58: Invisible Ink: Black Screenwriters
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OVERSEEN & OVERHEARD
HIT FACTORY...Why tamper with a successful formula? After adapting the book Pursuit of Happyness into film, Will Smith and his Overbrook Entertainment partner James Lassiter will now produce Jeff Henderson's drug dealer-turned-star chef memoir, Cooked: From the Streets to the Stove, From Cocaine to Foie Gras. No word on Smith will star in the Columbia Pictures project. Formula or not, Cooked should be interesting on film. Hurray for a variety of images to show that in real life African-Americans, especially Black men, are just as diverse and whose stories are as intriguing as any other ethnicity. Lassiter did not immediately reply to our email for comment.
THE X-BOX FILES...Comedy Central is out to top itself. No, they didn't make another deal with Dave Chappelle. "South Park" ventured into high definition last week with an HD episode, titled "Good Times With Weapons," offered via the Xbox Live Marketplace. The season debut episode will be available as a free download to Xbox Live members for two weeks. Best Buy also will offer a free HD DVD of the episode with purchase of an Xbox 360 console or HD DVD drive from March 20-April 3. Though we have doubts about the title as consumers are increasingly anti-war, here's hoping that Xbox is also actively seeking diverse material to put out as well to entertain the lucrative Urban gamer as well this year!
AIR IT, THEY WILL WATCH...He's conquered the courts. He's become a sheriff. And he even tried, though unsuccessfully, to rap. Now Shaquille O'Neal will become a reality TV star. The B'baller will be featured in a TV reality show focused on childhood obesity and health. According to ABC, the six-episode summer show will follow Shaq's efforts to help Florida schoolchildren lose weight. The show is based on a British series called "Ian Wright's Unfit Kids," featuring a former soccer star. With the networks seemingly void of new ideas, maybe Naomi Campbell can ink a reality show deal about her community service as a cleaning woman.
A FILM GROWS IN BROOKLYN...There's a non-profit organization in Brooklyn called the Brooklyn Young Filmmakers Center that helps anyone "young"--meaning new to the art and business of narrative feature filmmaking--break into the industry. Through inexpensive classes, free forums and events, the center offers education, intergenerational exchange, and job training and placement in film studies, the teaching of filmmaking, and networking. For more info, visit http://www.wearebyfc.org/home.html.
STAR WITNESS...Though recently quoted as having giving up on TV, one-time attorney and former "The View" co-host Star Jones Reynolds has landed her own daily talk show on Court TV. But according to insiders, the program won't revolve just around the law per se--it will focus on how the law, politics and entertainment come together. No details on if Reynolds will carry a producer's credit and there's no title yet. But may we suggest "A View From Behind The Gavel."
REACHING THE HEIGHTS...ABC Family is bringing back the African-American family drama "Lincoln Heights" for a second season. According to a statement by network president Paul Lee, ``It's brought us the most diverse audiences ABC Family has ever had." "Soul Food" writer Kathleen Anderson (pictured, right) continues as executive producer. While there is a dearth of black family cinema, the genre hasn't been explored much on TV. Instead of being a success by duplicating this film trend, the show has been getting kudos--and viewers--for being well-written and engaging since its debut Jan. 2007. It goes to prove that crossover audiences don't just tune into diverse casts but that shows featuring mostly Black stars can do this quite as well too.
AFRICA'S CINEMA FETE...Though we didn't make it this year to what is known as Africa's Cannes--The FESPACO--we thought we'd let you know that a Nigerian film, Ezra, which tells the story of a child soldier, won top prize this year. The filmmaker, Newton Aduaka, accepted the Golden Stallion Award and $20,000. Though we're sure the film will make the rounds on the African cinema circuit, we're wondering if such a movie would ever get worldwide distribution and thereby help yet another segment of the African industry support itself rather than just receive more foreign funding.
TYRA BANKING IT...Tired of Tyra yet? Well, the small screen isn't. Word has it that newest deal-making diva is set to "Top Model." According to insiders, she is developing a reality show called "The Glamorous Life," which will focus a "Top Model" reject after she returns home. Banks' agent, Nancy Josephson, told Vanity Fair it was a "funny idea" that was thought of when Tyra realized how close she had grown to many of the show's cast-offs. Of course, Banks will executive produce this one as well. No details on airdate or network, but we will venture to guess "Model" home, CW. It might be wise for Tyra to remain behind the scenes on "Glamorous." Her over-the-top tendencies have been criticized as off-putting and the current double dose of Banks is probably enough.
21ST CENTURY FLINTSTONES...We haven't seen a black-female driven TV drama since "Julia," yet it seems now that even pre-historic man can beat African Americans when it comes to screen time. Talk of the town has been about the Geico "cavemen" getting their own series. ABC has ordered a pilot for a comedy, tentatively titled "Cavemen," that features the characters from the insurance company's commercials. The Touchstone Television-produced pilot will feature the cavemen as they "struggle with prejudice on a daily basis as they strive to live the lives of normal thirty-somethings in 2007 Atlanta." Hmm. While society still finds it too painful to examine prejudice within modern day ethnicities, this show may just become an interesting social commentary.
HIP HOP HOLLYWOOD
THUG LOVE...Just heard rapper Jim Jones is in Phoenix shooting film with Elise Neal. Entitled Thug Passion, we hear there are more than a few steamy--and we're guessing 2Pac music.
SAY WHAT? ...Lil Jon is developing an animated series for Comedy Central. Word is it will feature himself and his family and it will be called "A-Town," as in Atlanta. With Lil Jon behind the controls, this should be an exciting addition to the network. At presstime, Comedy Central had not replied to our email for comment.
NURSEY RAP RHYMES...Hip hop is constantly criticized for many a thing, but its ability to engage children educationally has been proven with "Hip Hop Harry," a hit live-action kids show on Discovery Kids! Now the show has been nominated for Outstanding Preschool Children's Series for the Children's Programming Emmy Award. "Hip Hop Harry," which uses hip-hop music and dance as a vehicle for educational and positive life-lessons, is directed by old-school music video director Lionel C. Martin.
READY FOR HER CLOSEUP...Ready for another rap reality show? Well, this one won't be on BET or VH-1, but MTV and it will star Nas and his wife, Kelis. Entitled "Mr. and Mrs. Jones," there are no airdates yet but it will follow the pair as they set out on world tours. Judging from their MO, we're sure Kelis will be the talk of the tube. And if we dust our crystal ball off, we can see her spinning off into her own show following the run of "Mr. & Mrs."--or heading for a nasty divorce. Let's see how this all plays out.
MYSPACE EXPLORES NEW OFFERINGS
According to the head of News Corps' Internet division, MySpace is looking into featuring productions from other media companies to distribute video not owned by the Rupert Murdoch company. Right now, MySpace offers episodes of News Corp.'s Fox-owned shows a day after the initial broadcast, but Peter Levinsohn, president of Fox Interactive Media, announced at a recent Bear Stearns media conference, "We're in very active negotiations with all the media companies to create the most robust video offering on the Web." According to Levinsohn, Fox Interactive Media is expected to earn $500 million for fiscal year 2007, ending June 30.
AMAZON UNVEILS EASIER HOME MOVIE ACCESS
Amazon.com, Inc. has just launched a service that allows users watch video purchased on the Internet and sent to a home television hooked up to a TiVo set top box. "Amazon Unbox on TiVo" can be used by 1.5 million-plus TiVo subscribers whose boxes can access the Internet via a high-speed connection. Since this service lets movies be sent directly to the TV, Amazon's TiVo partnership offers downloads now more advanced than other online video stores, including those of Wal-Mart and Apple. The Internet video download business is expected to be worth $3.7 billion annually by 2010, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.
INVISIBLE INK: BLACK SCREENWRITERS 2007
There's been a push for more black actors, directors, and even executives in Hollywood. Yet lack of advances for the African American screenwriter has, it seems, been an afterthought. Not ever in the history of the Academy has a Black screenwriter been nominated for, let alone, win an Oscar. And it's not that they haven't been trying. Yet the closest an African-American screenwriter has gotten to Oscar were the nominations of Suzanne De Passe in 1972 for Lady Sings the Blues, Spike Lee for Do The Right Thing in 1989 and John Singleton for 1991's Boys N The Hood.
So why haven't Black screenwriters broken through? "Writers of color (in general) should have more access, and should be given more latitude to tell a plethora of stories that should be heard," says Sylvia Franklin, President of the Organization of Black Screenwriters. (OBS) "Too often, writers of color are marginalized, and pigeonholed--relegated to a very small, very narrow niche of stories we've seen over and over and over again...Studios are going for the biggest bang, for the smallest buck and rely on what's already been proven--what consumers are familiar with and are willing to pay for again." One professional screenwriter agrees. "When you're not given the exposure, it's hard to get the access to larger projects, more diverse projects. It's the old Catch 22. And for Black screenwriters, it is extremely hard to bridge this." Adds Franklin, the "lack of access to funding and distribution" are the major obstacles.
And this may be deterring many from entering the field. According to Franklin, the 21-year-old OBS's membership has remained at 300 for the past five years. For those undeterred, the answer may come from within this small, creative community. "This will change when filmmakers--writers included, do it themselves," declares Franklin. "From creating the script to producing it, to distributing it in indie theaters or virtual networks, no longer can we afford to wait on somebody else to get it right, we have to do it ourselves." Being prepared and willing to take risks are just two ways to meet this challenge. "We can't keep repeating ourselves," says the screenwriter. "We have to show the world something different. We can't allow ourselves as writers to only write that they [the studios want]. We have to take chances. Write something that will make the studios stand up and notice--and makes deals."
All too often it's the same group of older, White male screenwriters making the deals. While "in" screenwriters time and time again get to bask in the glory of the hot script, the Oscar and Hollywood praise, most writers of color can't even get a script read. The stereotype still seems to prevail that Blacks can not write for the same large audience as say Peter Morgan (The Queen, The Last King of Scotland, and Henry VIII) or William Monahan (The Departed, Jurassic Park IV). Yet many White screenwriters are allowed to portray the Black experience without hesitation.
With such perceptions still strong in the industry, writers of color are going to have to show and prove--on their own. "You have to have a willingness to think and operate outside the studio system," says Franklin. "A willingness to have your 'success' look differently than what you've been fed."
But starving artists can not rely on their limited resources. Imagine the world of Urban Hollywood if black actors used their star power--and increasing producing muscle--to hire black screenwriters. Then there may actually be an Oscar winner.
Invincible, Rocky VI and now Pride--all recent releases with red carpet premieres in Philly! On February 27th, Lionsgate brought the film’s stars Terrence Howard, Bernie Mac, and Tom Arnold to the Prince Theater, where the movie was met with an enthusiastic audience.
Pride, directed by Sunu Gonera, is based on the life of Black swim coach, Jim Ellis, played by Howard. Ellis, despite having met with racial opposition as a member of the swim team at Chaney University in the '60s, excelled as a swimmer and as a student, graduating with a degree in mathematics. However, the prejudice that still prevailed in the mid-'70s kept Ellis from getting a job worthy of his education. Instead, he was forced to take a job as a glorified janitor at a city funded, soon-to-be-closing, recreational center. The basketball court is one of the first things to be eliminated at the Center, but oddly enough the pool is still in working order, which brings a group of B-boys inside to hang. One thing leads to another and before you know it, Ellis is making a swim team out of this group of at-risk teens--with the help of overweight, gray at the temples, curmudgeon, Mac. (Who by the way, was looking sharp at the premiere, in the best shape of his life.)
NAACP Hollywood Bureau's 3rd Annual Symposium, Los Angeles
Ah, what a difference a week can make. Although totally in flux right now after the abrupt departure of now-former president Bruce Gordon, the NAACP was all smiles in front of the sponsor board and posing for the camera at the Television Academy of Arts & Sciences just last week. While the dust settles internally at NAACP headquarters, here's what happened behind the scenes at an event we'd like to see much more often.
As part of the events surrounding the broadcast of the annual NAACP Image Awards (see coverage below), the Television Academy partnered with the famed civil rights behemoth and its longtime partner, the Ford Motor Company, to produce an informative installment to its diversity symposium series. As the Leonard Goldenson Theatre began to fill with Academy members, The A-List, armed with a glass of wine, chatted in a VIP room backstage and met a variety of Academy board members, executives and journalists in support of the evening's events. We were here to celebrate NBC's leap of faith in "Heroes" as the latest rival to "Lost"s reign to diversity in prime-time success.
It is amazing that all this is still even needed to be discussed in 2007, but cast and executives gathered to answer a variety of colorful (no pun intended) questions by notable broadcast journalist, Ed Gordon. The "case study" was to examine how such a show got "picked up" and its recipe for remaining on the air, but the night revealed a lot more. From actors who expressed how they felt, how they carry with them the weight of his or her race's image with each role selection to the challenges faced by Bruce Evans as the only Black programming executive at the six major networks for many years to how race factors into the "insider" realm of Hollywood, the frank discussion was energizing and inspiring. One interesting note was that the new "tally ho" for diversity seems not so much moral, unfortunately, as economic as the network execs cited that the success of "Grey's..", "Ugly.." was the driving factor to continue the pattern. But since diversity is the fabric of America anyway, and we're not quite certain why, to such seemingly intelligent people, that they would think a "mirror" would have pleased us long ago and therefore make money is beyond us.
At any rate, another key point of the discussion was certainly that organic diversity cannot really take place without a group of diverse executives in the room. In a subculture that operates on relationships based on family and close friends, this challenge may take all of us monitoring and pushing in order to conquer.
Certainly some of the scholarships given out that night to a few students prior to the panel may well assist for the future, but the power today still rests pretty much with 30-sum to 50-sum-year olds. And just what is the plan for them? Also interesting to note is that included on the panels of the "Heroes" cast were the talented actors of Indian and Chilean descent. If no one else says it, we will--Never ever forget, it is on on the backs of such old organizations and civil rights leaders pushing for inclusion that now others can break through as well. It's like arriving at a boring party just when the cake is finally being cut. While it's great to see this rich stew of talent, we hope all other ethnicities acknowledge the strides made by amazing men and women before us and remember to give back!
Cast of "Heroes" (L-R) Santiago Cabrera, Tawny Cypress, Sendhil Ramamurthy; Pamela Alexander, Dir., Community Development and Fund Operations, Ford; Ed Gordon, host of “Our World with Black Enterprise”; "Heroes" cast members Leonard Roberts and (Front/Center) Noah Gray-Cabey.
Exclusive: ONE-ON-ONE WITH PAMELA G. ALEXANDER, Director, Community Development and Fund Operators, Ford Motor Company Fund
Before the symposium jumpoff, we had the chance to snag a few minutes with Pamela Alexander of the Ford Fund to talk a bit about Ford's involvement that night. I think we've all seen the growing events around Hollywood that are magically beginning to bring together Urban Hollywood and automobiles as an advertising strategy. But this was a horse of a different color. Rather than an all-out marketing ploy, Ford's involvement was indicative 1) of its long-standing relationship with the NAACP and as an Image Awards sponsor; 2) the fund's the mighty philanthropic mission of furthering education in a variety of forms. "Supported entirely by corporate profits," Alexander stressed. "Ford, with this fund, is one of the larger corporate givers in the entire United States." The force behind a number of good works from awards, to scholarships, to career days and more throughout the country; the Ford Fund is the definition of giving toward those things synergistic with education. In fact that night, Ford also announced the F. Gary Gary Filmmaking Workshop: Project Watts scholarship--minus Gary. In all, a worthy effort by Ford and a powerful night.
THE NAACP IMAGE AWARDS, Los Angeles
Yes. Awards season continues. And like at many others, the hit television hospital drama "Grey's Anatomy" dominated the slickly produced NAACP Images Awards this year. The show nabbed a four accolades--SAG winner Chandra Wilson received the award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor and her co-star, the Isaiah Washington, who just completed a stint in rehab for uttering a gay slur on the set, scored his second Image Award for Best Actor. In this setting people were eager to finally hear Washington speak. "The first time I was up here I felt deserving of something," he said. "This time I feel privileged.” Show creator/writer Shonda Rhimes took home the award for Outstanding Writer in a Dramatic series and the show beat out Fox’s fan favorite "24" and "The Unit" receiving the overall statuette for Outstanding Drama Series for the second year in a row.
In motion picture, Forest Whitaker and Jennifer Hudson continued their award winning streaks. The Pursuit of Happyness won best picture honors and Keke Palmer nabbed best actress for the Akeelah and the Bee, whilst Djimon Hounsou was honored with a supporting actor accolade for Blood Diamond. Backstage, Djimon was quick to squash rumors of a relationship with actress Cameron Diaz and/or Baby Phat CEO Kimora Lee Simmons, claiming both women are merely just friends.
In the musical category, Mary J. Blige picked up two awards, including Outstanding Music Video for "Be Without You."
But the highlight of the evening were the honorary awards, which went to CNN's Soledad O'Brien who was given the President's Award for her work as a journalist, especially her youth film project for Hurricane Katrina survivors that she is doing with Spike Lee. Bill Cosby was inducted into the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame and the Chairman's Award went to U2 front man Bono, for is fight against AIDS in Africa.
But the biggest surprise occurred after this year's show--dubbed "Youth Create Change" and hosted by LL Cool . Although who knew what was brewing for the day following the Awards--the resignation of NAACP President Gordon.--Samantha Ofole, The Robertson Treatment (http://www.robertsontreatment.com/) for The A-List.
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Just wanted to drop a quick little note to say from one industry professional to the next-- kudos on your blog! I found it to be very informative, entertaining and enlightening! I am definitely a regular now!
An all- star cast of “Who’s Who in the sports and entertainment world joined Detroit Piston’s star-forward Chris Webber as he celebrated his birthday at The Fifth Nightclub on South Beach. Hosted by Headliner Market Group, gettin' their party on were: Star Jones, Regina King (pictured with Webber, left), Keisha Knight Pulliam, Mickey Rouke, singer Keith Sweat, NBA All-Star Scottie Pippen, Luke, Mike Epps, Nas and Kellis.
SHOUT OUT TO LE ANNE LINDSAY HANGIN' WITH--AND REVIEWING--TERRENCE HOWARD IN PHILLY; SAMANTHA OFOLE GETTIN' THE SCOOP IN L.A.; & A-LIST FAV GIL ROBERTSON, HERE, THERE, EVERYWHERE!