All Articles Tagged "black film"
Ava DuVernay’s second feature film, Middle of Nowhere, earned her the best director award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. She was the first Black female director to receive the auspicious award. The film stars Emayatzy Corinealdi as Ruby, a woman finding her way while her husband serves an eight-year prison sentence. Omari Hardwick plays her husband, Derek, David Oyelowo is Brian, Lorraine Toussaint acts as her mother Ruth, and Edwina Findley Dickerson plays her sister, Rosie. Read on for secrets behind the making of DuVernay’s critically-acclaimed film, Middle of Nowhere, released via her African American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM), now known as ARRAY, and Participant Media.
Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation made history yesterday at Sundance when Fox Searchlight paid $17.5 million for worldwide rights to the film, thus making it the biggest sale to ever come out of the annual film festival.
And Black folks celebrated…
But folks forgot all about the time when we were calling out Black folks for supporting shows like “Empire,” which ain’t nothing but funding tools for the Man (aka Rupert Murdoch who is the founder of News Corp and 21 Century Fox) – so I’ve been told.
And we also miss the irony in that the same forces that we vilify for giving a platform to Stacey Dash is now giving distribution platform to Nat Turner’s story.
All of that to say that we the people can be pretty contradictory at times. We accuse some of us of seeking validation from White people or helping them to get rich or even acting as their propaganda tools but then turn right around and validate other people that come out and benefit from the same system.
Oh, what a tangled web exceptionalism weaves…
And this is no shade to Nate Parker. I don’t even know the brother but I’m extremely happy for him and can’t wait to see the film.
But let’s be honest, a huge part of the whole “wow” factor in this story has generated is just because Parker made the film. But also because the film that he made was acquired by a major studio and sold for history making amount.
And I get it: why the hell should we not be impressed?
I mean, who would have thunk that any studio in Hollywood would have the audacity to distribute and theatrically-release a film about a Black revolutionary historical figure who kills a bunch of slave-owning White people?
Tell me who?
Still, as great as an achievement as that it is, there is no denying that The Birth of A Nation’s current and future achievement is still very much a part of the system that we claim we hate and seek to dissociate from.
At least that’s the impression I got from reading this article in the Hollywood Reporter entitled “Sundance: Why Nate Parker Chose Fox Searchlight Over Netflix for ‘The Birth of a Nation.’”
And as Rebecca Ford and Tatiana Siegel, who interviewed Parker for this piece, writes:
“Parker, 36, quit acting for two years to realize the passion project that he wrote, produced, directed and toplined. He put in $100,000 of his own money to fly around the country to talk to anyone who might want to finance it. A dozen investor groups — which included former NBA player Michael Finley and San Antonio Spurs star Tony Parker — cobbled together the film’s $10 million budget.
Many of those investors and producers were invited to a private dinner in Park City with Parker and the cast at Zoom on Sunday night, ahead of the screening. More than 85 people filled the upper-floor dining space of the restaurant, noshing on meatballs and sliders before a seated dinner. Spirits were high.
“I keep saying: We’ve won already. The movie exists, we contributed to it as a family, it belongs to us,” Parker told his cast and crew at the gathering. “Everything that comes after this is bonus.” (For a behind-the-scenes look at Parker’s Park City visit, see the exclusive video at the bottom of this post.)
For all intents and purposes, Parker’s story of an actor who wrote a film seven years ago and gets plucked from obscurity at an independent film festival does sound like the quintessential underdog tale. And when you add race, along with the social climate at this moment including the #OscarsSoWhite debate and the overall movement for social justice, his story sounds even more magical.
But as reported by Ford and Siegel, “Birth came to Sundance with big expectations, with many major buyers seeing it as an Oscar contender.” And it even got a standing ovation from the audience even before a single image of the film could be shown.
Likewise the excitement over the film continued to grow after the Sundance screening and as reported by THR, during the after-party, Parker and the other producers were flanked with various offers from studios and distributors.
To help separate the “serious” bidders from the less serious ones, the article states that Parker’s agent set a minimum bid of $12 million just for film studios and other distributors to get into the room to talk to him. Among those contenders were Fox Searchlight, The Weinstein Co., Sony and Netflix. And as THR reports:
“Searchlight and TWC appeared to have an edge with Parker, given that both distributors have successfully released movies theatrically with black casts and subject matter — Searchlight with best picture Oscar winner 12 Years a Slave and TWC with Lee Daniels’ The Butler.”
And as Parker would tell THR about how he came to settle with Fox Searchlight:
“My responsibility to the project is to make sure to find a partner that is as passionate as we are about it socially, so if that meant we had to take less money, then those were conversations I was willing to have,” says Parker, who would not speak about specific suitors that did not submit the winning bid.
Multiple sources say there had indeed been a higher bid: Netflix offered $20 million for all rights but was insisting on a day-and-date streaming/theatrical release like it did with Beasts of No Nation last fall. At a Sundance fest that has been dominated by streamers Amazon and Netflix, such a massive offer must have been tantalizing. But sources say Parker and the producers wanted a large theatrical experience, so, similarly to the premiere, people would be rallied to action.
Parker says Searchlight was open to hearing all his ideas about how the film should be released, including his hope for it to be shown in high schools and colleges around the country.”
If it was really just about the film, the team could have opted to screen at the Pan-African Film Festival and the American Black Film Festival. And if it was just about getting it made for us and by us, the team behind the project could have sought out Centric or TV One or even Bob Johnson’s internet streaming site.
But instead the team took the film to Sundance, the most prestigious of indie routes where studio executives go specifically to purchase films. And the team ultimately set its price high and then eventually settled with Fox Searchlight because that would guarantee the most views, as well as solid chance at an Oscar nomination.
Again, I personally celebrate Parker’s story because it is a reminder of how important it is to just do the work. And I am thankful that Parker’s personal dream of making a film included us. Likewise, I am extremely pleased that the Nat Turner story, which is a complex tale of rebellion and personal autonomy, will finally get the mainstream validation it deserves.
But we shouldn’t act like those stories don’t exist (Check out Tula or check out Sankofa or check out Quilombo, which are just a few classic Black slave revolt films that have not been endorsed by the Hollywood system).
And we should be honest about the reality of how successful Black films are created. It does not happen in a bubble. It does not happen without mainstream endorsement. And it ain’t just a matter of making our own. As we forget that there are tons of finished good Black film projects, which have no chance of being seen by the masses.
Instead we should keep in mind that Parker’s achievement is a combination of building from the outside and strategically working for inside validation. And he is building his own much like the Smiths had build their own. And much like Lee Daniels and Ryan Coogler who is the director of Creed had to build their own.
And I think that is important to remember when next year’s Academy Awards nominations are announced. Whether Parker gets snubbed or not, we can’t say that it doesn’t matter when we all celebrate a moment in time when it did matter.
Seven years after Joan, Toni, Maya and Lynn, the fun-loving collective of sister friends known as Girlfriends went off the air, I am still waiting for a Girlfriends movie. After all, the foursome, which became a threesome after actress Jill Marie Jones left the show at the conclusion of the sixth season, never had a proper farewell. Girlfriends was abruptly canceled mid-season after the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike, during which time, writers negotiated new media revenue streams, and virtually all television production ceased. That left loyal fans like me disappointed and longing for more. And though Girlfriends creator Mara Brock Akil has said that she is open to penning a big-screen adaptation of her hit series, she also made it clear that CBS owns the rights and hasn’t exactly jumped at the opportunity to do so.
But with a built-in audience and loyal fan base, Girlfriends as a movie is a no-brainer. It’s the kind of entity that executives and studios typically love to have on deck. As a film, it would fall into a category that some consider a type of genre all its own: the girlfriend movie. And while the girlfriend movie seems to be dying, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be revived. Black women haven’t seen the likes of a Black female ensemble cast on the big screen since Waiting to Exhale, which was released in 1995. That’s 20 years ago. What exactly happened between then and now?
That question is difficult to answer. Ever the bandwagon jumper in search of the latest trend, you would think Hollywood would have continued the momentum set forth by Waiting to Exhale. Not that its success should have led to hurried, wannabe copies. But rather, it should have made clear that there is an apparent interest and a large female audience hungry for on-screen representations of themselves, universal representations that aren’t solely for Black consumption. As this Essence.com article points out, Waiting to Exhale did well at the box office. Really well. Not only did it gross nearly $150 million worldwide, but it was also the talk of the town, what with its unforgettable scenes (Bernadine setting fire to her husband’s car) and relatable characters who were all looking for love, often in the wrong places. (If memes were a thing back then, I’m pretty sure Waiting to Exhale would have had its fair share of them.)
But in the eyes of Hollywood, this kind of film doesn’t rake in beaucoup bucks, not like the movies we’re used to seeing on the big screen nowadays–namely comic book and superhero adaptations and regurgitations. More accurately, the Black girlfriend movie is not the kind of movie studios think audiences want to see. That’s part of the reason movies like With This Ring and Girlfriends’ Getaway (1 and 2), which aired on Lifetime and TV One respectively, went straight to the small screen. The disregard for these films does a disservice to audiences and ignores what these kinds of movies do so well. Our girlfriends are there for every hiccup and heartache. They cheer us on long after we’ve stopped cheering for ourselves. They’re not afraid to tell us the truth or to simply tell it like it is. Waiting to Exhale’s tagline said it best: “Friends are the people who let you be yourself…and never let you forget.” The best of these movies display the beauty of that sisterhood and the power of those bonds, and in an entertaining, engaging way.
If there’s one thing the industry at large should have learned by now, especially in recent months after the success of movies like Straight Outta Compton and War Room, is never to underestimate moviegoers or films that happen to have majority Black casts. Considering the current television landscape in which Black women are finally playing leading roles in wildly popular and critically-acclaimed shows like Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, Empire and Brock Akil’s Being Mary Jane, it’s odd and unnerving that this representation isn’t yet reflected in film, whether via films with Black female leads or Black ensemble casts. But even if we can’t see Joan, Toni, Maya and Lynn together again, bringing back the girlfriend movie would be a great start to changing that.
How exactly do you define Black films? Are they films that star a predominantly Black cast? Must they be written by a Black scribe and feature issues pertaining to the Black experience? Are they helmed by Black directors? Or are they a combination of all of the above?
According to Hollywood, Black films are very much a genre catered to Black people, seen by Black people and therefore not relatable or appealing to a non-Black audience. They are also deemed difficult to market, both at home and overseas, despite evidence of the contrary. Above all else, there’s still the thinking that Black films are subpar or niche. Hence the surprise when a film like Straight Outta Compton does well at the box office, earning over $60 million in its first weekend and owning the #1 slot for weeks on end. The N.W.A. biopic has been so successful that there’s already talk of a sequel titled Welcome to Death Row.
In typical Hollywood fashion, executives and studios jump on the bandwagon after something has proven financially viable. Yet with regards to films with predominantly Black casts, low expectations are the norm and Hollywood on the whole fails to see the potential in them from the start. It’s part of the reason why Beyond The Lights writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood is not a fan of the term “Black film.” On Twitter, she recently voiced her opinion about how her aforementioned movie is currently streaming on Netflix. It was forced by Netflix’s “more like this” algorithms into a category that failed to associate it with similar romantic dramas. Instead, Beyond The Lights was grouped with films featuring majority Black casts, movies that weren’t relatable to the love story and music elements expressed therewithin.
Instead of recognizing the universal human experience in so-called Black films, these films are also treated as one-off trends when they perform well, are written well, and are well acted. Remember The Best Man Holiday? The media went wild after the “race film” brought in beaucoup bucks. The same can be said in television for shows like the newly-released The Carmichael Show or Empire, also deemed a wildly “surprising” success. But films and television shows with majority Black casts aren’t a trend. They reflect the diversity that exists in this country and offer storylines that are ironically more inclusive than what we normally see on our screens. And audiences are clearly hungry for them.
This sort of trend thinking also explains why the industry has certain exceptions. Films with Black leads supposedly don’t perform well overseas, but that’s not the case if they star Denzel Washington or Will Smith. They are the un-Black Black actors. Audiences worldwide can look past their color and see them as the characters they portray. But if you ask Sony executives, it’s the foreign audiences that are racist. There was fear that The Equalizer wouldn’t perform well in foreign countries because of Washington’s blackness, yet the film grossed $192 million worldwide. About 47 percent of that money came from overseas (and execs thought this number would be higher if Denzel had not been cast.) See the conundrum? Nobody knows anything. The Hollywood film industry will continue to be surprised if they put such little faith and support in films with Black leads or majority Black casts.
Continuing with the built-in assumptions about films with Black casts, there’s an assumption that these films are exclusively about race. And apparently, people don’t want to see race portrayed on film unless, of course, the diegesis pertains to a certain era. It seems that films about slavery and the Civil Rights movement have less difficulty being greenlit and are expected to be supported by audiences once released. It’s a sentiment that Actor David Oyelowo, who played Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Ava DuVernay-directed film Selma, shared in an interview at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. “Generally speaking,” said Oyelowo, “we as Black people have been celebrated more for when we are subservient, when we are not being leaders or kings or being in the center of our own narrative, driving it forward.” Which might explain why it took decades to get a feature film about Dr. King made. And if you remember, Oyelowo’s performance in Selma was not nominated for an Oscar. DuVernay did not receive a nomination either for Best Director, despite the fact that her film was nominated for Best Picture. And there are numerous examples from recent years (12 Years a Slave, The Help, etc.) that support Oyelowo’s comments. Sometimes Blackness is deemed more acceptable on film if our experiences as Black people are limited to the periods in history, or stereotypes for that matter, that non-Blacks equate with us. Films that safely distance us from our sordid past are heralded as reminders of how far we’ve come.
Clearly, there’s not only a hunger but a lasting need for content with leads and casts who happen to be Black. There are so many untold stories about historical and fictional characters alike that have yet to grace our screens. For an industry that spends millions on research and marketing alone, you would think that the movie industry would be a lot more “woke” and less surprised when so-called “Black films” exceed their limited perceptions and expectations. The lesson? Stop underestimating audiences and the content with Black leads and majority Black casts.
Being the Prince maven that I am, I recently went to an outdoor screening of Purple Rain. It was shown thanks to a summer series in L.A. that brings some of my favorite things together: movies, music, and food. Storyline aside (nobody watches Purple Rain for the story), watching the film with friends and fellow fans was akin to a collective sing-along. One woman even brought her tambourine, which she was not at all shy about playing during the movie. And when the film’s title song came on, a sea of cell phones – the modern-day version of the cigarette lighter, once crucial to the concert-going experience – swayed in the night air. As I looked around, I couldn’t help but think two things: Damn, these people can’t sing, and There’s a reason Purple Rain and its music still hold up some 30 odd years later…
Once upon a time, movies and the music they featured went together like white on rice. When done right, the combination is like magic. Soundtracks like the previously mentioned Purple Rain, along with films like Love Jones, Boomerang and Waiting To Exhale, to name a few, flew off shelves and launched countless careers. During the ’90s, in particular, where both comedic and dramatic films about Black love reigned supreme, the strength of a song alone could pull you into the theater. Aside from The Weeknd’s super hit “Earned It” off the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack, which was much better received than the movie itself, that aesthetic has virtually disappeared today. I’d be lying if I said I don’t miss it.
Take Love Jones, the only movie with poetry that most Black millennials can quote word for word. Beautifully written, shot and acted, the film gave open-mic nights a whole new name and had women jonesing for their own, tailor-made version of Darius Lovehall. Music was a crucial part of the lives of the artistic, intellectual couple that was Nina and Darius. It only made sense that the film’s soundtrack fed off of that, further enhancing its portrayal of a bluesy, honest and not so straight and narrow romance. Maxwell’s chopped and screwed version of “Sumthin’ Sumthin’” – “Mellosmoothe,” which can best be described as sexy upon sexy upon oh my goodness, was featured on the soundtrack. The song’s original version played in the background as Darius knocked on Nina’s door for the first time, signaling what was to come. Dionne Farris’ “Hopeless” perfectly summed up their on-again, off-again relationship. The soundtrack even opened with Larenz Tate performing “Darius’ Blues for Nina” (Brotha To The Night).” Complicated, smooth, moody – the soundtrack was the movie in musical form.
When Angela schooled playboy Marcus Graham on what love is and gave his cheek a good ol’ smack before chucking up the deuces, she told him: “Love shoulda brought your ass home last night.” Who better to belt out that heartache and that pain (and that slap) than Toni Braxton? “End of the Road” by Boyz II Men, Johnny Gill’s “There U Go” and other memorable songs rounded out the platinum-selling Boomerang soundtrack, executive produced by none other than Babyface. The singer and songwriter’s track record when it comes to soundtracks is top of the line. It’s no wonder Waiting To Exhale’s soundtrack was just as popular and well received.
Waiting To Exhale featured songs performed solely by Black women, which smartly played into the film’s storyline. Black female friendship was on display, along with the trials and tribulations of finding and maintaining romantic love. There weren’t any other films at the time that served the Black female movie-going audience in quite the same way, which the soundtrack fully reflected. Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan, Mary J. Blige, Patti LaBelle, Aretha Franklin – a cornucopia of some of the greatest singers we’ve ever known, gave voice to that holding your breath feeling that both the movie and soundtrack’s title spoke to. The result is a poignant, resounding, sexy, reflective tribute to love and to the people who let us be ourselves and never let us forget it.
To me, great soundtracks do more than accentuate critical moments in a film. Timeless, they have a life beyond the screen and take meaning in our personal lives. We play them in good times and bad, intermingling personal memories with the plots and storylines that live on screen, and of characters with whom we love to relate. The world of entertainment has changed a lot in recent years, but it wouldn’t hurt to experience a new era of this time long past when movies and their respective soundtracks fit together like hand and glove.
In a interview with The Wrap Magazine Gyllenhall, who was nominated for an Academy Award and currently stars in the IFC series “The Honourable Woman,” said that she was recently turned down for a film because, according to Tinsel Town, she’s too old to be a love interest. As reported in a blurb on The Wrap’s website, Gyllenhall said specifically:
“There are things that are really disappointing about being an actress in Hollywood that surprise me all the time. I’m 37 and I was told recently I was too old to play the lover of a man who was 55. It was astonishing to me. It made me feel bad, and then it made me feel angry, and then it made me laugh.”
That truly sucks. I have always hated how in mainstream films, an older shriveled up actor is always cast as the love interest of a young beautiful woman half his age. But that’s the white male ego for y’all. For once, it seems, white women are in a position worse than Black women. Or it could be that, once again, the mainstream has lumped all women into one category in spite of what might not be a universal problem.
Either way, this ageism crap really isn’t a Black woman’s issue. What I mean is that when it comes to Black Hollywood, love has no age.
Let’s take last year for example. While white actresses like Gyllenhall were being tossed aside for younger models, Black actresses above thirty were coming into their own and finding love all over the place. Like Regina Hall, age 43, who had played opposite Kevin Hart, 35, in “About Last Night” and Terrence J, who is only 33 years old, in “Think Like a Man Too.” In fact, Hall will be 44 years old when she revives her part of Candy, the former sexy stripper in “The Best Man Wedding” next year. Let me say that again: 44 years old.
Hall is not the only one who appears to be drinking from the anti-discriminatory fountain of youth. Edwina Finley, 35, also co-starred with Hart in “Get Hard.” Then there are Gabrielle Union, age 42, Sherri Shephard, 48, and Rosario Dawson, age 36, who all played love interests of 50-year-old Chris Rock in “Top Five.”
In fact, Black film has long shown love and appreciation for the cultivated woman. For instance, Queen Latifah was 41 years old and Paula Patton was 35 years old when they both played love interests of the now 43-year-old rapper Common. Patton, again, was 38 when she played a young bride in Jumping the Broom. Janet Jackson, 49, Jill Scott, 43, Tasha Smith, 44, and Sharon Leal, who is a shocking 43 (seriously she looks got-damn great), were well into their thirties and beyond when they starred in the first “Why Did I Get Married,” which came out in 2007 and even more seasoned in “Why Did I Get Married Too,” which was released in 2010. In fact, it would seem that out of all the Black films, which centered around May-December romances, it is usually the Black woman who is “Getting her Groove Back.” By the way, Angela Basset was 39 years old when she played Stella.
And it is not just in the roles of love interests where Black women are shinning. “Selma,” which was directed by 42-year-old Ava DuVernay, starred several Black women well into their 30s and beyond, including Carmen Ejogo who will be 42 this year, Lorraine Toussaint, who is 55, Niecy Nash who is 45 and Oprah Winfrey who is 61. In fact, the youngest recognizable actress in the film was Tessa Thompson who is 31 years old. Even the white women cast in the film were middle-aged women, including Tara Ochs, who is 38, and Elizabeth Wells Berkes and Haviland Stillwell, who both don’t have their ages listed anywhere online, which is a tell-tale sign that neither are spring chickens anymore – at least by White Hollywood standards.
White actresses have longe complained about sexism, particularly around the issue of ageism, in Hollywood, but perhaps the answer has been under their orthopedic shoes the entire time. Perhaps actress like Gyllenhall should consider auditioning for roles in the next Tyler Perry flick — he loves a mature woman — or better yet, perhaps Hollywood should consider hiring more Black creatives. Obviously, they are not scared of a mature woman.
Each year, the theater organization The New Black Fest, hosts a week-long festival of panel discussions, play readings, and workshops in celebration of Black theater. This year, the event is running from March 16-22 in partnership with the Lark Play Development Center in NYC.
The kick-off panel discussion included poet social activist and politician, Kevin Powell; political pundit and TV writer Keli Goff (Being Mary Jane); Pulitzer Prize finalist, playwright Eisa Davis; and professor Frank Roberts. The conversation centered around the NEW Civil Rights and covered gender parity, creative leadership and decision making, #BlackLifeMatters and the LGBTQ community. The rest of the week’s itinerary includes readings of new plays by six Black playwrights.
On March 27, the celebration of Black art will continue by way of New Black Shorts: Eight Short Films From the African Diaspora, a screening of short films centered around issues of faith, family, race, sexuality, and self-image at The Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, New York.
We chatted with the New Black Fest’s Artistic Director Keith Josef Adkins and Geoffrey Jackson Scott, Director of Community Engagement at the Museum of Moving Image about the festival’s impact.
MadameNoire: What inspired The New Black Festival?
Keith Adkins (KA): The New Black Fest was inspired by the lack of complex and diverse roles and narratives for people of African descent in theater. In American theater there tends to be an interest (consciously or not) to encourage and qualify stories and roles that play in the pathology of Black life. Not to say pathology doesn’t exist. It’s a component of all human life, but there tends to be a marketable interest in pathology when it comes to Black stories. The New Black Fest gave itself the responsibility of advocating and celebrating diversity within the Black narrative and to encourage Black theater artists to qualify themselves and encourage their own authenticity.
Black TV and film have conquered the domestic market (we’re looking at you, Empire!), so isn’t it time to expand our reach and make big bucks overseas? According to The Hollywood Reporter, foreign buyers are still a little hesitant about inking film deals with Black lead roles.
Let’s rewind to December 2014. Do you recall a certain email hack that revealed Sony execs’ reluctance to cast Denzel Washington in leading roles? A producer — who admitted that Washington is “the best actor of his generation” — suggested that he would decrease the global appeal of films because of his race.
“I believe that the international motion-picture audience is racist—in general, pictures with an African-American,” he wrote.
Despite the home successes of Selma, Chris Rock’s Top Five, Fox’s Empire, THR reports that Black-led TV and films are indeed, as the Sony producer noted, a tough sell in the international market.
“Any major international sales company attending Berlin’s EFM will admit foreign buyers have a harder time committing to a title with mainly black faces onscreen,” THR reports.
Lee Daniels, the mastermind behind The Butler and Empire, says that the push-back from foreign buyers leaves him stumped.
“I think people everywhere are fascinated with African-American culture,” he says. “Clearly, Beyonce is a hit. Clearly, Obama is a hit everywhere except in America with white people. African-American films should be making money overseas.”
The Butler, by the way, grossed $60 million outside of the United States.
With Empire’s shocking domestic success, Daniels is striving to pitch the hip-hop drama to the international market, but it’s not going to be easy.
“Empire’s success speaks for itself, but it will be a tough sell because we haven’t had a black TV show go global since The Cosby Show and that was the first,” one European television buyer said.
Sure the international film market might be a bit stubborn, but thanks to the successes of a few recent Black pictures, they’ve been willing budge — at least just a little bit, according to Cameron McCracken, executive producer of Selma. He says films like The Help, The Butler and 12 Years a Slave have helped.
But according to James Simien, creator of Dear White People, it only seems like the ol’ struggle, we-shall-overcome films do well globally. What about other aspects of African-American identity?
“Black movies seem to only come in a couple of forms: the historic, tragedy-tinged story of our history, our struggle, and the superfluous, light fluffy comedy,” he says. “Our people have a broad range of experiences and our cinema, our culture, should reflect that.
Every year, a couple of Black films are championed and suddenly Hollywood’s racial problems are over, Simien pointed out.”The problems are still there.”
Maori Karmael Holmes, Founder Of The BlackStar Film Festival, Explains Why We Should Support Black Filmmaking
Maori Karmael Holmes says that when she conceived the idea of the BlackStar Film Festival, she wasn’t thinking about black films, but rather, showcasing the work of black filmmakers.
“I’m not sure if I believe in a separate land of black film,” she said, noting how Hollywood tends to define “black films” as just movies having black people in them or even working on them.
“There is just film, and there are makers, who represent different backgrounds. And their stories are often marginalized because the people who tell them are often marginalized. So I am doing this festival because I want everyone to have access to these filmmakers just like we have access to the mainstream media.”
And access is a huge deal, particularly for black filmmakers. During her (and her committee of other festival organizers’) own search for films by black filmmakers to showcase in the festival, Holmes said that she was never short on productions which fit the bill. However, what does come as a surprise is how many films have not even been shown in Philadelphia, which is the fifth largest city in the country.
More depressing is thinking about how many of these films will likely never have an opportunity to be seen or appreciated.
But now in its third year, the BlackStar Film Festival, which will run from July 31 to August 3 in Philadelphia, will host more than 40 feature and short films by black filmmakers hailing from four different continents. The theme for this year’s festival is “Music is The Weapon,” and will highlight the “intersections of the two creative industries.” Documentaries featured include Time is Illmatic, which is about the making of Nas’ 1994 classic debut album, Illmatic, and Til Infinity: Souls of Mischief, which highlights the 20th anniversary of the critically acclaimed Souls of Mischief album, 93 ’til Infinity.
However, Holmes says that the festival’s main message has always been to support black creatives telling a wide range of stories. Diverse stories like the experimental documentary Dreams are Colder than Death, which is directed by Arthur Jafa and revolves around the philosophical questions of what it means to be Black in America today. And there is They Die by Dawn, directed by Jeymes Samuel and stars Erykah Badu, Nate Parker, Michael K. Williams, Rosario Dawson and many other notable black actors. The film tells the story of a showdown between real life black cowboys and outlaws.
There are also films, which grapple with identities outside of stereotypical blackness like the documentary film Little White Lie, which shares the story of Lacey Schwartz’s upbringing in a typical middle-class Jewish family, harboring a secret about her biological father (here’s a hint: he’s black). And then there is Black and Cuba, another documentary film by Robin Hayes, which follows three street-smart Ivy League students as they run off to Cuba in search of revolution.
There’s also the tale of two Nigerian sisters finding love and trying to survive the Biafran War in Half of a Yellow Sun, which is directed by Biyi Bandele and based off the book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Despite this film receiving critical praise for its acting work (specifically Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor) and screening at film festivals internationally (the film’s original release date was May 16, 2014), this will be the first time audiences in Philadelphia will have a chance to see it on the big screen before it’s released on DVD.
As Holmes notes, it is those kind of opportunities for support and exposure, which she hopes the BlackStar Film Festival will create for both audiences and filmmakers.
“Independent filmmaking has definitely made the filmmaking process more accessible for more people. But that doesn’t mean the distribution has expanded that much. In some ways, there is so much in the market place and people don’t know where to get it. So the festival for us is a way to provide a targeted platform. You know you can come to the festival and you trust our vision. You can definitely see these films in this place and on the big screen,” she says.
Holmes hopes that in addition to supporting black films, and more specifically black filmmakers, people will come and support talented artists in general. And by supporting these projects, Holmes says that we are bypassing the tastemakers and creative powers, who are charged with green-lighting projects but don’t always find stories told from marginalized groups to be relevant.
“There are certain stereotypes and tropes that get play. And if you don’t fit into those, then the gatekeepers will say, ‘I’m not interested,’ rather than seeing that there is incredible diversity in everyone’s story. And that is what I feel like we are trying to do, is to share that diversity because it doesn’t always make it in the mainstream.”
BlackStar Film Festival screenings will take place at various locations in Philadelphia, and the full schedule of events is available here. Passes available until July 30th. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit: blackstarfest.org
Despite the numerous successful black films as of late, it is still hard for black productions to get greenlit in Hollywood, Taye Diggs said in a recent interview with the Associated Press.
According to The Best Man Holiday star, major film studios hold black film projects to an unfair set of standards. Diggs charges that studios will not proceed with black-oriented film productions unless box office numbers are favorable for other similar productions. Other films are not held up to this standard, and it’s particularly unfair to tie one black film to another when they aren’t similar.
Take Diggs’ track record, for example. Guardian Liberty Voice notes the actor was in the 1999 hit The Best Man and the 2013 sequel, The Best Man Holiday, which made about $70 million at the box office and should’ve made the decision to run with another Best Man movie an easy one. This was not the case. Instead of looking at box-office results from the second installment, film studios are comparing it to films in theaters now that are totally unrelated, such as Think Like A Man Too, before agreeing to make a third Best Man installment. The only connection between films like Think Like A Man Too and the Best Man films is that they star black actors.
Diggs, who is now starring in the new TNT series Murder In The First (he talked about that show with Hoda and Kathie Lee on Monday), says that film studios find black films too risky, even though they have proven success.
Logically, black films should be judged on their own, individual merit. But they have also shown they are revenue generating. There were 48 “black films” released theatrically in 2013 (48 out of 669 total films), according to calculations by Indie Wire. The top grossing black film domestically was Lee Daniels’ The Butler at $116 million. In fact, it was the only black film to gross over $100 million last year. “And total box office (domestic) for all 48 black films is around $670 million, or about 6.2 percent of the total 2013 box office for all films ($10.8 billion),” reports Indie Wire.