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Afrostream TV - Building Infrastructure for Black Power in the Global Film Industry

Features
by Andre Seewood
June 23, 2014 11:36 AM
3 Comments
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The following has not been written so that you might run and tell Master what the Negroes in the field are about to do, but instead so that you might run and tell your brother, "Now's our chance to be free."

One of the most important steps to building an infrastructure for Black independent cinema in the digital age must begin with the creation and maintenance of a distribution platform that allows people of color to have instant home and mobile screen access to all films by people of color across the globe.  Such a digital distribution platform must concentrate on the ability to deliver Black content to the home and mobile screens of those consumers who are willing to pay a monthly subscription fee so that they might unify the African Diaspora via the exchange and enjoyment of images and stories made by Blacks across the globe.  The existence of such a digital distribution platform would have incredible political and economic potential in the context of the White controlled American Entertainment Complex because it would mean that Whites and their tokens of color or ethnicity would no longer have the exclusive power to dictate what kinds of films Blacks would be able to produce and see of themselves.  That is to say, we would finally have the power to choose what images and stories we want to see of ourselves without having a White cultural censor performing the role of gatekeeper with various weapons of denial and sabotage such as: screen ratios, international distribution impediments, false and misleading demographic evidence, casting requirements (i.e., “Where's the White hero?") marketing restrictions and budgetary prohibitions.

In other words, with a digital distribution platform dedicated to Black content, we would be able to freely share in our own cultural wealth and willingly profit economically from our own diversity and the richness of our existence as Black people across the globe.

As a means to accomplishing these ends that have just been described above a French African entrepreneur Tonje Bakang, a French actor and filmmaker Fabrice Eboue and a French technical project manager Ludovic Bostral have collaborated together to form a new start up company that will launch later this year called, Afrostream TV.  Afrostream TV is a SVOD (Subscription Video On Demand) distribution company that intends to become the," Netflix of streaming Black content around the world," in the words of the company's CEO Tonje Bakang in a recent interview with this writer.

Although the idea of streaming Black content specifically to Black audiences is not new and without competition what makes the intention of Afrostream TV unique is that Black content will not be excluded from the existing international audiences to which such content would appeal.  For example, Bakang explains that there is an estimated population of 15 million people of Sub-Saharan African descent in Europe alone (France, Belgium, Spain and the U.K.) as well as a huge market within several countries within the continent of Africa.  Yet these audiences are underserved by the American Entertainment Complex which has for decades intentionally denied Black American filmmakers legitimate profit making access to these international audiences under the lie that Black films won't sell well overseas.  Bakang was adamant during our interview that Afrostream TV is not being created to distribute domestic Black content to its domestic Black audience, but instead their mission is to deliver domestic Black content to its existing but underserved international foreign audience.

In other words, Black films from the United States will be streamed to subscribers in Europe and Africa as Black films from Europe and Africa will be streamed to subscribers in the United States.

Through Afrostream TV African-American filmmakers who have been deliberately segregated from international markets will soon be able to license SVOD rights of their films to Afrostream TV for 24 months and have their works subtitled in various languages and seen in France, French Overseas Territories, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, U.K., and in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Black audiences across the globe will be able to see and enjoy the work of Black American filmmakers without having to resort to bootlegging this content.  The bootlegging of Black cinema overseas while it allows an existing international Black audience access to Black American content that is denied to them by the American Entertainment Complex, it also impoverishes Black filmmakers across the globe because profits cannot be recouped by the copyright holders.  As a result, Black films are ghettoized within the American Entertainment Industry with smaller budgets, shorter development schedules and narrow genre definitions precisely because of the lowered expectations regarding the international appeal of these films.  Such an assertion gains its validity from the fact that over the last ten years the foreign market accounts for a larger percentage of the unadjusted box office grosses than the domestic box office of all major studio films in release today. (See: boxofficemojo for unadjusted foreign and domestic box office figures)

I will reiterate a conclusion about the bootlegging of Black movies that I have stated elsewhere: The bootlegging of Black movies domestically and internationally has been allowed to persist unimpeded by the American Entertainment Complex as a means of maintaining power and control over Black filmmakers and the images they are allowed to create. (See: Bootlegging and the Plot Against African-American Film)    

Afrostream TV intends to be a corrective to this major problem of bootlegging by allowing the international audience legitimate access to U.S. Black content while returning a percentage of its subscription fees back to the filmmakers as recompense.  We must understand foremost that this digital distribution platform is not a get rich quick scheme, but instead it provides a necessary service in this digital age to deliver Black content directly to a Black global audience without a White person as a nay saying gatekeeper in the middle.

Interested Black independent filmmakers with completed feature length works, shorts and/or web series are urged to contact Afrostream TV at http://afrostream.tv/ for more details about the film submission process and other legal and financial matters.  CEO Tonje Bakang will also be attending the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) in New York, June 19-22 2014 where enterprising Black independent filmmakers can ask more detailed questions and get the precise information they need to make their successful use of this digital platform a reality.

Returning to a challenge that was discussed in a previous article Black Power in the Global Film Industry that you can access here: How do we put up or shut up?

To expand on that question in another way: What are the necessary means to accomplish our own self-determined Black cinema that would be an answer to our long complaint against the White controlled globally interconnected American Entertainment Complex?  Part of the answer is that we must establish, maintain and insure the success of a digital platform for the streaming of Black content internationally on home and mobile screens which will allow us to bypass the fixed and minimal theatrical screen ratios determined exclusively by the White controlled American Entertainment Complex which negatively impacts the ability of Black films to be seen and to be profitable.

Of the many important reasons concerning the establishment of a bi-lateral digital platform for the on-line distribution of Black content I would like to highlight two reasons that take precedence:

1) By reaching these international Black audiences legitimately, we as Black people can begin the first economic and political steps necessary to have unlimited control over Black images and the economic context wherein which we can profit from these images.  In short, we will be exerting and profiting from Black power in the global film marketplace.

2) The success of a digital platform like Afrostream TV will also have tremendous consequences for African-American filmmakers working within the American Entertainment Complex.  For example, African-American filmmakers will have independently documented demographic evidence of the existence of an international audience of people of color who are willing to pay to see Black content produced domestically in the United States.  This evidence can be used as leverage in the contentious negotiations with various studios of the American Entertainment Complex for foreign licensing rights by African-American filmmakers. 

No longer will we have to accept the lie that Black films don't sell well overseas. 

Of course there is no guarantee that the negotiations for foreign licensing rights with the American Entertainment Complex will be successful, but coming in to the negotiations armed with independently produced evidence is better than coming in empty-handed which is something we have done to no avail for decades.

The real power here is that now in this digital age Black filmmakers and audiences have options.

The sooner we let go of our romanticized vision of a domestic theatrical release as the only criterion for a Black film's legitimacy the sooner we can begin to embrace the advances in technology and film delivery systems to unshackle ourselves from the degrading ghettoization of Black cinema by the White controlled globally interconnected American Entertainment Complex.

Yet ultimately the key to Afrostream TV's success is if high profile Black independent filmmakers like, for instance, Spike Lee whose crowd funded new film Da Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014) were to be acquired as a SVOD deal for international streaming or if a large amount of high quality smaller films like Brady Hall's SCRAPPER (2013) starring Michael Beach or the work Ava DuVernay and many of the releases of AFFRM could be acquired as both pledges of support and demonstrations of legitimacy in building the infrastructure necessary for Black power in the global film industry.

But we can never become complacent because our opponent is watching everything we do so that they might be able to put that shackle back on our ankles and control the vision that we have of ourselves.

The most difficult truth to accept here is that some people of color don't actually want to be free from White capitalist exploitation and are indeed on their way right now to tell Master what the negroes in the field are about to do…

Is it you?  

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3 Comments

  • @milesmaker | June 23, 2014 6:14 PMReply

    Curious to read the fine print on these 2-year SVOD deals, but this platform is a positive step to access and opportunity for filmmakers of color in the U.S., Europe and Africa.

    I'll also add that if this Afrostream TV can avail itself as a resource in terms of data reporting (volume, geo-location and revenue) filmmakers of color can further benefit by this transparency when utilizing this valuable information to present revenue projections for financing consideration. Not only would it be one if not THE first of its kind to do so--it will welcome the trust and loyalty of independent filmmakers worldwide.

  • Gio | June 23, 2014 3:04 PMReply

    I’m on board for this (i.e. I want to be free!) and I would even pay for the service. Having this type of a service would be great knowing that I don’t have to wade through a bunch of films that aren't geared towards me, the subject matters don’t interest or connect with me, and the actors don’t look like me. There have been many times where I have seen a write up about a film or trailer on this blog I want to see, but doesn't make it to the theaters, it’s not on Netflix, not shown in my area and/or I miss it if it does make it to my area. And mind you my area is Los Angeles. So I would be willing to use Afrostream.tv or any other online streaming service that allows me easy access to films geared towards me.

  • Kevin | June 23, 2014 1:31 PMReply

    I wish everyone else well in this space, but it's not a new space (see BHN on ROKU with black docs etc..), nor is the business model. Any streaming model is by definition global in terms of access --technically. What limits that is not what gets streamed but the legal hoops you must go through to accept payments/pay taxes from one country and currency to the next. That said, the more companies in the space the better.

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