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Black Hulu: Creating a Home for Independent Black Video October 15, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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Many thanks to Racialicious for reposting this!



Tickles_TVWhen new technologies emerge a host of new companies tend to sprout up. Tons of independent radio stations catering to diverse interests before 1970s-style deregulation. Digital technology brought dozens of new channels to television; that same technology fostered numerous production companies making independent TV and films. Now the drive to create original web video — a trend that dates back to the late 1990s, but has gained new steam with broadband and YouTube post-2006 — has attracted  new voices previously unheard. We have corporately produced web series, but also black web series and series made with virtually no budget at all.

Well, that’s great. But how do you distribute and promote all these shows and videos? Anyone can create a video, but if, like my YouTube videos, nobody sees them, then there isn’t much a point. Sure, decently endowed websites now fund and promote web shows. But what about black content, in many cases prone to smaller audiences?

Enter the sites pictured above. (more…)

Black Web Series and New Black TV October 15, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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Tatyana Ali stars and exec produces this new web show directed and created by new filmmaker Julian Breece

Tatyana Ali stars and exec produces this new web show directed and created by new filmmaker Julian Breece

Please see my Black Web Series page for a full and updated list.

So I did a little bit of reporting and found some web series featuring all or mostly black casts! The full story is up at The Root:

A small but growing number of filmmakers, producers and writers are looking to the Web to make black shows on their own terms. Over the last year, a bevy of new shows have come online about the lives of all kinds of black people: gay and lesbian, rich and poor. Sites that focus on publishing black independent Web shows are cropping up as well, including Rowdy Orbit and BBTV (Better Black TV). This month, BET.com will premiere its first original Web series, Buppies, starring Tatyana Ali, directed by up-and-coming director Julian Breece and produced by Ali and newcomer Aaliyah Williams.

No matter what kind of black show you had, nobody wanted it,”creator Julian Breece said of trying to pitch Buppies to the networks a few years ago. “A lot of black people flock to the Web for content …. This is the perfect space to explore black stories that you don’t have the change to do in traditional media.”

Full list of shows with descriptions at The Root. Also, please check out my previous article for The Root on black vloggers on YouTube and my interview with Tatyana Ali on Buppies and review of the show.

I’ll be publishing more on the web series listed below later, and the sites distributing them, so check back. I’m focusing — for the sake of my own sanity — on scripted, fictional (or mostly fictional) series. And please, if I missed your web series or one you like, please let me know. The more I know, the better (and I’ll be sure to update this post with shows I hear of).

UPDATED (12/7): Updated separate list of shows above.

UPDATED (11/9): Add one two more series.

UPDATED (10/27): Added one more series. I promise I’ll start annotating these soon!

UPDATED (10/22): The official site for Buppies is up. It’s great! Click here for more on Buppies.

UPDATED (10/20): Added a series. Look more information soon, as soon as I get time.

UPDATED (10/16): Added two more series. Plus, one of my favorite blogs, Shadow and Act, covered my article!

UPDATED (10/15): With two more shows, keep them coming!



FILM: Passing Strange Is Good For Your Soul September 14, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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Passing Strange is Good For Your Soul. (click: Original Article)

(Grade: A-)

All media is marketing. It’s easy to forget that sometimes, and media saavy people can be easiest people to fool. Sophisticates think they watch Mad Men only because it’s subtle and rich, or District 9 because it’s a commentary on the brutality of man. Sure, I say those things. But I also try to remember Mad Men boasts a cast of really hot people, and the District 9 trailer has lots of things blowing up.

I was not enthused, then, when I first saw the first poster for Passing Strange, the now-cancelled Broadway musical written and created by musician Stew (and his creative partner, Heidi Rhodewald) about his journey as a teenager from South Central to Europe and back again as a man. The poster image is of Stew, with his guitar, amid the lights of the city, looking kind of sad, or, more generously, introspective. But let’s be real, he looks sad. If you’ve seen the musical, this makes sense. It’s very much about Stew and his existential crises.

I hate poor marketing. Why hide the fact that it also boasts a cast of really hot young people? Or that it looks — in terms of set design — bright and fresh? Why so serious? Not expecting these amusements, by the end of the first act, I was flabbergasted. It was the best thing I’d seen on Broadway since Rent. In fact, it was the new Rent. It would be a hit, I was sure (I saw one of the earliest shows).

Cut to now. It’s cancelled. But! Luckily there are at least a few rich black people willing to lend their names to good art about other black people that need to find larger audiences — think Oprah for The Color Purple, Oprah and Tyler Perry for Precious, and now Tyler Perry for For Colored Girls (okay it’s a short list). Spike Lee swooped in to shoot the musical and preserve it on film. Sundance picked it up and it is now showing at the IFC Center in New York and available for purchase OnDemand. (more…)

FILM: Casting Dr. King: Who Will Play Martin?! May 19, 2009

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UPDATE: Apparently some King heirs are disputing the holder of the estate’s legal authority over the rights to Dr. King’s story. Dreamworks, for now, is working on a solution.

Cinematical reports that Steven Spielberg has nabbed the rights to a full-scale biopic, a first, of Dr. Martin Luther King. Not a guaranteed slam dunk to be sure but at least it’s a better idea than the much-feared Obama biopics. Says Cinematical’s :

So, why now? Well, I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that Lincoln has been struggling. If one biopic flails while trying to find cash, why not grab another passion project that would undoubtedly have an easier time getting funded? But there’s also the timeliness factor. As DreamWorks co-chair Stacey Snider explains: “The answer lies in MLK’s own words: ‘All progress is precarious.’ With every step forward, new obstacles emerge and we must never forget that his life and his teachings continue to challenge us every day to stand up to hatred and inequality.”

Yes, the critical question is who will play King? Obviously Hollywood isn’t going to go for an unknown, even though they should. The first actor that comes to mind is Terrence Howard, the only actor in the right age range with enough similarity and acting chops that I can think of. The problem is his raspy voice, very un-King. Jeffrey Wright, who has played King before, is another semi-obvious choice, but will Hollywood go with someone so unproven and noncommercial? Who am I missing? Can Cedric the Entertainer act? :) This is a tough one. Thoughts?

PS – Is Spike Lee upset he’s (probably) not directing?

UPDATE: A Facebook friend mentions Lawrence Fishburne, who might be a little old for the part, but looks young. The problem in general with King is he’s so iconic and omnipresent, you need a really good actor to pull him off.

YOUTUBE: Black Vloggers article LIVE May 5, 2009

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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UPDATE: I’ve since been writing on black web series, black distribution of online video, and specific shows. For all new posts, see my web series page.

Vlogging While Black

A few black vloggers are beginning to make a splash on the scene. But it doesn’t mean it’s easy. “YouTube is very, very white,” explained Tonya, the blogger from TonyaTKO, who has 22,000 subscribers. With so many videos being uploaded, vloggers vie for prime placement on YouTube’s home page. “It’s very hard for black people to get seen on YouTube.” Like the many types of media that came before YouTube, the black vloggers who get noticed can often fit a stereotype. From the bizarre to the hilarious to the inspirational, here’s a sampling of some of the up-and-coming black vloggers and their winning formula…

Read the full article here.

YOUTUBE: Article coming: YouTube and Vlogging May 2, 2009

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UPDATE: Published article is out.

I shouldn’t really be blogging right now because I have a lot of work to do!

Just to wanted to direct you all to TheRoot.com, where, sometime this weekend or at least by Monday, an article I wrote on YouTube’s black vloggers will appear!

The quotes from the performers are the product of interviews I conducted for a paper on “black existentialism” on YouTube. Incidentally, I’m currently at a wonderful conference at Texas A&M University presenting that paper alongside the likes of Lisa Nakamura, the grand dame of new media and race studies herself!

So check it out, I’ll post more on it later, but I want people to go to TheRoot.com first because it’s a better site than my crappy blog.

FILM: Spike Lee, The Black Man with a Right to be Angry October 2, 2008

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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The Angry Black Man

Spike Lee’s transparent Oscar bid Miracle at St. Anna isn’t great, but its critical drubbing reveals the cultural underestimation of a great director.

Every once in a while Spike Lee likes to say “fuck you,” or, as one of his characters says in his latest movie: “Progress? Nigga please.” Do the Right Thing was something of a cuss-out, as was Bamboozled and School Daze. One could argue When the Levees Broke is too, but I’d argue it’s a poetic cry for justice, an opera of sorts.

This time Lee almost literally said fuck you to Clint Eastwood, one of cinema’s reigning Great Directors, bashing his “white” Flags of Our Fathers and seemingly dismissing his Oscar-nominated Letters from Iwo Jima. Why go after Clint? Maybe Lee wanted buzz for his new movie, Miracle at St. Anna. Or maybe he simply tired of Eastwood and Scorsese winning Oscars while his masterpiece Do the Right Thing sits at #96 of AFI’s Top 100 movies—just added last year, almost a decade after the list’s inception. I think he’d prefer to be off the list entirely. Surely Lee has a right to be a sore winner. He’s by far the most well-known and critically respected black director living today; there aren’t many to begin with, and this is the thanks he gets?

Miracle at St. Anna is so far this year’s most hated Oscar-contender, and I’m wondering why. But first I have to say that most of the time, Spike Lee is not all that angry. To some, he is a bit of an enfant terrible, every once and a while screaming about race when most don’t want to talk about it. Yes, Lee is Mr. Race Riot in New York, but he’s also Mr. Inside Man and 25th Hour, hardly race movies. Many of his other “black” films—Crooklyn, She’s Gotta Have It, Get on the Bus, for example—are more about black communities and black people surviving than about oppression or the Evil White Man. Not even Do the Right Thing is about evil white people. It’s actually pretty fair. All those movies got good reviews. Lee is not an Angry Black Man. He’s not a black nationalist. He supports Barack Obama because of his message of hope! Before Miracle I’m sure Lee felt he’d earned the right amongst critics and viewers to be a little angry.

Still, it’s no mystery why critics were turned off by Miracle. The first image we see is of a John Wayne movie playing on a TV screen. The lead character, living in the 1980s, says to the screen, something hackneyed like “we fought that war too,” “we” meaning black people. The camera pans to a poster of Joe Louis, a black man, recruiting (black) men for World War II. Spike Lee is telling us: YOU PEOPLE FORGOT ABOUT NEGROES! LOOK AT THEM! THEY MATTER TOO AND YOU HATE THEM! Or something like that. The whole scene underscores his tiff with Eastwood and marks the movie as an angry race film. Of course, this is only the beginning. In the movie, there are no major sympathetic white American characters. The Italians are sympathetic. Even a Nazi is sympathetic! But not white America. They are evil. Oh, and incompetent and bad businessmen.

Well, let’s just say that race films don’t always go over well. Indeed a cursory look at Lee’s more combative and challenging films suggests just that. Bamboozled received mixed reviews, as did School Daze. Malcolm X and Do the Right Thing were much-lauded, but cultural theorist bell hooks argued that Lee’s biopic succeeded by making Malcolm X acceptable to a white audience, and anyone viewing Do The Right Thing can easily interpret the end as a call for peace, not war.

Miracle is about war though, so this is where I start to get interested. Not the war in the movie—I normally avoid war movies—but the war with the critics. Why does Miracle have a 37/100 on Metacritic and 30 percent on Rotten Tomatoes? Translation: this movie is crap. After watching the movie, I will acknowledge most of the criticism is fair: the characters are thin, the dialogue self-conscious, the plot heavy and complex, perhaps needlessly so. But it’s also ambitious and has a lot more to say than “there were black soldiers in World War II who weren’t really respected.” It emerges, in the end, as a truly global war movie, a WWII movie for our times: there are no clear heroes, no clear protagonist, no clear victory, it’s a hodgepodge of ethnicities and nationalities, good and evil aren’t always clear, it’s critical of revolutionaries and fascists. In short, its portrayal of war is almost like the movie itself: messy and long, with moments of heroism that don’t amount to much except a human connection. Was this deliberate? Maybe, maybe not. But Lee has directed enough solid, well-told movies that I’m willing to bet at least some of it is intentional.

I side with Roger Ebert on this one: the movie has moments of brilliance. I was expecting, then, reviews that matched the movie’s complexity. Some critics, like Ebert, would call it a great folly worthy of attention, some would nitpick and some would pan it. Instead it was universally panned: “[Lee] has nothing to sell but the theme of our common humanity—in which, on the evidence, I don’t think he believes,” the usually fair David Edelstein wrote. Really? This sounds like an assessment of the “angry I-Hate-Clint-Eastwood” Spike Lee, not the one who actually directs movies. In fact, anyone who has seen Lee’s movies knows he’s, at his core, a humanist who feels humanity is too easily taken away.

Miracle was clearly Lee’s attempt for an Oscar. He deserves one, though not for this movie. Really I just feel bad for the guy. He is brilliant, one of the best directors living today, and yet he still hasn’t had Oscar serendipity: timing, subject, quality and critical consensus. Maybe he doesn’t care, and maybe he shouldn’t. But for me, someone who never plays the angry black man and who discourages others from doing it, at a time when the world’s most famous African-American is trying desperately to not be angry, I’ll say this to Spike: it’s okay to be pissed.