Derrick N Ashong and Soulfège

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Love Rain Down - A Short Film "Love Rain Down" is a 2012 Official Entry in the Palm Beach International Film Festival

An animated film based on the song "Love Rain Down" from the album "AFropolitan" by Derrick N. Ashong (aka DNA) & Soulfège. The movie follows the tale of a little boy named "Johnny" who makes a trip to the legendary "Crossroads" of Robert Johnson fame, and stands down the Devil armed only with a song...


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Sunday
Jun092013

Drawing Outside the Color Line

Cait Adkins/Weinstein Company
 
So I got invited into a brilliant email thread earlier today with some peeps from college including Baratunde Thurston, Franklin Leonard and Monica Henderson Beletsky about the state and future of Black film.  The conversation was inspired in part by this NYT article which raises some great points about what's happening with Black filmmakers and talent this year, and Melissa Harris-Perry's tackling of the issue on her show this morning.  I'll leave it to my friends to decide if they want to share their personal thoughts on this, and you should watch the episode to hear Baratunde and my boy Michael Skolnik give their insights, but here is a little of what I think on the topic:
 

"I've been away from Hollywood for a couple of years now, but this piece stirs a few thoughts based on what I'm up to now.  First off, I think it's great that a diversity of Black-influenced productions are getting made, and the fact that it's becoming more difficult to define what is a "Black film" is a good thing.

But being down in Miami and working on a specifically Hispanic-targeted project, I was struck by the statistics on the consumption rates of theatrical releases as compared to the actual population percentage.  The Hispanic community is at this point about 40% larger than the African-American population, and yet delivers more than double the percentage of ticket sales.

The thing that struck me about this statistic is that the article seems to have an underlying presumption that commercial forces are a significant portion of what drives the support, or lack thereof, of Black projects.  But I had a fascinating conversation earlier this week with a colleague about the ongoing debate around the upcoming release of the Eva Longoria and Mark Cherry produced series "Devious Maids."  Granted that is TV, and not a film project, but the source of the debate is salient - a powerful sense of alienation and misrepresentation of the Latin community in Hollywood productions, whether on the silver or small screen. 

If Latinos make up a full quarter of all ticket sales, why do they feel so poorly represented by Hollywood?  The implication in the article is that market forces are at play here.  If so, then there should be a flood of films portraying amazing Hispanic characters, since they are buying 1 in 4 movie tickets sold.

My point is, I think what's happening is based on another dynamic.  Hollywood has had a hard time embracing the idea of Black film, because Hollywood has had a hard time embracing Black people, not only as an audience, but as producers, writers, distributors, studio executives etc.  And I don't even know that this is because of some form of conscious or pernicious racism per say.  I think given the choice to take a chance on something unfamiliar or to go with the "tried & true," most people in a risk-averse industry would go with the latter. There is a world of evidence that mainstream America has a fascination with Black culture, whether we're talking about the works of James Brown or Ira Gershwin.

I don't think Black stories have had a hard time being made because audiences are not open to stories featuring Black characters, or produced by Black artists.  I think Black films have a tough time for the same reason, films not called "Transformers 22" or  "Die Harder Than You Died Before the Last Time You Were Dead: Starring the Ghost of Bruce Willis," have a hard time.  Hollywood is fundamentally risk-averse, and in an industry with such a relative paucity of Blacks with the power to greenlight projects, "Black projects" will be seen as disproportionately risky, regardless of whether there's demand for them in the marketplace.

This is why Latinos still wind up playing maids, even in a project Executive Produced by one of the most prominent Latina stars of our day.  Because Hollywood still hasn't figured out how to draw outside the color lines.  And it probably won't, until more people of color are doing the drawing..."

D.N.A

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    Drawing Outside the Color Line

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