies, not reality series. Airdates have not been announced. But I see one during fall rating sweeps, and the other during spring. My cracked crystal ball says so.--By Guru Ant
Two decades later, Murphy’s James “Thunder” Early is a little bit of Sam Cooke, a touch of Little Richard and a whole lot of James Brown. Eddie Murphy gives a career defining performance as Early and without James Brown, neither the role of Early, nor possibly Eddie Murphy’s career, may have even existed.
There’s an old James Brown album, Love Power Peace: Live At The Olympia, Paris 1971. It’s an album I played constantly on an old Sony Walkman. Listening to the Godfather of Soul send the Paris crowd into a frenzy as he belted out classics with power and ferocity, I was nothing but envious.
Yeah, Brown was still touring during the 80s, however, that was after his legend had been cemented. In 1971 no one knew that Brown would still be touring and recording for another 35 years. No one knew that James Brown’s music would be the major template for Hip Hop, helping to fuel Hip Hop’s golden era. And no one could have known that along side Ray Charles, he would still be an iconic force that, even five decades after his career started, represented R&B’s youth, vitality and innate ability for reinvention. There’s no decade that Brown, nor Charles, didn’t conquer.
Without that knowledge, the Paris crowd was pure. Imagine sitting in the middle of that audience, merging with it till you’re lost in the mass pulsating surge. Hands reaching out to absorb Brown’s energy. Lungs bursting as you scream out the lyrics, stressing every syllable till your throat is raw.
James Brown was a master showman not above bragging and as a singer, performer, dancer, writer and producer, he earned it. The “hardest working man in show business” Brown was first and foremost a businessman. A businessman that understood entertaining the crowd was his trade. His business. And he never failed to deliver. --Charles Judson
Social Miami at Sagamore was packed with celebs this New Year's: rapper/actor Ludacris (Crash, Hustle & Flow), and Venus and Serena Williams were among those potted ringin' in 2007.
SHOUT OUT TO OUR ON-POINT CONTRIBUTORS THIS ISSUE: GIL ROBERTSON, ANTHONY DAVIS, CHARLES JUDSON.