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Real Artists Ship: Why Ava DuVernay, Queen Latifah, and yes even Tyler Perry Matter

This week is shaping up as a hallmark for  Black women content producers. Ava DuVernay is featured in the New York Times on the eve of the theatrical release of her second feature, the Middle of Nowhere. Every Black person in America with a Twitter account watched the all-Black remake of Steel Magnolias. Oprah and Tyler Perry just inked a deal for Tyler to provide scripted television for OWN on the back of OWN's ratings growth- due in large part to Oprah FINALLY targeting Black viewers (until she drop kicks them a la CW, Fox and UPN).

 Black women more than any other group on the planet have left their images in the hands of people who don't like them very much ---- such as Black women like Shaunie O'Neal, Mona Scott Young, and Debra Lee. We've watched IN HORROR as the reality television craze has taken the most mentally unstable, drug-addled, publicity hungry buffoons with ovaries that can be found and seen the most buffoonish of the buffoons rise to the top of the television food chain by physically assaulting Black women with words, fists, wine bottles, and feet. 

And so when I posted  a video up about the making of  Middle of Nowhere on the WAOD Facebook Fan Page, a WAOD reader posted the synopsis followed by the universal *SIGH* 

"When her husband is sentenced to 8 years in prison, Rudy drops out of med school in order to focus on her husband's well being while he's incarcerated - leading her on a journey of self-discovery in the process." Middle of Nowhere Synopsis *SIGH*http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1211890/ -- Natalie on the Facebook Fan Page

To which I replied:

Here's the deal - you aren't going to find very many black women producing the films this audience wants to see- why? Because we're critiquing the culture instead of creating the culture. You should check out her first Movie I Will Follow. I'm working on it. I'm working on it - But I think you should study the work she's doing on the distribution and promotion side even if you aren't a fan of the subject matter of this particular film.

and later added:

@Cocoa it doesn't matter how complex the characters, this audience is pretty pro prosecution and incarceration and they aren't fans of the dating/marrying prisoners trend. Most of us would have drafted some divorce papers for the protagonist and told her to keep it moving.

and my hypothesis was confirmed by Celeste:

Yup you've got me pegged at least. I'm a physician and that plot just makes me want to go all BBQ wives on someone for being that foolish.


I know. I know, y'all are not down for a plot about Black women married to convicts. You want Lord of the Rings and Vampire Slayers for Black women. I pointed out that even if you don't like the content of THIS movie,  it matters.

The reviews for Steel Magnolias was mixed between harsh and glowing. 

Ava, Latifah, Tyler and Oprah might not be producing the content you want to see, but they matter because they are PRODUCING something other than a critique.

I love a critique, I've got a Ph. D. in critiquing.  But we've got to add a G.E.D in Culture Making to our Ph.D. in Culture Critiquing. Because it's the makers that matter most. And there is no reason why I or you should not be making more culture. 


  1. Camera technology has closed the gap in image quality. The average viewer can't tell the difference between and image captured with a $2,000 camera versus a $20,000 camera. Heck we shot one of the scenes in a class project on an iPhone camera.
  2. Digital distribution means you don't have to create expensive copies of your projects on film just so you can screen a project. 
  3. People can access your content anywhere so its easier to reach your audience. 
  4. Social media makes it easier to build audiences and promote your project.
  5. Sites like Tugg  make it possible for you to crowd source your theatrical release and get your filim in theaters
  6. With Kickstarter and Indiegogo make it possible for you to fund your project from small donors.


Cast of Namaste - November 2010More people have seen my short films on my laptop than in a theater. No seriously, I pull it out all the time and make them watch Namaste.

Real artists ship. They produce and distribute. The ideas and concepts in their minds- whether you like them or not- end up going from ideas to tangible form.  And once they get those ideas in front of us we change those ideas and those ideas change us. Even the crappy art changes us and we change it. We comment on it, we parody it, we critique it, we build on it.


I didn't come up with this on my own. I recently did coffee with a Black woman screenwriter and she just dropped so much knowledge about how it is she is able to keep writing while I've been stuck on the same story for over a year. She spoke about the importance of failure and then she got ta' talking about "culture making" and Steve Jobs' famous quote "real artists ship."  I left that meeting and went out and purchased the book, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch. I really can't recommend it because I'm stuck on page 51 - it isn't exactly a page turner, but it has all of these buried gems so I'm probably going to force myself to finish it the next time I get on a long plane flight.And yes, my agnostic and atheist readers he uses tons of Biblical references. 

So consider this our semi-annual reminder (to myself) that this blog audience needs to produce a movie even if that movie sucks. We ( and by we I mean I)  have to embrace failure in film making  with the same enthusiasm as I accept typos in my blog posts. I have to be willing to read about y'all whining about something I poured months or years of my life into. 

So you didn't have to like Steel Magnolias or Middle of Nowhere or Madea Goes to Lifeclass, but you do have to ask yourself what you're doing to get the culture making you want to see. 

P.S. Don't stop critiquing! Just add a hint of culture making to the mix. 

Reader Comments (10)

Are you arguing that black women should support Ava DuVernay, because she's black and she has a distribution company? I'm not saying you are, I'm asking.

For the same crowd who has a problem with Tyler Perry, Push, Django Unchained, Push, Shaunie O'neal, Mona Scott Young and crew I can see them having a problem with Middle of Nowhere (I know u said this I'm just thinking out loud) - so why would supporting this "Black Woman Pain Porn" be any diff then the same crown supporting Mona Scott doing her thing - say what you want but she's a successful black female producer who is making a product folk want to see no matter how trashy it is.

With that said I'm a big fan of Ava DuVernay, and what she's doing. And yes I 1000% agree that every time I hear someone complain What About...I think well why don't you do it.

There are no Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Twilight-esque stories for black women 'cause no one is making them. Period. It's that simple. I'm not a Tyler Perry fan from a creative standpoint but thinks he's the bees knees from a business one (I really wish he'd embrace being a producer more and putting young, diff black talent on but that's another convo for another day).

But I think folk like complaining more than they like doing. Complaining is easy. Doing is much more difficult.

blogmother comment: What I argued is CLEARLY within the text of the post for those who choose to read it. I said that they matter. I didn't say people had to agree with or like any of the work people are doing- that doesn't keep them from learning from the process. You are intellectually dishonest to compare MOW to DU... as usual. But whatever.

October 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJJ

I didn't watch "Steel Magnolias" last night, because I didn't like the story when the cast was all white. I do see your point though, you've got to be in it to win it.

October 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEva

I am working on my own content. I will be blogging soon - not BWE, but information that I want to pass along and maybe some essays. Hopefully, writing a book at some point. I liked I Will Follow, but I didn't love it. I loved Pariah. There are many interesting short films on the web that can be seen for free. African Booty Scratcher and Say Grace Before Drowning by Nikyatu Jusu were wonderful. www.nikyatu.com

October 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDonnadara

Are you seriously giving me heat b/c I asked you a question? I'm being "intellectually dishonest" because the way it's framed seems to go against what is often said on the site.

I wasn't accusing you of anything - under the same breath Shaunie, Mona Scot Young and Debra Lee matter as well. But it seems that one is more willing to give a pass for her "typical" story b/c of what else she does. AND as pointed out - I don't have a problem with Middle of Nowhere the story or Ava - I'm a fan. And agreed with your overall point.

I was asking for clarification - and you gave it. The end.

But whatever.

On a side note: "until she drop kicks them a la CW, Fox and UPN"

That is FUNNY - however I think the difference is those networks started off black 'cause they know it was the easiest way to build an audience with every intention of going white once they were recognized as legitimate networks.

OWN started off white 'cause that was Oprah's core audience on her show - now she sees black audiences are the ones tunign in when she produces things they want to see. SO the situation is kinda reversed.

Though I'll give it a 50/50...maybe 60/40 chance of her staing with the black shows as OWN continues to do better.

October 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJJ

I disagree that black women have left our image in the hands of other people who don't care for us MORE than any other group. When it comes to media and production, it seems to me that only a few "people" really have their hands in shaping anything.

Granted, I can only speak from my perspective as an American, but I can think of only a few groups that really control their image: heterosexual, middle-class or higher white men and women, and MAYBE white gay men. Every other group tends to be stereotyped, whether positively or negatively. Or ignored.

The Tyler Perrys of the industry aren't going away, I get it, particularly since they cater to the stereotypes that much of the American public, regardless of race, is comfortable with. But, I am convinced Tyler Perry is mainstream because of the support of American whites more so than blacks. I don't think that's by accident.

I agree with creating the culture in addition to critiquing it. But as an individual, I'm not a member of the media creative class, nor do I have a desire to be. That said, I have no problems with financially supporting those who are, in order to get a wider range of images and depictions of black women out there. I don't perceive creating the culture to be just about making more screenplays and producing them. To me, it's as important to get your work distributed as it is to create it. Creating a culture in obscurity may not change much. Kudos to Ava for working her channels. I imagine it's hard as hell to get widespread distribution. What Oprah and Latifah produce matter because it's more likely to be distributed to a larger audience and they have resources to ensure higher quality - not just because it was created.

October 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDaphne

Pumzi - Kenyan Sci-fi short written by Wanuri Kahui

October 8, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterab

God for you/us Gem.I'm looking forward to more of your work,
I want to create and dominate an industry,with the help of other LIKE MINDED black women.
This can only happen through more education and business ownership.
I know I'll get there.I'm looking forward to it.All of it.Even the hardships.

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTruth P.

This has to be the most challenging article I have come across so far at WAOD, but I have to admit that by the time
i made my way to the end of it... I was in complete agreement. As someone much more comfortable with taking shots at other artists than making my own noise, it kind of stings to admit the truth. If we don't put our ideas and viewpoints out there, they may never be seen or heard. Time to step up.

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaulW

In the same veign, Toni believes that ...

"If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it." ~Toni Morrison

October 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermotherofsci

Ditto motherofsci.

Everyone is not going to dig (that's right :-) ) everything you produce. The goal is to follow your vision and produce the movies and books you want to see and read.

October 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMonica

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