black film

Capital Gains

The diversity issue within the context of the Oscars nominations is a hot button topic that has caught the country's imagination over the past week. The passionate discussion has made some impact with the Academy recently announcing a new diversity initiative to help address this glaring issue. The focus of the conversation has extended from the habits and demographics of the  voting members of the Academy to the sharp insight from Wesley Morris who astutely points out the institutional racism found in studio campaigns for their Oscars contenders. I agree with and support these assessments, but there is a far more fundamental issue that both exists as a cause for these Oscars missteps and greatly reflects the prevailing attitude towards Black film in America. That issue is lack of access to capital. I immediately acknowledge that securing funding for a film for many filmmakers across the board is an incredibly tough task. This process is even more difficult for filmmakers who reside outside of the mainstream, which for the purpose of this post is defined as white, heterosexual males. And to be clear, this is not meant to bash or pile on mainstream filmmakers. The intent is to discuss why there isn't more of a representative balance of stories that are being made, supported and marketed to the American public. 

If you look at the the roster of Black films that have been at Sundance over the last few years you will notice a theme. None of these films have significant budgets. In fact, the majority, if not all, are made for under a million dollars. Some of these films are graduate school thesis films. If you look at the web series world, successful projects like Money and Violence are made on the cheap, but boast huge loyal audiences. The inane idea that there isn't enough talent that can create strong films and engage audiences is simply not true. These projects are maximizing their potential with limited resources. So why don't these filmmakers and others have the opportunity to secure larger budgets?

A lot of it comes down to the idea of the niche film. Many Black films aren't viewed as a part of the everyday American experience. They aren't viewed by some investors and studios as a common human experience. They're viewed as the "other." And when you are viewed as the "other" your marketing strategy is narrow, sales projections (domestic and especially international) are depressed and your perceived ability to make profit is limited. And if this is the prevailing perception of your film's potential the chances of getting investments are slim. This is where the social and ethnic prejudice truly comes in. Instead of being treated as an expansion of the American storytelling canon, these films are placed in a box where an investor can say nobody wants to see them. As a result, many films don't get the funding to be made and lose a chance to make an impact. The opportunity to go on a successful festival run, box office run or even an Oscars run is eliminated. 

If the filmmaking community at large is truly interested in diversifying then we need to focus on ways to increase financial investments in diverse stories. This demands a fundamental shift in perception of non mainstream narratives. The talent is certainly there. When will the money be there?

P.S. Feel free to replace Black film with Latino film, Asian film, LGBT film, etc.

Randy v. Randy The Black Filmmaker

I must concede that as I write this I am both sleepy and tired. I want to go back to bed but I can't and I am tired from all this legal, festival and assistant editor stuff that I have been dealing with over the last couple weeks. So that may be the reason why I feel the way I do at this particular moment about being a filmmaker and more specifically a black filmmaker. Now, this subject has been discussed ad nauseum for decades. I'm not gonna get into the whole "am I a filmmaker or a black filmmaker" debate. I'm a black guy who makes films. That pretty much ends that discussion. But I do think about the burden of representation that is often times brought upon by a third-party. Is it unfair for a black artist (or any other artist of color) to simultaneously create high quality, engaging art while also making a social statement EVERY time they make something? I used to think the answer was yes but now I'm changing my mind. Of course there are times when you have to be conscious of the images you are creating and how they will be received. I am and will never be an advocate of making or supporting caricatures. But are there moments where we can just be artists? Where we can be free of social implication and simply make something because we like the story we want to tell or paint a picture because it looks nice or choreograph a dance out of sheer personal expression? I just feel that at times the social responsibility is overwhelming and quite honestly not the primary reason I wanted to be a filmmaker. I want to tell stories that everyone can connect with and not just my people. I would like some criticism or discussion to center around the actual integrity of the work and not what it means in the grand scheme of life. Again, I'm tired and may just be blabbing nonsense but there are days when I would like to be judged as Randy and not as a black guy who makes films.