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Entries in Ava Duvernay (2)

Sunday
Oct072012

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. 

Wednesday
Mar162011

Infrastructure Building! Ava DuVernay Builds Her Own Movie Distribution System

We are going to pause from our coverage of the atrocities in Cleveland, TX to get back on track with our commitment to push Black women to take their destinies and images into their own hands. 

There's a famous proverb that says "Its better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness."  The early years of this blog focussed heavily on calling out those who were engaged in what I call The War On Black Women. A heavy focus was on the Entertainment Industrial Complex that constantly cranks out anti-Black woman propaganda.  We've been successful in  de-funding foolishness and calling out tomfoolery.

However, it dawned on me after a few years that merely railing at folks like Debra Lee and other members of the Regime of Bullets, Booty and Bling that Black women were going to have to figure out how to create their own images because merely complaining about the work of others and extolling them to change places our destiny in the hands of people who've already declared that they don't like us very much... actually they HATE Black women.

We conducted a survey three years ago asking you what kind of movie this audience would make about Black women if they could make the movie of their dreams.

 If You Could Make the Movie of Your Dreams About Black Women, What WOuld it Be About. 

Vote:"Hypothetically"- If We Made A Movie About Black Women-Which Genre?

We then asked you how you would define "success" if Black women were able to start making their own movies.

Poll:Hypothetically Speaking What Would Be Most Important About Making a Film About Black Women

That's why this blog will be shutting down in April so that I (AND YOU) can participate in Script Frenzy. Its a 30-day challenge to produce a 100-page screenplay. I did it last year and "won" by completing my first screenplay.

 Whoo I Did It. I won Script Frenzy

Controlling Our Cultural Destinies -I'm Officially a Television Producer- Script Frenzy

Then last Fall I took my first filmmaking class, purchased a DSLR and went out and made a movie... and I loved it!

The Blogmother Makes a Movie! We're Coming for YOU Tyler Perry and Lee Daniels :)

I can't wait to make my next one! Its a constant source of joy doing the preproduction.

Along the way, I've gone to movie festivals, and been self-teaching, and though I have a great distance to go technically, along the way I have been deconstructing movie industry and strategizing how to get from that survey I gave y'all three years ago to reaching our definition of success.

Which brings me to movie distribution. I figured out that if Black women can write their own stories, ( see Script Frenzy), the evolution of low cost DSLRs and digital editing software makes it possible for Black women to produce their own films. But if Black women make movies in the woods and nobody ever sees them, do they make a sound?  You see even if technology has broken down most technical barriers to "filmmaking," Hollywood still has a stranglehold on distribution. Even Tyler Perry is having to claw himself into international markets which is where most big blockbusters make their profits.  So I figured out that film distribution or getting your films in at the local cineplex so they can be seen next to Big Mama's House IV  was on HUGE barrier. I hadn't quite figured out how to get around "the system," but I was extremely happy when I heard about AFFRM (African American Film Festival Releasing Movement). Its a fancy way of saying how to we move the numerous Black films that frequently appear at Black film festivals only to die a swift death when they can't get into your local cineplex.

In short, Ava DuVernay, has created her own film distribution entity from scratch.  She opened her film, I Will Follow, this weekend in 5 US cities.

I Will Follow - Trailer from AFFRM on Vimeo.

 

She bootstrapped the film herself and she's been using her skills as a publicist to do her own marketing campaign relying heavily on social media, but has also landed coverage in traditional media like the LA Times, CNN and an excellent review by Roger Ebert.

She held a series of dinners at the Sundance Film Festival...

in other words, she built her own infrastructure and she used it to release her film and boy did she ever!

Her per screen average last weekend was $11,000. As a result of her success in those smaller markets, I Will Follow is now being expanded to 22 US markets.  If you happen to be in one of those cities, you should go see it! You can find a list of cities where the film is showing on the AFFRM website

By now if you've been reading this blog, you've figured out that Black women have been left "out there."  The "institutions" within the Black community have a vested interest in making sure that we continue to be marginalized and dehumanized and brainwashed into thinking "suffering" and "struggle" is our lot in life. We're bombarded by a propaganda machine that says we're nothing more than props or prostitutes, Mammies, Madonnas, or Sapphire. If we are going to combat "The Regime" we are going to have to build our own propaganda machine that does the exact opposite and in case you didn't know, movies are a pretty effective propaganda tool. However, the most amazing film in the world about Black women doesn't do much if no one ever gets to see it. The current gatekeepers in the entertainment industry don't appear to be interested in stories about Black women unless the feature a Black man dress like one or feature a bunch of downtrodden Black women who engage in various forms of masochism  for 120 minutes.

So if you really want to see scifi, action adventure and fantasy films featuring Black women, we're going to have to "built our own house" and Ava has shown Black women that it can be done.

Kudos to Ava!

 

This serves as your two-week warning. We go dark in April for Script Frenzy and this year is going to be a dooozy think Lord of the Rings and Star Wars meets afro puffs. These characters have been bouncing around in my hear for like a year I can't wait to put them on paper so they can leave me alone!