56: The State of Black Film
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OVERSEEN & OVERHEARD
DREAM MEETS REALITY...With all the praise Dreamgirls has been getting, we knew the backlash would hit the Hollywood fan sooner or later. There had been buzzing about Diana Ross not being too happy about the fictional portrayal of The Supremes, and now Motown founder/owner Berry Gordy is upset about the payola-pushing and controlling character that is believed to be patterned after him. All the buzz this week has been about his getting the producers of Dreamgirls–Dreamworks and Paramount Pictures--to actually issue an explanation in a full-page ad, which ran in the Hollywood Reporter and Variety (on Feb. 21st). In case you missed it, the ad reads, "Dreamgirls is a work of fiction. It is also an homage to Motown...For any confusion that has resulted from our fictional work, we apologize to Mr. Gordy and all of the incredible people who were a part of that great legacy. It is vital that the public understand that the real Motown story has yet to be told." Added Berry in a separate statement: “For the past 50 years, I have been protecting the integrity, the love and the talent that is and has become Motown’s legacy. I applaud Dreamworks and Paramount Pictures for doing their part, to clearly differentiate the fictional movie Dreamgirls from the real Motown. I wish them all the best in the forthcoming Academy Awards.” We wonder if this pressure was applied to the producers of the Broadway play back in the day, or if it's just an Oscar thing.
THE INVISIBLE MAN STRIKES AGAIN...The Cannes Film Festival has just announced it has commissioned 35 filmmakers--from Roman Polanski and the Coen brothers to Lars von Trier and Gus Van Sant --to make a three-minute short film on the theme of going to the cinema for the festival's 60th anniversary. With not a one African-American director on the list, the world is going to miss out on the truly unique experience of a day at the movies in the hood.
CALL A COMIC...Can't stand to miss an episode of "College Hill"? Well, now you can watch every show on your cell. BET has launched a new V Cast channel for subscribers of Verizon Wireless. V Cast Video will air most of the network's top shows--"106 & Park," "Comic View," among others. It's great to see the new digital moves by BET, but we'd love to see more content made just for mobile, in addition to a TV lineup recycle.
WHO'S IN, WHO'S OUT...When we saw both the Vanity Fair Hollywood issue and the Black Enterprise Hollywood Power Brokers cover story--as you probably did too--we wondered if it would be a case of the usual suspects. Well, VF did surprise a bit with Chris Rock on the cover. And over at BE, we could have predicted the list just from the financial power each wields--Oprah, Time Warner CEO Dick Parsons, Will Smith, Robert Johnson, Magic Johnson. But were were more than happy to see those less visible behind the scenes featured: lawyers, agents, executives. While VF sometimes goes for the glitz and glam, BE follows the dollars. And it's always to know who's banking bucks in Hollywood.
V TALK...Entertainment media diva Jamie Foster Brown is set to star in a one-night-only presentation of the Obie Award-winning performance piece, The Vagina Monologues at D.C.’s historic Lincoln Theatre on Feb. 24 at 8:00 p.m. For more info, visit http://www2.blogger.com/www.VdayLADC.com. Proceeds will benefit The Rebecca Project, a safehouse for women victims of domestic violence and substance abuse. Brown tells The A-List, "Participating in this production of The Vagina Monologues is a true extension of the work I've done throughout my career both inside and outside of the entertainment industry. I really look forward to a full house supporting both the essence of this monumental work and the organization, The Rebecca Project, which will benefit from this performance."
SATURDAY UPDATE...We first told you about a new short film called Saturday Night Life as few issues back (http://thealistmagzine.blogspot.com/2007/01/53.html). Well, now we hear from the filmmakers that they've been picked up for additional airdates as a part of the 2007 Showtime Black Filmmakers Showcase--Feb. 22 at 6:25 am on Showtime; Feb. 22 at 9:25 am on Showtime West, 1:05 pm on TMC - The Movie Channel, 4:05 pm on TMCW - The Movie Channel West; Feb. 24 at 8:15 pm on Showtime, 11:15 pm on Showtime West; Feb. 26 at 7:10 am on Showtime 2; Feb. 28 at 11:20 am on TMC, 2:20 pm on TMCW. Set your Tivo.
FAITH IN AISLE 5...Wendy Wheaton, author and television personality, shot us a quick gmail to tell us her Testimonies of Faith: Humble Journeys DVD is now hitting a Wal-Mart near you. On the DVD, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Clarke Duncan, Della Reese, and other celebs talk about faith and personal trials and tribulations. This inspirational documentary is hosted and executive produced by Wheaton. In an unique marketing twist, the DVD will also include a tithing card in which consumers can request that the company tithe 10% of their purchase to a church of their choice. Imagine if Sony or any major studio pledged a percentage to a charity for every DVD purchase?
FILM AND TV CONTENT DRIVES UP MOBILE MEDIA SALES
A new study by IBM has found that sales of media on the Internet and on cell phones are expected to rise 23 percent over the next four years, driven by TV networks and film studios putting more of content online. According top IBM researchers, new media sales are estimated to grow at nearly five times the rate of traditional media. The biggest boost will come from the Internet syndication of professionally produced programming, which should increase 33 percent to $25 billion. Noted in the study were moves by such companies as Walt Disney Co., which is offering episodes of hit prime-time shows "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" for free on ABC.com, and Sony Corp.'s Star Wars-themed multiplayer game now offered on its Website. But even with the growth tauted in the study, Internet syndication of traditional media companies' programming will still be only a small segment of the estimated $655 billion of annual media revenue in 2010.
HIP HOP HOLLYWOOD
DIS OR DIALOGUE?
The A-List could not post without saying a word or two about CNN's special "Hip Hop: Art or Poison?," which aired on Feb. 21. We applaud the inclusion, but we'd have loved to see broader insight and commentary from someone other than the same albeit, knowledgeable talking heads--Michael Eric Dyson and criminal defense lawyer Lauren Lake (who is on so much, she might as well be hired by CNN). Meanwhile, Vibe's Danyel Smith and Public Enemy leader Chuck D, who have more inside knowledge of hip hop, only got a soundbyte. While CNN's angle that hip hop demonstrates rampant homophobia and misogyny was certainly a re-hash, connecting hip hop with increased violence is equally trite and played. The special failed to fully present the many faces of hip hop regarding the depth to which the culture has contributed and shaped not only the U.S. but the international community--and business. From all indications, the global phenomena of hip hop will spread even further into the worlds of finance and politics. And maybe that is the real concern.
ONE IS THE LONELIEST NUMBER: THE STATE OF BLACK FILM
The general rule about black actors has for years been, only one gets the spotlight at a time. The one who gets all the work, all the accolades, all the media praise for his/her generation. While that may be changing ever so slowly, the same narrowcasting has been taking place within Black film.
For a period of time, many contemporary Urban films had a hip hop or gritty edge, from House Party to Set It Off to Blade. And rappers and more action-oriented stars were getting so much work, dramatic Black actors had begun to complain just a bit. Remember the golden era of Black youth culture? Dare we say, a celebration of it? The excitement was high and the promotion was creative. Heck, if Def Jam didn't do the soundtrack, it almost wasn't legit. And even Miramax and New Line caught on about street promotion and utilized it for films from Dead Presidents to Above the Rim. New directors such as the Hughes brothers were given rise and for a moment, there was a type of electricity.
Now this genre of Urban cinema has all but vanished and given way to the more sterilized, family fare flicks. Can Hollywood say, "variety"?
"Hollywood tends to think of the African American market as a monolith. That if one type of film is a success, then the rest that follow need to be of the same viewpoint to also be successful," says one industry insider. The evidence is all around us and it seemed the tide almost began to change with Ice Cube's Are We There Yet and is continuing with the slew of Tyler Perry films, including the latest Daddy's Little Girls, which opened with much fanfare. And as BET founder Robert Johnson (with the Weinstein brothers) has put his weight and money behind Our Stores Films, a venture that is expected to churn out family friendly films for the Black community; we are destined for even more monotone entertainment.
"The African American film goer, like other film goers, has a variety of tastes. Sometimes they want to see someone of the screen who reflects them in a romance, in a action film, or in a film they can take the whole family to. But Hollywood is not about taking these kinds of risks; they follow trends. And while black filmmakers may be making, or trying to make a diverse selection of films, whatever is 'in' is what is going to get studio backing," says our source.
But our question is, who is deciding these trends for us? No one said they no longer wanted to be thrilled.
The same trend approach also dangerously applies to directing talent, giving opportunities to icon build which the mainstream regularly enjoys doing. We've seen the array of the "Next Spike Lees" come and go--Rusty Cundieff, Paul Hunter, Hype Williams, Matty Rich, the Hughes Brothers, Gina Prince Bythewood, Reggie Bythewood, Theodore Witcher, Rick Famuyiwa, Ernest Dickerson, just to name a few. All were media darlings when their debuts hit, and while some are still making films and/or directing TV and/or music video production, they hardly get any ink.
You're only as good as your last movie. And continued exposure can actually help keep you not only in the public's eye, but on the Hollywood radius. Hollywood has a short memory and if you don't stay in the limelight you might not get that meeting or callback. But for Black filmmakers the issue is even more challenging because, at present, what media is there to actually support and nurture them the way a Spike Jonez may be hailed?
So how do both filmmakers and their varied visions crack through the "one only" ceiling? Make noise. Voice opinions. Be the one the media calls for that soundbyte. With a wider array of filmmakers making movies, there will inevitably be more to chose from.
However at present, the smaller the variety the less revenue, the fewer seasoned directors, the fewer mentors all leading to a weaker Hollywood segment. If this segment were stronger then it only follows that the industry overall would be stronger and more profitable; and that's why it pays to include all and support all types of talent!
FROM OUR VIEW
Mr. Obama Goes To Hollywood
Well, much of the talk in Tinseltown this week was about famed Senator Barack Obama visiting the Hollywood area this week. But The A-List was actually at the rally earlier before the Geffen dinner, and here's what went down from our view....
We knew as we pulled up and were directed regarding parking a few blocks away by the what turned out to be the only Black female motorcycle cop in Los Angeles, that something was in the air. You could feel it as the famous LAPD helicopters circled overhead and people actually had a little spring in their step as they headed toward the field of the Rancho Cienega Sports Complex located in beautiful, downtown Crenshaw. With news satellite trucks lined up and people young and old with their signs in tow, what started out as kind of a fact-finding mission for us was leading to full on excitement and maybe even full on support later. As we found our way to the media table though, the crest began to fall. We were told by one of the two chipper young Caucasian women of manning the press table that there were no more press passes and we had to go to the "general" section--with a ton of people and - just - no - way! An older Black gentlemen who was apparently a photographer made his way up to the table just in time to hear the end. Funny enough though, a rather handsome young, tall, white male journalist whipped right around us, stated he was from the LA Times and was offered to be walked around to the press area immediately and with no questions asked as if he were the Senator himself.
Now, one of two things could happen: We could go off or just stick close to Mr. Times. With only a 10-minute countdown to the Obama spotlight, we opt for #2. So does the photographer. Moving fast, The A-List is almost on top of this Times reporter we are so close 'cause he's our ticket in and then we slipped right through--to a press area that had more than enough room, by the way. Now The A-List likes to check itself before making statements. So we monitor the photographer's vibe in a few minutes and decide he's cool. We introduce ourselves and ask what did he think about the "no press pass" scene. He is happy to report and fast to say, "That's how it always is. We can't even cover our own."
Confirmation? Maybe. Something Team Obama may need to consider for future rallies and events? Definitely.
Anyway, we're not gonna let that get us down. It's warm and sunny and there's even a darn drumline as Sen. Obama's opening act. With photogs galore on some bleachers and much print press in the "pen," it's on and soon he emerges--like culture's latest rock star he exclaims, "Hell-o-o-o Los Angeles" and it's on.
The thing about this man is, I've never really seen somebody in this position be so cool and casual--the no jacket, the almost model-slouch--but yet be so authoritative and intimate at the same time. Attractive, sophisticated (something we haven't seen in a U.S. prez in long, long time), Senator O is smooth. And it's fun to listen to him talk. All the pie-in-the-sky utopia word pictures he paints are wonderful, and if they can manifest, Rock Star Obama just may be hailed as a version of the Messiah.
But there friends, is exactly where we are, or rather how things finished up.
A promise of the Promised Land, so to speak.
For after several minutes of what we would get if he were president, we are not told exactly HOW he plans to accomplish these offers. But it's early yet in this game, and no good show gives away all its excitement in the first few minutes. We've got 21 months to see how his methodology will be revealed and stand up to others, right? And that is where the fun lies.
One thing we can say however, it was so nice--within this racially diverse crowd--to particularly see the elderly Blacks come out who just seemed to glow from within. How long they have had to wait to be able to identify with a real contender candidate. The same people that remember when they couldn't eat at certain counters and drink at certain fountains.
Anyway, as Chic's "Good Times" blaring from the loudspeakers lead us out as the crowd broke up, we wondered could that song title actually be a forecast for an Obama term or two. And more importantly for us, will it trickle down to the new generation of Black Hollywood so that we have more of the opportunity to be the Geffen hosting the big political event? 'Cause right now, there ain't really no such thing as the Black Hollywood mogul. Why is that? In thinking, we actually invite Senator Obama to speak with us about this for a few minutes the next time he is in L.A. and talk about ideas for initiatives privately or under a forum of Black Hollywood powerati that we will produce. Consider this a formal offer, Senator.
Just before The A-List made it back to our car, we eavesdropped on a cell phone convo that was taking place by a young brother fresh-ta-death, complete with brand new Nikes:
"Yeah, I was just at the Obama jump-off."
"Yeah, it was cool. It was cool."
"Well, yeah, he's got my vote. And if he don't make it, I'm not voting. Simple as dat."
Guess that says it all for some now, doesn't it?
WE'D LIKE TO KNOW
Why Jamie Foxx tends to go a bit overboard and act like a host when it's all about being a cool, self-assured presenter?
If VH-1 truly thinks it's a good idea to let Fergie sing live on air without any studio help?
Questions, Comments, Kudos? Email us at http://email@example.com
Hip Hop stars-turned-actors P. Diddy, T.I., Ice T (pictured with wife Coco, left), along with rappers Young Buck, The Game, Ma Remy and comedian Kenan Thompson from "Saturday Night Live" partyin' at the Forever First Enterprises 4 Nights of The Las Vegas Take Over during All Star Weekend ‘07. (PHOTO CREDIT: SOUL BROTHER)