Saturday, June 09, 2007

71: Kenny Leon

Served up weekly, the sharpest multicultural vibe in town. Welcome back, everyone.
Issue # 71.


HOUSE OF PAIN...How could something so right be so wrong? The Tyler Perry sitcom deal with Lionsgate (which we covered in was groundbreaking. After all he orchestrated distribution deals reportedly worth about $200 million with TBS and Fox for "House of Payne"--and even retained ownership and creative control of the series. Ratings for the debut earlier this week were also record breaking, as it was the highest rated first-run sitcom debut in the history of basic cable, with an average 3.2 rating/5 share in the overnights from 9-10 p.m. (9 p.m.: 3.1/ 5, 3.3/ 5), according to Nielsen Media Research data. But while the viewers tuned in--the critics didn't like what they saw. USA Today for one said "It hurt to watch...Glaringly, shamefully, insultingly inept, this new cable comedy from filmmaker Tyler Perry isn't just the worst sitcom of the year, it's one of the worst of the modern era." At least one viewer agreed, "It was so had I had to turn it off in the middle of the episode. I was embarrassed by the images. It seemed we [Black people] had gone backwards," one viewer from New York, who initially watched out of curiosity, tells The A-List.

So where was the disconnect? According to the deal, Perry had full control so we assume there weren't any changes made on behalf of the network suits. Could Perry have just too much on his plate to pay creative attention to "House of Payne"? Perry did after all just sign yet another deal. He will do a fifth Madea flick, Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns; slated for release in early 2008. And, his fourth Lionsgate feature Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married?, is slated for a November 16 release. We're all for grabbing while you're hot, but at what expense?

PSST...Filmmaker Kenny Leon (see feature below) tells The A-List that producing team Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (Hairspray, Chicago) just picked up the film rights to bring the life of Sammy Davis Jr. to the big screen--one of many due on the late star. Absolutely no details yet, but we hear there are several studios chomping at the bit.

TONGUES UNTIED?...Let the words fly. As most of the media reported this week, a U.S. appeals court threw out a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling against the Fox TV, stating that FCC's new policy on indecency was "arbitrary and capricious." At issue was Fox's broadcast of the Billboard Music Awards in December 2002 at which the singer Cher said "F*** 'em", and the same awards show in 2003 at which Nicole Richie asked: "Have you ever tried to get cow s**** out of a Prada purse? It’s not so f***ing simple.”

Fox, with the support of other networks, had appealed the original ruling against them. Then earlier this week, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, found in its favor, ruling that the FCC had failed to explain properly why it had changed its long-term policy of the fleeting use of profanity. Free speech advocates seem to have mixed feelings about the victory.

"Abuse of power in the name of morality is becoming far less palatable to the average American, and the courts seem to agree. Let's just hope this is a sign of things to come," says Diane Duke, Executive Director, Free Speech Coalition, an organization that rallies for free speech for adult-themed works. Eric Galatas, program director of Free Speech TV, a publicly-supported, independent, non-profit TV channel, says more needs to be done. "The focus on Janet Jackson and Bono and Cher is really a distraction from the worst kinds of limitations we have on speech in a media landscape dominated by conglomerate corporations," he says. "I don't think the Appeals Court ruling will stop the censorship, which happens daily, when programmers and producers self-censor, to make sure they're not offending their corporate owners or the companies that advertise on their networks... Will this kind of behavior stop? Not until public interest broadcasting has truly independent sources of funding, like they have in England, Germany, Japan."

And from an industry that's worried even more, adult content carriers: "I expect that [FCC Chairman] Kevin Martin will lobby Congress to amend the expand the definition of 'indecent speech' to allow the FCC to target more programming. Sadly, even Democrats are not immune to pleas of 'We must save the children from this menace.' And as you may recall, the FCC wants to extend its 'decency' standards to cable and satellite TV as well," says Mark Kernes, Sr. Ed., Adult Video News and, a trade magazine of the adult video industry. As this debate heats up, we will continue to cover.

BALLOT PREP...Didn't catch the Iowa debates? Well, PBS will soon air presidential forum with Tavis Smiley and journalists of color in what they are calling “All-American Presidential Forums” featuring each of the Democratic candidates and moderated by Smiley. The special will mark the first time that a panel exclusively comprised of journalists of color will be represented in primetime. Among the journalists are: Michel Martin of National Public Radio, nationally syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr. and USA Today and Gannett News Service columnist DeWayne Wickham. “There are too many questions that matter to people of color not being asked and therefore not addressed. Our issues matter, our votes count," Smiley tells The A-List on the importance of such a forum. ”The issues to be discussed matter to all Americans, but they disproportionately impact people of color. Everyone who watches will be enlightened and empowered.” The candidates’ forum will air live on June 28, 9-10:30 p.m. ET, from Howard University’s Cramton Auditorium in DC. A second forum for Republican presidential candidates will be held on Sept. 27 on the campus of Morgan State University in Baltimore. We hope the candidates brush up on African-American issues.

FREE OF CHARGE...We all love to get something for nothing, right? Filmmaker Tim Greene ( will host a free filmmaking workshop for kids and adults at The Los Angeles Public Library, Baldwin Hills Branch on June 26th, 5-6pm. Greene's LiL Homeez will be released this summer, and he's already in pre-production on Lil Homeez 2. And get this, not only will you get a film 101 class gratis, Greene says he's giving away a home computer to one lucky attendee.

CALL FOR ENTRIES...The Pan African Film and Arts Festival (PAFF), America's largest Black film and arts festival, has announced that it is now accepting submissions for their 16th Annual signature event taking place Feb. 7-18, 2008 in L.A. The PAFF is accepting submissions of independent features, shorts, narratives, and documentary films made by or about people of African descent. Applications are available at

BLOODS & CRIPS CRUISE..."Men in Trees" regular John Amos is taking rivaling gangs from L.A. on a boat trip June 21. Well, it's not just any boat trip; it is a "re-enactment" of sorts of the middle passage for the Amistad Project. And he'll film the whole 18-month event for a doc he's producing and directing about the voyage. They set sail June 21 from Halifax, Nova Scotia to England in conjunction with Great Britain's 200-year commemoration of the abolition of slavery. Once it reaches British shores, Captain Pinkney, the first African-American to solo circumnavigate the globe in a sailboat, will command the Amistad and sail to slave ports on the West Coast of Africa, Barbados among other ports. While the release date is still to be set for the documentary, The Halleys Comet Foundation will distribute and they will release it as a doc film that segs a mini series. Talk about capturing history.

BET SAYS KONICHIWA...BET is keeping its promises. The network said to be on the lookout for more expansion. Well it has been announced that BET is launching in Japan. The just-appointed international division head, Michael D. Armstrong, Senior Vice President and General Manager, has been busy. He has structured a deal with sister-network, MTV Japan to launch BET’s #1 music countdown show, 106 & PARK on MTV Japan. It will premiere there this fall. Let's see how the actual possibility of full channel creation goes in the future.

ALL THE WOMEN SAY HEY-HO...Word just in that Jada Pinkett Smith (pictured) is set to star in a remake of of 1939 classic film The Women. Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan, Annette Bening and Candice Bergen round out the multi-ethnic cast to be directed by Diane English. Here's the twist, it's going to be made for under $20 million. Rumor has it that was the only way Picturehouse, Inferno Entertainment and soap manufacturer Dove agreed to finance. But with a great script, film critic Kamal Larsuel of and the African-American Film Critics Association says the low-budget shouldn't be a problem. "I love the original--Rosalind Russell is one of my favorite actresses in the world. That said, I don't think that only $20 million is a problem," she notes. "It's an ensemble piece. If they follow the original, then there aren't going to be any special effects. [The budget] is very reasonable for this kind of film."

MONEY IN THE BANK...Talk about a cash injection. The Bank of America has given $1 million to the Newark Museum and its Newark Black Film Festival, considered the oldest continuous Black film fest in the U.S. According to the fest, the charitable gift will fund the event for four years. This year, the fest kicks off June 27. According to Ernie Anguilla, Bank of America Charitable Foundation spokesperson, "We issue hundreds of grants every year to arts organizations across the country." Note to film festival producers: Get your grant applications in now.

THE SAGA CONTINUES...Just as the rebuilding of New Orleans continues, so shall the Spike Lee documentary about the devastation. Lee plans to return to the Crescent City for HBO to follow up the stories told in last year's four-hour, Peabody Award-winning When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts. No word on when production will start, but as soon as we hear, you will.

YOU AIN'T HAPPY...Seems that only 26% of U.K. and U.S. mobile entertainment users are satisfied with their services, according to just-released consumer research results from the Mobile Entertainment Forum and LCC. No big surprise. We knew that the Urban market couldn't be too pleased, what with the lack of programming targeting them. And it doesn't take a genius to figure out that if television isn't hitting like before, why it would--with it's lack of diversity--hit on a different screen is beyond us. Thing is, are carriers finally listening?

DIVAS WHODUNIT...If you can't find any African-American leading ladies on screen, you may want to look in the pages of a new novel by mystery writer Angela Henry. Entitled Diva's Last Curtain Call, which was published June 1 Kimani Press, the murder mystery about a Black actress also explores discrimination and sexism in Hollywood. Says Henry, "I could name dozens of super talented African-American actresses working in Hollywood today, but could count on one hand the actresses that I regularly see in leading movie roles." Well, if Henry lands a film deal for the book, there will at least be another much-needed role for a Black female star.

LONG HAUL...Just found out and had to make sure we were the first to know to tell you about Mules ( It is a documentary currently being shot in Jamaica and New York by filmmaker Joi Dickerson. Mules is about women who transport drugs and what becomes of them. If it gets the same attention as Maria Full of Grace, about Colombian female mules, got it may be an arthouse hit.

CREATIVE SPANS...Ever wonder who celebs draw their inspiration from? Well, a new VH-1 show called "Bridging The Gap" pairs two well-known musicians to chat and perform. According to, rappers/actresses Eve and Queen Latifah will be on the first episode.

TALKING ABOUT RHYME...If you Hip-Hop heads missed it the first time around, don't fret. The XM radio special "Hip-Hop…At The Crossroads" featuring Russell Simmons, Doug E. Fresh, MC Lyte, Talib Kweli, Dr. Benjamin Chavis will be re-broadcasting on June 9, June 1, June 23 & 24. The discussion examines the music of Hip Hop in connection with the recent news headlines and its evolution from the streets to the mainstream. Hosted by XM's Leo G., program director of "The Rhyme" and "Raw" (XM 66), and VH1's Janell Snowden. And don't worry, you don't have to be a subscriber to tune in--at least for now. Non-XM subscribers can also listen to the special through a free, three-day trial of XM's online Internet streaming service, XM Radio Online ( While these are the usual suspects from the Hip-Hop community, it's nice to finally see a women, Lyte, included.

According to a new ISuppli report, Apple is looking to penetrate the market not necessarily gross high profit-per-unit measurements with its Apple TV device. iSuppli analysts track the electronic component industry. According to the report, the device delivers a gross profit margin of 20.7% while the iPod family of devices, yield a gross profit margin of 40-50% period. Priced at $299, Apple TV will be competitive in the market, but is actually not priced for profit, say the experts. And, the actual profit margin may be even smaller than 20%, estimates iSuppli, since Apple's bill of materials doesn't include cables, packaging or marketing expenses. Apple TV marks the company's first venture into the set-top box (STB) arena it serves as a media hub. Apple TV is designed to use content from the iTunes store or from computers on a wired or wireless LAN.



Kenny Leon is waiting for Sean "P. Diddy" Combs at a Manhattan studio. No, Leon isn't a new rap phenom. He's the director of Diddy's first leading film role, A Raisin In The Sun, which will air on ABC. "He's coming so we can do some looping for the film," says the easy going Leon.

The made-for-TV movie is a remake of the 1961 classic film and the 1959 Broadway play. In this version, Diddy revives the role he played on Broadway. Also joining him are: Sanaa Lathan, Phylicia Rashad, Audra McDonald, and John Stamos. (Rashad and McDonald won Tony Awards for the Broadway revival.) "With this cast like this in the film, I envision everyone sitting around their living rooms watching--from kids to their grandparents, of all races," says Leon. "I really think this will get a very broad audience." Sony Pictures TV execs Craig Zadan and Neil Meron bought the rights to bring the play to ABC. They are producing along with Combs's Bad Boy Films.

"The finished project is NOT the original," says Leon, an actor himself. "I did not just want to do a remake. It's a different animal all its own. Paris Qualles took it a step further with the screenplay. He opened the story up. We shot in 10 different location, all in Toronto." The film will air during Oscar week. According to Leon, the producers and ABC gave him the leeway to do the film as he pleased. "First, most films for television are in the $3-million range, we were given a budget for $10-$11 million," he says. "For the soundtrack we just completed an orchestration with a 50-piece orchestra. And, it's a three-hour film that airs in one night, instead of over the course of two or three. We shot it like a feature, not a film for TV. The cinematography is beautiful."

Leon has been more than a busy man. He just directed August Wilson's last production, Radio Golf, which has been racking up accolades and awards since it hit the boards. "It was an incredible experience working with August Wilson, and knowing that this was his final play," says Leon, who also directed Wilson's Gem of the Ocean. "He also finished a screenplay of Fences before he died. And I would love to direct it." In the meantime, Leon splits his time between New York City and Atlanta, where his True Colors Theatre Company ( is based. There, he is doing a revival of Ceremonies in Old Dark Men with Glynn Turman. It will debut during the National Black Arts Festival in July. He is also set to do a theatrical version of Flashdance. "I'd also love to do more film," says Leon. "I'm up for anything."


STOMPIN' Industry Screening, L.A.

The buzz was deafening and the stars blinding at the Stompin Industry Screening on May 30th at the Regent Showcase Theater in Los Angeles. Packing the red carpet were such celebs as Sinbad, Vanessa Bell Calloway and Shedrack Anderson. Stompin is a coming-of-age story about two brothers (Chris Facey and Anderson) who struggle to reconcile their estranged relationship while their college campus gears up for a major step competition. Both are also fighting for to be the love interest of Camille, played by Caryn Ward. Executive produced by Deon Reid and Sinbad (pictured, second from right with a few of the film's stars), Stompin will be released by Polychrome Pictures in association with Warner Bros. Entertainment in Sept. After the screening, everyone headed to a cool afterparty at the Highlands. Cast, crew and other partygoers jammed the dance floor while the DJ spun Hip Hop and R&B oldies. There celebration was on! --words and photo by Anthony Davis