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Where are the second films from the directors of "Pariah" and "Medicine for Melancholy"?

by Anthony Kaufman
May 30, 2013 9:34 AM
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They are among the most lauded young filmmakers to come out of the independent movie scene, but Dee Rees, the director of "Pariah" (2011) and Barry Jenkins, who made "Medicine for Melancholy" (2008), have not made follow-up features. Why? The reasons are numerous--with even institutional racism a possibility--and while the two have multiple projects in development, the fact is: No second feature.

I bring this to mind now--it's an old complaint, of course--but there was a recent comment by someone named "Micheaux's Ghost" posted on a blog post I recently wrote about the racial/class politics of "Frances Ha." "It all boils down to the fact that there's not a real market for "middle class angst" films based around black characters. Or at least real enough for Hollywood to pay attention," the person wrote.

"White audiences are not going to pay to see these types of films and sadly black audiences aren't either," the comment continued. "For all the hooting and hollering about wanting different representations on screen, black films that aren't over the top dramas, filled with violence, or raunchy comedies usually fail to make serious money or gain a significant audience."

I think this is true, but it continues to baffle the mind that filmmakers with this much talent have not been scooped up yet. Apparently, Jenkins has been attached to numerous projects, and Rees is far along with another project, as well. But they've both faced significant obstacles working with sizable budgets. I think it's telling that both Rees and Jenkins were engaged in longstanding negotiations with Focus Features for sophomore efforts, but both of those projects also look to be stalled.

In this month's Filmmaker Magazine, Nekisa Cooper, Rees' producer, told me that the film, a crime thriller set in the South called "Bolo," was put into turnaround at Focus. "They loved the script and the characters, but the foreign numbers didn't compute," said Cooper, who has since moved on to make the film with private equity.

Citing directors like Jenkins and current indie cause celebre Ryan Coogler ("Fruitvale"). indie producer Jay Van Hoy told me, "These are some of the most talented filmmakers of this generation, and of course we want to work with them and see them flourish, but how are we going to do it if we can't get their budgets up over $750,000 because there's no foreign presales available? It's not sustainable for producers or for the filmmakers." (Here is more about the article in an earlier blog post).

Frankly, the financial realities suck for indie films of color, particularly overseas.

As the "Micheau's Ghost" commenter advised:

"I'm not saying black films like this shouldn't exist, but people have to be realistic. Film financing is not a charity. There is a small audience for these type of films (black or white) and there is a possibility to turn a profit, but it has to be done in a smart way.
"alternative" black filmmakers should:

1) find financing outside hollywood from investors
2) make "middle class angst" film with black characters for under $500,000
3) tour that film with weekend screenings at venues in major cites across the country
4) connect with fans through social media
5) control all online distribution of the film
6) forget about being a part of Hollywood (theatrical release, Oscars, DGA)"

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  • Dying_With_Envy | June 2, 2013 6:49 PMReply

    This has got to be the strangest show of liberal white guilt going. If the trades and wikipedia can be believed, Dee Rees is among the most privileged people on earth: rich enough to quit her job to go to film school, invest her own money in Pariah, and fortunate enough to the attract the kind of assistance most indies only dream of. Spike Lee, executive producer?

    Since then, she's been attached as director to another feature, got at least one writing job from Focus Features, is prepping an HBO series and is repped by the most powerful firms in the business. More power to her, but if this is supposed be discrimination, what does privilege look like?

  • Halg | May 30, 2013 12:18 PMReply

    Oh, come on. Pariah, like most indies, is stuck in the long exhausted, social realist realm of literal storytelling, the kind of stuff indulged in by people of all races, ages and colors who don't have developed narrative skills but wanna write and make movies and have the means to do so.

    Unfortunately, this approach has very little audience appeal, either commercial or art-house. Are folks supposed to watch this stuff because it's good for them? To make Anthony Kaufman feel better? To promote world peace? And who in her right mind is going to finance it?

    A far better example of an unjustly ruined career would be Charles Burnett. But, as lives in this business go, he was able to make a number of features, using (and losing) other people's money. If you want justice, don't go into the movie business.

  • Brittany | May 30, 2013 11:34 AMReply

    So basically this article is implying that black shouldn't make films.

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