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.
- 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.
- Digital distribution means you don't have to create expensive copies of your projects on film just so you can screen a project.
- People can access your content anywhere so its easier to reach your audience.
- Social media makes it easier to build audiences and promote your project.
- Sites like Tugg make it possible for you to crowd source your theatrical release and get your filim in theaters
- With Kickstarter and Indiegogo make it possible for you to fund your project from small donors.
More 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.