OVERSEEN & OVERHEARD
WAITING IN VAIN...Last week we brought you news of two Bob Marley pics on the way--one from Martin Scorsese, the other from Marley's widow, Rita and the Weinsteins. Well, now according to the Hollywood Reporter, the latter has hit a snag. The Weinsteins' drama, based on Rita's autobiography (No Woman No Cry: My Life With Bob Marley), has been denied rights to the late reggae star's music. This is even though Rita is the film's executive producer. Rita explained to HR, "When I sold the film rights to my book (for the Weinstein film) the contract did not include any rights to use my husband's music." In a case of double dipping into the Marley legacy, Marley family-owned Tuff Gong Pictures is one of the producers of the Scorsese documentary. And it seems, the Marleys involved with the doc are concerned about Rita's film overshadowing theirs since the release dates--late-2009 for Scorsese's and February 2010 for No Woman No Cry--are so close. With several Marleys, lawyers, studios and Marley's former music publisher, Chris Blackwell, all hashing this out, this could quite a show in and of itself to watch. Shame.
AL JOLSON REBIRTH?...We thought the days of Blackface were over. In his new movie, actor Robert Downey Jr. just finished a role in which he portrays a Black man--but there's a supposed comic twist, as reported by Entertainment Weekly. About a group of pompous actors making the most expensive Vietnam War movie ever, Tropic Thunder features a character named Kirk Lazarus (played by Downey), who lands a role written for a Black actor. Eager to show off his Oscar-winning acting skills, Lazarus decides not only to take the role, but to play it as a "Black" man. Follow all that? Word is now that Downey, who is one of the film's three main stars, is worried, about how he may be perceived in blackface. Will the film brew controversy or have moviegoers--Black and White--laughing along with Downey's racial makeover? Directed by Ben Stiller and written by screenwriter Etan Cohen and actor Justin Theroux, the film is set for a late summer release.
OBAMA IN 30...The current presidential campaign recently got a little more exciting--if that's possible. Political action group MoveOn.org, supporters of Barack Obama, has announced a contest for filmmakers, dubbed "Obama in 30 Seconds." The goal is to create a 30-second television advertisement promoting Obama for President. The spot will air nationally and the winner also receives a $20,000 gift certificate for a camera and editing package. Fifteen finalists will be selected via an online vote. Judges actors/producers Ben Affleck and Matt Damon; filmmaker Oliver Stone; the Rev. Jesse Jackson; and musicians John Legend, Moby, and Eddie Vedder will choose the ultimate winner. "When I approached the artists about the ad contest to support Obama, many jumped at the chance. I think the enthusiasm comes from both a common desire to change the direction of the country and a history of artists working together with the MoveOn grassroots community to use art to catalyze change—in this case, most notably our 'Bush in 30 Seconds' ad contest in 2004, which this contest was modeled on," says Laura Dawn, Creative Director for MoveOn.org, who along with Peter Koechley (ex-editor of The Onion and now a moveon staff member) conceived of the Obama spot. While Dawn says they did not include diverse outreach per se to African-American filmmakers, they targeted mostly film schools. "We reached out to every film school, the top 100 liberal arts colleges' media & political science departments. As well as our 3.2 million members," she says.
PLAYING DRESS-UP...Everyone wants to be a fashion stylist, right? Well, VH1 and Vivica A. Fox think so. According to the Hollywood Reporter, VH-1 has green-lighted "Glam God With Vivica A. Fox." The eight-episode show will search for the "next great celebrity stylist." Each week, contestants compete in challenges to test their fashion sense and style trend knowledge as they create the perfect look, including hair, makeup and wardrobe. The one with the most Glam power wins $100,000 and the opportunity to launch his/her career by styling an A-list celebrity.
PEOPLE GET READY...Curtis Mayfield scored one of the classics soundtracks of Black cinema--Superfly. And with the group the Impressions, he made music history with such hits as "Mighty Mighty," "People Get Ready." Now, Reelin' In The Years Productions has put together a must-have documentary for Mayfield fans. The DVD Movin' On Up: The Music of Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, directed by Reelin' In's David Peck, Tom Gulotta and Phillip Galloway, hits shelves May 6th. It tells the Mayfield/Impressions story through interviews as well as 22 complete performances from The Impressions and Curtis Mayfield's solo career, filmed between 1965 and 1973. Public Enemy's Chuck D even shows up to provide context about Curtis's music as a soundtrack to the grim realities of urban life in the '70s. To promote the DVD, the company is holding select screenings in a few cities. Seems like a great way to document such a profound artist of color.
LADIES EXIT...Say goodbye to Pam Grier and Jennifer Beals. "The L Word" is heading into its final, and sixth, season. The Showtime series, however, is now one of the network's longest-running shows. Eight episodes have been ordered and production starts early summer for an early 2009 premiere. The series not only became the first lesbian primetime drama on television when it debuted in January 2004, it is also one of the most diverse programs on air today. And the series creators will continue to break ground. The show will live on, interactively. The brand and the social network community, OurChart.com, will continue to be a destination for lesbians and fans of the series.
BABES IN TOYLAND...You know celebrity based reality TV has run out of ideas when they start tapping into the kids of celebrities pool. That's just what a new MTV show called "Rock the Cradle" is doing. The eight-episode series premieres April 3 and features the offspring of famous musicians competing every week in front of their parents, a panel of judges and a live audience to become stars in their own right. Set to compete are: Lil Al B Sure (Al B Sure), Landon Brown (Bobby Brown), and Akeiba Burrell Hammer (M.C. Hammer), among others. What next? Will the networks send cameras into the birthing rooms of stars like Halle Berry instead of coming up with solid, creative TV programming?
GANG SIGNS...Here's a scoop for ya. MSNBC entertainment writer Miki Turner (pictued) is currently co-executive producing a documentary on girls and gangs with actor/director Bill Duke. According to Turner, she and Duke are funding the film with money from private investors. Tentatively titled Gang Girl: A Mother's Journey to Save Her Daughter, the film has sparked interest from HBO and other networks. Turner says she feels the subject needs more exposure. "Initially this was an issue that wasn't that important to me; but as I became more involved and opened my eyes wide enough to see the impact on our global community, it became very affecting," she says. "Gang violence is not just an inner-city problem with Blacks, Asians and Latinos. it is in the suburbs as well. And little has been done to address this problem with young girls--these are our future mothers and grandmothers and if they go astray, what hope do our kids really have?" Turner and Duke are in the process of editing and hope to have the doc ready by fall. SECOND LIFE...They're back! The Warner Bros. Television Group plans to resurrect the network as a new Website. The working title is wb.com, and will launch in beta in April. Users will be able to see free streaming episodes of all WB-produced series that aired on the network during its 1995-2006 run--such as ''One on One," ''All of Us," ''Cuts," ''Eve," Half & Half," ''Love, Inc." No word yet of WB shows that went to the CW, like "Girlfriends" and "Everybody Hates Chris," will also be available. The new website will also feature new, short series and vignettes targeting the prior WB audience (women 12-34).
DIGITAL DISCONNECT...We could have told them this. African Americans are more influenced by new media than are other segments, a recent BIGresearch Simultaneous Media Survey discovered. Influence of new media is higher for Hispanics and African Americans across all new media forms compared to all adults. Alternatively, influence of new media for Caucasians is lower than the general market for all types. With all this we should start to see Hollywood agencies and digital/mobile divisions of the studios finally beginning to do more diverse deals now, shouldn't we?
HIP HOP HOLLYWOOD
TO BE OR NOT TO BE?...These days many Black films are born from theatre productions. But raptor-turned-playwright Sticky Fingaz is doing just the opposite. "We did the movie, now we're doing the stage version!," says Sticky. He's readying to debut the first Hip-Hop play of the year, CAUGHT ON TAPE, proving once again the versatility of the genre. He recently enlisted playwright Don B.Welch (who did The Bachelorette Party in association with Will Smith) as a consultant on the CAUGHT ON TAPE, which combines Hip Hop music set in an urban environment on stage. CAUGHT ON TAPE is about five young men who plot a heist in hopes of financial gain but get, yep you know, caught on tape. Produced by Sticky's business partner, Keith Brown of Major Independents, the play will make its theatrical debut in Los Angeles later this year. "A big tour is the ultimate goal, and then of course landing on Broadway," says Sticky, who will also direct and co-star.
THE GREATEST SHOW
With the 2008 Presidential campaign becoming the spectacle of the decade, it's no wonder Hollywood is solidly in the mix. Yet there are questions that remain about this curious relationship: Why are there so many political documentaries (while only a select few make money at the box office)?; How do they affect voters and the political landscape?; Why are directors and political figures during this campaign are so entwined.
The answers depend on who you ask. But one thing is for sure, while it used to take years, sometimes decades for a political documentary to reap its just rewards, these days everyone is jumping into the act and the impact is fast and furious more so than during any other campaign period in our history. All the attention this film genre has received as of late has spurred on a rash of notables getting into the fold to indies popping up all over the place. Just recently Vanity Fair bigwig Graydon Carter produced Chicago 10, an innovative doc directed by up-and-coming filmmaker Brett Morgen and using archival footage, animation and music to look back at the eight anti-war protesters who were put on trial following the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Then there is the much-publicized documentary about Barack Obama that actor Edward Norton has in the works.
But maybe this new era of the Hollywood-izing of the poly doc was really first ushered in with the unprecedented success of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Not only did he get wicked in high definition, he won a Grammy, Sundance, and many other awards...oh yeah, and he won a Noble Peace Prize...mega money in media revenue, box office success. Truly unheard of for a political documentary.
But it is Michael Moore who can probably be credited with help bringing the political doc into overtly popular focus again. The great thing is his ability to hype his docs and the issues they tackle have caused enormous political debate. And herein, lies the issue. While no one can probably determine how political documentaries affect votes and grassroots campaigns one way or the other, the creative ones have a unique way of creating a continuous conversation that just might end up helping to change the world a little at a time.
His Sicko helped make health care become a prominent campaign issue, giving more fuel to a fire Hillary Clinton started before the documentary even had its first take. The War Room, on the other hand, took viewers deep inside a presidential campaign--Bill Clinton 1992, giving them more insight and political savvy than potential voters of yesteryear. Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War had a grass roots theater movement that took a global approach and caused more public examination of the war. Though some documentary films are at times bias in presenting one view, they do explain the complex political landscape for the average moviegoer. Call it Current History 101: A meeting of entertainment and social issues.
Perhaps the new wave of political films are the result of Hollywood, which is often stuck in creating "safe" material for the masses, flexing its creative muscles and proving there is indeed a "thinking" Hollywood. Politics provides instant "seriousness" for the docu filmmaker and politics gets a shot of sexy from being filmed. Both are needed and that's why it's a symbiotic relationship that particularly in this era and, dare we say, campaign of constant video and audio, it's no wonder Hollywood and politics meet on the big screen. So get out your popcorn as the storytellers from both sides ride this rollercoaster. --Clemetine Clarke
Clemetine Clarke owns and operates her own governmental affairs, political strategy, fundraising and community relations firm called CMH & Associates. Her business main focus is on electing women of color (African American, Asian and Latino) to political office. Clarke has shaped San Francisco politics over the years through various roles: Campaign Manager, Volunteer Coordinator and Finance Director. Clarke has also served as the Executive Director of the San Francisco Democratic Party.