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“Blind Side” Success: What If Sandra Bullock Starred In “Precious”? November 29, 2009

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Note: This is not a review, but an essay based on the film’s marketing.

UPDATE (12/7): Three weeks into its run, The Blind Side is still doing well and now beating New Moon in weekend grosses.

ORIGINAL: Tambay Obenson over at Shadow and Act is asking what scores of cineastes have been asking over the past week: Who in America is watching The Blind Side (and recommending it) and why? Like Tambay, I saw the trailer and immediately rolled my eyes deep into my stomach, itself about to hurl. Black cineastes naturally recoil at dramas that dramatize the uplift of the Magical Negro by a rich white family.

Yet here we are. The film has passed the $100 million in record time; it’s already taken the trophy for highest grossing sports drama opening; it’s a career-best opening for Sandra Bullock; and received an A+ from CinemaScore moviegoers, which, while an unreliable metric, signals that audiences are likely recommending the movie to friends.

What’s going on? A few guesses: (more…)

“Drama Queenz” Returns With A Fierceness (And A Few Guest Stars!) November 29, 2009

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The vast majority of original, independent web series never make it to season two. Producing season one takes so much time and money, when the millions of viewers never materialize, creators can’t bring themselves to invest more precious time and money. (At this point, I’d almost prefer most market themselves as “miniseries until proven otherwise”!)

Drama Queenz, a show about three black gay men trying to make it in New York’s theatre world, and its creator Dane Joseph then deserve a huge pat on the back. It’s a Herculean effort.

Remarkably, Joseph edited and marketed the first season while in graduate school at Columbia University, then shot season two, which comes out today. Now that, as they say in theatre, is gumption!

What’s more, the second season promises lots of hijinks, along with guest appearances  from some of my favorite YouTube personalities!

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“Kindred,” A Spirited Web Series On A Mission November 29, 2009

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Living Single and Girlfriends exist today in nostalgia, firmly in the annals of television history but only occasionally as a rerun on a niche network.

Who are their children? Certainly cable networks have tried to pick up the torch by giving Jada Pinkett Smith, Jill Scott and Sherri Shepherd their own shows, each of which (HawthoRNe, No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and Sherri) have had varying levels of success, most of it good.

But television currently lacks a show by and for “sistas.” Enter SistaPAC productions. The five-year old independent production company, having explored theatre and short film, has released what may be their most ambitious effort yet, a web series: Kindred.

(more…)

“V” From Fascists (1983) to Obama (2009) November 24, 2009

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V airs its winter finale tonight before resuming episodes in March 2010.

If you haven’t seen ABC’s V yet, I’ll spoil it for you: the Vs symbolize President Obama. Countless articles have spelled it out: io9, Chicago Tribune, BreitBart, and Entertainment Weekly, among many others, have already foregrounded the debate.

It’s very obvious. In the first episode, we learn that the Visitors bring hope and promise change; they’re all attractive; they have a sleekly designed spaceship (and probably a nice website too); they’ve got young people excited about the movement; they are of peace in a world racked by war; they come at time when we need them most; they’re a global phenomenon; the press is in their pocket; they are God-like and pose a serious threat to Christianity; most obvious of all, they want to bring “universal healthcare” and “clean sustainable energy.” This should all sound painfully obvious, unless you slept through 2008.  What’s the problem, then? Well, underneath it all, the Vs are reptiles who want to eat and destroy us!

There’s just one wrinkle in this theory: V is a series based on a NBC miniseries of the same name written and released during the presidency of conservative icon Ronald Reagan!

If we see V as an anti-Obama series now, what was it back then?

(more…)

B. Scott Reimagines Celebrity Online November 23, 2009

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You’d be hard-pressed to find a web personality more fascinating than the splendiferous, divine B. Scott. Ever since Madison Moore introduced me to the blogger and YouTuber a couple years ago, I’ve been ever more intrigued!

Since then, B. Scott’s star has risen. His website has seen its traffic balloon (Compete, Quantcast) and his YouTube channel has kept apace.

Last month when I heard B. Scott snagged an interview with Mariah Carey and launched his new B. Scott Show, I thought: this is it! B. Scott continues to revolutionize the production and consumption of celebrity on the web.

What has he done?

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“Sons of Anarchy” Proves Cable Deeper, More Provocative Than Broadcast November 23, 2009

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Originally posted at Ronebreak. Please comment there!

The penultimate episode of Sons of Anarchy airs Tuesday at 10PM, with a 90-minute season finale the following week. You can catch up on episodes at Hulu or iTunes, or you can check Sidereel for more options.

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It takes The Sopranos and adds neo-Nazis. It grafts onto Hamlet a throng of motorcycles. Sons of Anarchy, FX’s drama about a California motorcycle gang, is among the best and highest rated shows on cable, so why haven’t you been watching it?

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“Buppies” Review: Drama With A Light Touch November 21, 2009

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Check out other reviews at Thembi Ford, Shadow and Act. Thank you to Racialicious for reposting this!

I’ve written and spoken a lot about Buppies for this blog and elsewhere, but that’s only because I think it’s a significant development within the history of original web shows.

Buppies is upon us; the BET-distributed, CoverGirl-sponsored scripted web series premieres this Tuesday, Nov. 24th (Hopefully. BET has already pushed back the premiere once to expand its marketing).

The show is a “mad-cap romp” through a day in the life of Quinci, played by Fresh Prince‘s Tatyana Ali, a socialite and publicist enduring lots of drama amidst L.A.’s black upper crust. During this very bad day, she and her friends face issues of sexuality, pregnancy, dating, race, and careers and, most importantly, handle them in fabulous clothes! (more…)

New York Times, Myself on “Precious” November 21, 2009

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The New York Times has a great little article out on the debate  over Precious, over whether or not it’s a responsible representation of black people. Felicia Lee asked for my opinion, based on an essay written for this blog:

Aymar Jean Christian, a doctoral student in communications at the University of Pennsylvania said he found “Precious” brilliant and added, “In some ways, the debate’s not about the movie, it’s about the idea of the movie,” and black concerns about representation.

On his blog, Televisual (at blog.ajchristian.org), he wrote that Precious was “by far the scariest movie for anyone invested in having only ‘good’ representations of black people (‘The Cosby Show!’) in film and TV.”

The article explores the film’s historical predecessors, markedly The Color Purple, and its televisual antithesis, The Cosby Show. Professor and cultural critic Mark Anthony Neal (under whom I researched YouTube, black vloggers and identity) lays out the connection:

A father repeatedly rapes and impregnates his daughter in “The Color Purple” (as does the father in “Precious”), enraging some critics (mostly men) who asserted that the book and the film treated black men harshly. “Precious” has avoided that kind of backlash, but “people are suspicious of narratives that don’t put us in the best light,” Professor Neal said. The roots of that suspicion, he said, can be found in a long history of negative images in popular culture that helped keep black people in their place by reinforcing the notion of their inferiority.

Most black people, the article implies, aren’t wholesale against the movie — except Armond White — but some are still wary of it, especially scholars, because of a long history if demeaning images of black people (minstrelsy, early radio, film and television) and the persistent threat of stereotype.

This strikes me as true. The enormous popularity of the film, especially among black people, signals there’s a demand for these kinds of stories. I’m not sure if it’s about a kind of “authentic” black narrative, or if it stems from a larger narrative of struggle, but whatever the case, the story has resonated in print (Sapphire’s novel Push) and now in film. This is meaningful, and in my opinion not particularly damaging.

Rethinking “Post-Racial” November 20, 2009

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Organizing for America | BarackObama.com_1256938818070

I’d originally planned to do reams and reams of reading on this, and an extensive literature review, but I’m so busy writing, curating, filming, editing and researching other things I won’t get to it for another year, and I don’t want to cite some theories and miss others. Eventually I will have to do a full lit review on this, tying in key works from the critical race theory, etc., for my dissertation. When that happens, I’ll update or redo this post.

The subject has been bothering me to such a degree that if I don’t write it now, I’ll implode.

Now the question:

What does “post-racial” mean and why must we move past it? Come take a ride with me…

(more…)

Academic Conferences: Presenting Post-Excitement November 20, 2009

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So I found out yesterday I’ll be going to the SCMS — Society of Cinema and Media Studies — conference in Los Angeles next year. This is somewhat exciting news because it would be my first conference with a significant group of film and television scholars.

Yay.

But going to conference is sometimes fraught. Scholars apply months before their presentation date, so unless you pitch something brand-spanking new, the topic will be incredibly old by the time of your presentation.

In this case, I’m presenting a paper on “mumblecore” that I wrote well over a year ago. The paper is now in review at Cinema Journal, so, by the time of the conference, hopefully it will already be in print. Anyway, the paper was my first and last breath on the genre. Focusing on Joe Swanberg’s LOL, already old with a 2006 release, the paper argues that mumblecore cannot be understood outside of a “digital culture” moment and is a unique and important artistic “movement” (which is already over). Here’s the abstract:

Using the works of Joe Swanberg, primarily LOL, and weaving in films from other directors, this paper argues for mumblecore as a distinct form of realism based on a “digital aeshetic,” an aesthetic not merely in style and form, but also in the themes emanating from this form. This digital aesthetic, a result of theories from film and new media history, supports what I call “networked film,” both of which make mumblecore distinct from prior attempts at realism in film and distinguish it as an early 21st century phenomenon. Thanks to Leo Charney for advising me on this project.

Now that I’m researching web series and YouTube vlogs, I’d really love to present on that. It’s newer and fresher. But that will have to wait to 2011!

Sometimes — only sometimes! — the academy gets on my nerves. Still, I’m excited to speak at SCMS. Really fantastic scholars attend every year.

My Interview with NPR /WBUR on Black Web Series November 17, 2009

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Click to listen to the program.

Thank you to producer Kevin Sullivan and host Robin Young for granting me a chance to talk about Buppies, black web series and web series in general for their show Here and Now! And thank you to Aaliyah Williams, Buppies producer for doing the show and granting me an interview weeks ago.

Click the photo above or here to listen to the program.

One thing I forgot to mention on-air is that black shows online have a surprising number of gay and lesbian characters, much more so than we see on television and in movies. This is another example about how the ability to produce one’s own narrative leads to greater diversity and possibility (even if doing so is incredibly difficult and arduous).

I apologize that I couldn’t mention particular shows on-air, but there are too many. For a list of shows, click the link above, and for all my web series posts and research, click here.

“Precious” Isn’t the First Naughty Black Film November 16, 2009

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Originally published at Splice Today. My first post about Precious here.

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Precious has arrived! For anyone following the film world, the push for Precious, at first titled Push, began months ago, in the beginning of the year. It has been a long haul. Some of us are tired.

Now it is here and is bound for Oscar greatness, unless you take Armond White seriously. Precious is brilliant and moving, entertaining and important; you should see it, and keep your eyes on Mo’Nique. While there might be some backlash as a result of the Oprah and Tyler Perry hype, I imagine critics will still lavish it with enough praise to carry it to the Academy Awards in fine shape.

Back to Armond White. White, the enfant terrible of film criticism, finds in Precious a kind of bamboozle. White:

“Not since The Birth of a Nation has a mainstream movie demeaned the idea of black American life as much as Precious. Full of brazenly racist clichés (Precious steals and eats an entire bucket of fried chicken), it is a sociological horror show. Offering racist hysteria masquerading as social sensitivity, it’s been acclaimed on the international festival circuit that usually disdains movies about black Americans as somehow inartistic and unworthy.”

White wants to revise black film history to include lowbrow schlock that nonetheless portrays black people as happy deviants, not real deviants—or something like that. The truth is his argument isn’t very good. His criticism of Precious is old and predictable, even though he masks it under the guise of going against the mainstream.

The truth: Precious is just one film in a long history of black movies that go against “responsible” images of black people. (more…)

Ellen, the Academy, and Improving Media Criticism November 15, 2009

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In the academy and in the humanities, we’re trained to be skeptics. It’s almost part of the job. When it comes to representation, the idea that what we see in the media is a reflection on the real world, the academy is still way behind the times, something I’ve written about before. Skepticism has turned into blind cynicism, and it makes us look silly.

One point some academics — who shall remain nameless — are very reluctant to concede is whether mainstream America can accept openly gay celebrities. The pessimism continues to this day. While there’s plenty of evidence this may be warranted, especially concerning gay (and black gay) men and Hollywood cinema, Ellen Degeneres and Portia de Rossi’s relationship is the glaring exception.

But I still hear scholars and people on the left say all the time that Ellen “isn’t really out,” that she whitewashes her image, etc.

This simply isn’t true. (more…)

Black Television on the Web Gets More Coverage November 15, 2009

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The premiere of Buppies in two weeks seems to have captured a small bit of media attention! I’d like to think my article in The Root, probably the first on the issue, had a little something to do with it, and I’m glad to be researching a topic so fresh. (For my list of black “webisodes” click the black web series page link.)

In the latest piece of news, DeNeen L. Brown, of The Washington Post — a company I hold in high regard, for obvious reasons — did a write up of a few of the new series, mainly Chick, whose creator I’d interviewed before, and Buppies, about which I’ve written for this blog and the Wall Street Journal. Brown does a thorough job talking to various players, including Jonathan Moore of RowdyOrbit, a site which continues to interest those in the media, though I’d like to think I found it first!

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Jonathan Moore of RowdyOrbit

Brown also talks to the NAACP and two professors who write about black media — though not myself! She references previous “web television” or “webisodes” like Lonelygirl15, although there have been many since then, a number of them quite successful. Nonetheless, she does say “web television” has been around since the 1990s, a fact missed by a number of people who write about. I recently did an interview with Scott Zakarin, who created The Spot, which proves this fact.

Essence has also done a write-up on the trend, focusing on Buppies, and Tatyana Ali did the Mo’Nique Show.

In other news, last week I recorded an interview with Buppies‘ Aaliyah Williams about this topic for “Here and Now,” a radio program for Boston’s NPR hosted by Robin Young.  Come back to the blog for updates!

List of Black Web Shows Up November 13, 2009

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The Black Web Series Page

Due to the tremendous response to my last post on black web series, I’ve created a page with a more visually appealing list of shows I hope to update regularly. I’ll start writing descriptions and short reviews of the shows on the page as well, so check back for more information.

If you’re a creator or producer of a show, please let me know and I’ll add you to the list. Also, if you’re show is listed but there is an error, please contact me as well (ajean at asc dot upenn dot edu). Eventually, if certain series are not updated and have only one to four episodes I will have to take them off.

Also, please check my general web series page, which I’ll update with all the information I get about the space.

Thank you, click and explore!

“Valemont” Wants Your Blood November 10, 2009

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UPDATE (11/29): MTV screened Valemont today at 6PM and the series is in talks for a possible second season produced for television.

ORIGINAL: I’ve been very busy with researching, freelancing, curating, etc. and really I haven’t had much time to sit down and enjoy any of the media I study. With that, instead of going to bed at a decent hour tonight, I opted to get caught up on MTV and Electric Farm Entertainment’s Valemont, which I’d written about for BusinessWeek last month. Turns out there’s a simple method to Electric Farm’s success: they know how to tell a good story. (The company has a record most web series producers would envy: Afterworld, Gemini Division, and Woke Up Dead were all pretty largescale productions by web show standards and each a hit in its own right.)

Valemont is a fascinating beast of a web series, because it’s got so much going on! (more…)

The Web Series Market: Research, Stage One November 7, 2009

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So at this point I’ve conducted around two dozen interviews with nearly thirty individuals working in the market for original (mostly scripted) web shows. It’s been fun! I still have much more to learn, but, being an academic, have already started writing. It’s what we do.

Here is the first full paper I’ve written on the topic. It’s pretty broad. The main point was to try and pinpoint how people talk about what web series mean and are for. Why make a series for an online audience? What makes it different from television or film? This essay is my attempt to put all those questions under one umbrella, while adding in some observations from the history of media (especially radio, surprisingly).

This is still a work in progress, so, as always, I very much appreciate comments, criticism, feedback, information, and even shameless plugs. Although I work at a university, I am far from all-knowing, and, in an area this new and constantly developing, I’m always missing things, sometimes really big things.

The paper is online here. Below is the title and abstract.

The Connection Industry: Making and Marketing Web Series

The ideal driving the making and marketing of original web series, however diversely produced and distributed, is quite consistent: connection. Producers – individual or corporate – want to connect with viewers, woo them to invest emotionally or intellectually in narratives or formats. Alongside quixotic personal investments and new age marketing speak, the aim is, chiefly, capital: money, notoriety, cultural significance or awareness of a personal or corporate brand. Yet fueled by technological advancements and broader cultural conditions, producers are flocking to the Internet, developing new ways of storytelling and information delivery, while investing considerable time and money all to reach and engage an amorphous and fickle audience. Using interviews with nearly thirty producers and executives, I argue this rhetoric of “connection” — with viewers and among producers — is fueling the development of this emerging media form.

“Ugly Betty” Inspires Michelle Obama? November 7, 2009

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Michelle Obama in Moschino at the Department of Energy Thursday Nov. 5th.

The Wiener, the Bun, and the Boob - Watch the full episode now._1257569563567

Betty Suarez (America Ferrara) in Moschino, October 30th

The Wiener, the Bun, and the Boob - Watch the full episode now._1257569550284The Wiener, the Bun, and the Boob - Watch the full episode now._1257569528880

I don’t normally do fashion, but I love it when two of my favorite things come together! Michelle Obama wore a Moschino jacket while visiting the Department of Energy for the National Science Bowl.

I noticed the jacket from the fourth episode of this season (the fourth, and, likely, last) of Ugly Betty (“The Wiener, The Bun and The Boob,” October 30th)! Betty, or rather, Patricia Field, Mrs.O’ed the jacket with a broach and pop of color. Clearly Michelle Obama decided to go understated and let the jacket, a playful riff off Chanel, stand out for itself.

Fashion synergy! (more…)

The Rules and Meanings of Vlogging November 5, 2009

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My first academic article has been published! The article, published in First Monday, titled, “Real Vlogs: The Rules and Meanings of Online Personal Videos,” looks at how users on YouTube talk about what vlogs are “real” or authentic, and “fake” or inauthentic. Here’s the abstract:

This paper explores what the “rules” of vlogging (video blogging) are: the various visual and social practices viewers and creators understand and debate as either authentic or inauthentic on YouTube. It analyzes a small, random set of vlogs on YouTube and highlight several controversies around key celebrities on the site. This essay concludes by challenging whether conversations around authenticity will persist in dialogues about online video.

The paper looks several different kinds of vlogs to see to examine what visual strategies count as a real vlog and which ones do not.

In general, however, what is interesting is that even though, for some users, certain vlogs are definitely more authentic than others, a number of YouTubers either don’t care or expressly advocate for doing whatever you need to do to your video to get views. This pits the “authentic” with the “commercial.” But it’s not always an either/or presumption. The essay concludes by stating that the distinctions between what is real and fake may be collapsing, and users instead defer to whatever moves them emotionally — through hilarity, seriousness, etc.

I think the most valuable contribution of the piece might be the section on Lonelygirl15, which has been written about, but I really speak a long time combing through blog posts and new reports to figure out who said what about Bree, who thought she was fake and why, and what all of those conversations meant for the meaning of online video. I also narrate an interesting incident about LisaNova — when she first started LonesomeRhodes — that is a small incident within the scale of YouTube, but nonetheless a significant one, I would argue.

I’d also like to throw in, which I only allude to in the article, that many of the debates I highlight are really remnants of YouTube’s early days of popularity (2006/2007). By now, most people on the site have seen it all, and few things shock. These debates still happen though, as with the young girl who cried about her legal problems with sexual abuse, and the Raz-B incident, two incidents I write about elsewhere.

“Chick” Gives Women (and Women of Color) a Story of Freedom, Empowerment November 3, 2009

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"Chick" is debuting on Koldcast and RowdyOrbit.

More than three years into her relationship, Kai Soremekun had a knife before her, her boyfriend’s hand on the handle. The emotional abuse had gone too far, and she needed to get out.

“I had such a low self-worth at that point,” Soremekun told me. “When I finally got out, I spent a lot of time realizing how that happened.”

That process of soul-searching led to several different scripts, most of which were tough-girl narratives stemming more from her anger than from a fully matured artistic sensibility. They were “more a self-healing tool than something I should make,” she said.

Eventually she wrote a story of empowerment with the right tone and plot. The result is Chick, a new web series Soremekun self-financed premiering today on web series network Koldcast.tv and RowdyOrbit, a new site distributing web series by and about people of color.

In the series, Lisa leaves her loser boyfriend to pursue loftier dreams. She hears about a secret academy that trains superheroes, and the story progresses from there. While obviously a narrative of female empowerment, Soremekun does not want to scare off men; she wanted to story to have multiple layers.

Full post at Ronebreak. The first episode of Chick went live today at Koldcast.

More from my interview with creator Kai Soremekun after the jump. (more…)

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