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Bootlegging and the Plot against African-American Cinema

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by Andre Seewood
May 27, 2014 6:47 PM
18 Comments
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To my knowledge, the concept of Bootlegging and its affect on African-American cinema has not been explored in any substantive detail.  In general, we all know that bootlegging severely diminishes the box-office of African-American films and it should be discouraged, but the bootlegging of African-American films continues vigorously today on the street corners, in hair & nail salons, barbershops, flea markets, factory parking lots and Chinese take-out lobbies of every city with a large African-American population.  Bootlegging is an open secret, but it is not so much a radical tactic to “stick it to the man” as it is an informal (and illegal) business practice that fits neatly into the concept that African-Americans call,” Hustling,” or doing what you have to do to survive financially in a country where the chips are stacked against you.  Indeed, our reticence in examining bootlegging may stem from our own culpability; that is the fact that many of us African-Americans have purchased at least one bootleg VHS, DVD or CD in our lifetimes and if by chance or conviction we haven’t, then we know of someone near or dear to us that has purchased and continues to purchase bootlegs.  Under these circumstances of extended culpability we are perhaps less strident in our condemnation of the practice than we ought to be. Yet, I intend to reveal in this essay that bootlegging is just one aspect of a continuing plot against African-American cinema that because of our powerless status within the industry is quite possibly beyond our immediate control.(1)  

For our purposes, the term bootlegging is an umbrella term that covers all manner of movie piracy from illegal downloading, recording, duplication, and the street sales and retail sales of filmed entertainment, the profits from which are not returned to the copyright owners of the content.  As it concerns filmed entertainment, there are two different models of bootlegging:

1) External Bootlegging which originates from within the industry but outside of the Black community.

2) Internal Bootlegging which originates from inside the Black community but outside of the industry.

There are also three different modes of Bootlegging:

1) Pre-theatrical release

2) Simultaneous release

3) Post-Theatrical release

It cannot go without saying that the most dangerous model and mode of bootlegging that reveals a plot against African-American films is external bootlegging of a pre-theatrically released film.  We can readily identify this type of bootlegged film because this illegal product has tell-tale traits:  clear image quality and superior audio accompaniment.  These bootlegs have “clear” images and superior audio quality that has not been recorded by smuggling a video camera into the theatre.  These bootlegs also have either a time-code bar with numbers running at the top or bottom of the screen throughout the film or the image is interrupted periodically by a “For Promotional Use Only,” inter-title.  Although today’s sophisticated movie pirates know how to remove such trace evidence, the main giveaway of External Bootlegging is still the image clarity and audio quality of the bootleg itself.  Prevalent throughout the ‘90’s in both VHS and DVD formats, these bootlegs are made from what are called,” Screener Copies” or promotional copies of a film before its theatrical release that are distributed to industry insiders, film critics, academy members, and television producers to create a pre-release “buzz” about an upcoming film.

The Screener Copy is placed into the hands of “connected” individuals with the implied faith that they will not use these copies to bootleg a film before, during or after its theatrical release.  With today’s technologically advanced forms of movie piracy, the screener copies from foreign countries (where certain films are released weeks before their domestic release) are digitized and have their English language soundtracks restored for illegal file sharing through various and shifting internet portholes before and during their domestic release dates.  An essential point I would like to suggest here is that the “screener copy” should be the most guarded property of any Movie studio, second only to an actual 35mm original negative of a film.  Since External Bootlegging is dependent upon the initial circulation and the subsequent “loss, theft or misplacement” of the screener copy itself and the illegal street sales generated by a bootlegged screener copy can impact the domestic box office gross of a film in tens of millions of dollars, a screener copy is not so frivolous a detail in regards to the commercial success or failure of a film.

External bootlegging that is aided and abetted by industry insiders supports pre-theatrical release bootleg sales that detrimentally affect the domestic box office of specific films.  For example, we know that one of the most beloved classics of recent African-American cinema, Theodore Witcher’s LOVE JONES (1997) only made 12 million dollars at the box office in its theatrical release, even though it was seen and praised by thousands of people, because it was heavily bootlegged from lost, stolen, or misplaced screener copies that allowed street hustlers in nearly every major African-American city to “hit a lick” or make a nice amount of pocket money as it were, on “clear” VHS bootlegs with superior audio before and during the film’s release.(2)  This loss in box office revenue, despite the quality and classic status of LOVE JONES, has negatively affected the decision to ever make a sequel to the film.(3)  Later Bryan Barber’s IDLEWILD (2006) would coincidentally make nearly the same amount of money at the box office as it was externally bootlegged before its theatrical release.  We would do well here to remember also that in 2007 there were,” bootleg DVD copies of Ridley Scott’s film, AMERICAN GANGSTER circulating for $5 to $10 a piece in African-American communities all across the nation almost 10 days before the film’s theatrical release date of 11-02-07.”(Slave Cinema, 139)  These pre-theatrical release bootleg DVD sales hacked into the initial 43 million dollar domestic box office gross of the film, but the damage was offset by other factors which I shall discuss later.

External Bootlegging prior to the theatrical release of an African-American film reveals two important points: 1) That various industry insiders (whether White or Black) didn’t think enough of their screener copies of African-American films to guard and protect them from theft, loss or misplacement, as they do White films; 2) Disgruntled mid-level and mid-career industry employees (White or Black) may have found that using screener copies to supply the Bootleg market with “high quality” source material from which to make their duplications was a great source of untaxable supplemental income that could materialistically make up for the psychological wounds of having their scripts, ideas and concepts rejected while the dreams of the lesser talented were “green lit” and produced in front of them.  Again it is the quality of the bootleg (its image and audio clarity) and the trace evidence of time-codes or “For Promotional Use Only” inter-titles that signifies the “inside job” of External Bootlegging along with the fact that these “clear” bootlegs exist prior to the theatrical release of a film.  In short, External Bootlegging is but a symbol of the destructive power and financial control that can be exerted upon niche markets by those who are deeply invested in the dominant market within the film industry.    

Turning our attention to Internal Bootlegging, where a camera is positioned in the theater during the domestic release of a film, we are struck by the poor image quality (the full theatrical image is sometimes cut off at the edges of the frame), the movie starts during the opening credits and ends abruptly just at the closing credits, the poor audio quality (including audience laughter, noises and commentary).  As recently as a few weeks ago, I witnessed bootleggers using their cell phones to capture the latest GODZILLA (2014) on the Friday afternoon of its release.  Now the increased image and sound clarity of cell phones has been immediately co-opted by bootleggers to make their acquisition of the theatrical image more convenient.

What we can be sure of is that Internal Bootlegging of this type usually occurs during the theatrical release of the film, therefore the bootlegging is simultaneous with the release of the film, and continues well after the post-theatrical release in what used to be the three month gap between a film’s theatrical release and its Home Video release.  If External Bootlegging reveals a certain kind of bribed “nonchalance” of industry insiders as it concerns the protection of screener copies, Internal Bootlegging reveals a similar bribed “nonchalance” of underpaid theatre employees, projectionists and security personnel as it concerns the ability to smuggle a video camera (with tripod or mono-pod) into a theatre and record an entire film from start to finish.  Moreover, some forms of Internal Bootlegging are done within an empty theatre (with the audio captured from a source outlet) which suggests collusion among the bootlegger and the projectionist and/or other theatre employees.  God forbid that the projectionist should actually be the bootlegger!  The underpaid/overworked theatre employee can easily be bribed or enticed into bootlegging as a means of gaining untaxed supplemental income for themselves at the expense of what appears to be a gigantic money grubbing corporate complex.  

The street hustler who sells bootlegs usually has a catalog listing of previously bootlegged films (now in post-theatrical release) selling for multiples of 3 for $5.00 or 5 for $10.00 and a “hot” premium catalog listing of pre-theatrical and simultaneous theatrically released bootleg films from which the prospective buyer can choose at 2 for $10.00.  Intriguingly, the price point for multiple films (mixed pre and post theatrical bootlegs) is extremely flexible and customer friendly since the pirated DVDs have such a low production margin.  It is interesting how close the informal nature and price points for bootlegging is similar to street level drug dealing where informal business transactions and twofer’s manipulate and solidify the relationship between the consumer and the dealer: a marriage of convenience that is consummated in the exchange value of mutual needs.  An unasked question concerning Internal Bootlegging is: given the poor image and audio quality of most of these types of bootlegs, why do so many people continue to buy them?  Buying a bootleg is a risk versus reward endeavor where “clear” externally made bootlegs are mixed in with “poor quality” internally made bootlegs and thus the consumer who gets pre-theatrical release bootlegs has a greater certainty of getting a “clear” copy of a film that is not even out in the theatres yet.  The consumer who buys a poor quality internally made bootleg is just trying to bring themselves up to speed in the on-going social conversation between the have’s and the have not’s.

This ability to see a highly anticipated film, before it is released to the general public makes the buying and selling of bootlegs a status seeking enterprise for both the buyer and the seller.  The seller cultivates an “insider” connection with Hollywood that allows him or her access to films that the general public is not allowed to see yet.  The buyer places him or herself ahead of the social conversation and opinion about a particular film and has the temporary power to allow others to borrow, trade or buy their bootleg to bring them up to their speed.  Hence, we can see here how bootlegging, the buying and selling of illegally pirated movies no matter what the quality, is a consequence of the divisions of class and is but one of the symbols of status African-Americans use to mask or deceive their actual class standing from others and even from themselves.

Yet the “800 pound gorilla” that has not been discussed in this essay until now is the fact that just as many –in fact more- White films are externally and internally bootlegged than African-American films and thus the notion that there is some kind of plot against African-American cinema should be dismissed as sheer conspiratorial thinking.  Before throwing the baby out with the bathwater we should consider the fact that nearly all White American films recoup the damages from illegal movie piracy in the domestic market with the profits they make in overseas markets.  Because of the fact that African-American films are segregated and cut off from overseas markets under the ruse that African-American films have no international market appeal, bootlegging affects African-American cinema in a qualitatively different manner than White American films.  According to Ray Subers of boxofficemojo.com,” A week ahead of its U.S. debut, Marvel’s THE AVENGERS opened in 39 foreign territories and scored a truly heroic 185.1 million...”(4)  Even though there were External bootlegs of the film circulating in cities around the nation prior to the domestic theatrical release of the film, THE AVENGERS has already effectively neutralized the damaging effects of bootlegging by getting into foreign markets before the domestic release.  Discriminated from the opportunity to make profits in foreign markets, bootlegging detrimentally affects African-American cinema by allowing the White controlled American Entertainment Complex to use defective box office numbers that are unadjusted for bootlegging losses and the lie that African-American films don’t sell well overseas to exercise a Slave Master’s control over the development, production, distribution and exhibition of the African-American image.  Returning to the film, AMERICAN GANGSTER which co-starred Russell Crowe, that film despite the rampant External Bootlegging domestically was released to the foreign market and eventually made 130 million in total (foreign and domestic combined) box office.                            

The plot against African-American cinema is not so much a plot by the powers that be to silence all African-American filmmakers and destroy their works but instead the goal is to tame the form and content of African-American cinema to pacify its audiences with comedies and neutralize the ability of African-American filmmakers to fully and simultaneously control the means of production, distribution and exhibition of films made for us and by us.  We look at bootlegging here as one recent aspect of this on-going plot against African-American cinema that does more than just reduce the box-office profits of the films, it is a plot that also curtails the stylistic expressiveness of our working and potential filmmakers and their ability to explore different narrative styles, genres and subject matter that goes beyond narrow racially defined profit driven formulas and expectations.(5)  The reduction of box-office profits makes the studios and investors less courageous in developing, financing and acquiring African-American films that go beyond the tried and true genre of comedy; it does not stop the production of different films, as PRECIOUS (2009) and PARIAH (2011) demonstrate, it just makes it exceeding difficult and discouraging to continuously make the effort whereas as White filmmakers can have their idiosyncratic films supported by the foreign box office, even in the face of domestic bootlegging.    

Although we cannot definitively point the finger at who was behind it all, the declining box-office totals for many African-American films during the mid-to-late nineties was a direct result of bootlegging and we can be certain that specific African-American films that have been Externally Bootlegged before their theatrical release is evidence of “insider” tampering with product that reveals the “bad faith” of those who were supposed to be guarding the content instead of aiding and abetting its theft and piracy.  Internal Bootlegging reveals that the declining box office totals for African-American films may not have been a consequence of the quality, subject matter, form and genre of the films, but instead a consequence of “bootlegs” becoming a status symbol within the African-American community and White controlled Hollywood’s ineffectual response with regard to how bootlegging was reducing the domestic box office of African-American films which is the sole box office that African-American films are allowed to be sold.  What we have to always remember is that at the end of the day it is not just about money, it is about power and control over our ability to represent ourselves in the cinema.


NOTES

(1)Although there are a number of wealthy African-American filmmakers and media moguls, wealth in and of itself is not power; wealth is only one aspect that can be gained or lost by the consequences of power.  African-Americans lack the power to distribute films theatrically on an equal number of screens domestic and foreign as White American films produced by the American Entertainment Complex.

(2) All foreign and domestic box office gross numbers are taken from www.boxoffice.mojo.com

(3) See the Shadow & Act article “Nia Long on “Love Jones” Sequel “We’ve Been Talking About it” (Do You Want to See It) by Tambey, March 19, 2010. http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/nia-long-on-love-jones-sequel-weve-been-talking-about-it-do-...

(4) From the article,”Around the World Round-up: “The Avengers” assemble 185.1 million overseas debut”, by Ray Subers. www.boxofficemojo.com, April 29th 2012.

(5) Starting with a single White investor’s lack of faith that led to the demise of Black owned The Lincoln Motion Picture company in 1921, to the F.B.I.’s attempts to block the production of Jules Dassin’s film UPTIGHT in 1968 and later the deliberate F.B.I. involvement in the suppression of Ivan Dixon’s THE SPOOK WHO SAT BY THE DOOR (1973) the very existence of African-American films has always been “troubling” to the White controlled entertainment industry and the United States government.  The post-Civil Rights scrutiny of African-American films is centered on the ability to control the content and form of the films through a profit driven rationale that discriminates against African-American filmmakers by not allowing their films access to foreign markets and not zealously attempting to curtail External Bootlegging of Screener Copies of African-American films.   See: Redefining Black Film by Mark A. Reid, pages 13-19 and Forgeries of Memory and Meaning by Cedric J. Robinson, pages 225-271.


Andre Seewood is the author of SLAVE CINEMA: The Crisis of the African-American in Film. Pick up a copy of the book via Amazon.com HERE.

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18 Comments

  • Black Cinema Club | July 24, 2014 8:02 AMReply

    A wonderful article. It's been a while since visiting the site but glad to have done so. Andre very insightful and much more articles like this needed.

  • SANKHOFA | June 25, 2014 10:44 AMReply

    I STILL haven't seen "An Oversimplification of Her Beauty"

  • Daryl | May 30, 2014 12:49 AMReply

    I agree with this article, this is something I've been saying for years as bootlegging being a plot to destroy black films. The reason this is such a big problem in the black community is our ignorance of economics and not enough love for one another brought own by the white supremacy system. I've done heard from too many of us that are just buying bootlegg stuff, you ask what about that artist, they say f that artist they paid anyway or I don't give a f about that. This especially true with black men that why you see a lot of the top grossing black films lately have been films gear towards black women, that's why Tyler Perry has made a boatload of money. So when you eleimnate the black buying power in films, you get black films controlled by white people, this is the part of economics we don't understand and why we stay in the same spot year in and year out. I 've said it before this Spike Lee kickstarter film is a very important film. We have a chance to use our buying power iwth a film made by a legendary black director outside the studio system, we missed the boat on Red Hook Summer, Spike Lee financed himself for $600,000 but it only made $300000 at the box office. Clark Peters gave one of the best performances of the last decade. If this film had just made 3 to 5 million at the box office and 5 to 10 million o video on demand it would have been a game changer, but what did we do ignore it and complain about hollywood and spend our money on hollywood bs, when they don't like us. If your reading this articles and are not trying to use your buying power for change don't say nothing about what hollywood is doing or they don't show different images of us, just sit down and get out of the way of people that are trying to change things.

  • Darnell | May 28, 2014 7:34 PMReply

    I'm lovin' it!

    Hello Andre,

    I pop in (occasionally) to see what's poppin' in the old school yard... and today was a good day. Tanya Steele brought the good stuff and you're still THE MAN. I loved this post (as I did most, if not all of your articles) and I particularly enjoyed the exchange between you and Dave's Deluxe (good stuff from both men).

    That said, it appears you don't harbor any fear of being disliked and you obviously welcome differing/opposing opinions. I love that in you. Bye now.

    CareyCarey

  • Ethan | May 28, 2014 5:22 PMReply

    Piracy is a direct outgrowth of the incompetence and complacency of the distribution systems. The distributors have run the game on the Studios as well as independent filmmakers of all origins. Like diamonds it is a very artificial marketplace. Which has no interest in serving the needs of the consumer. In many place in the world you have no choice but to by a bootleg, because the non-bootleg just isn't there.

    Consumers need to get more creative in their consumption. If you want to be a champion for black cinema or any cinema, you need to curate. Write about these films in a way that makes people want to watch and share legit links to purchase. Create a twitter feed with a film of the week, description with link. Include links to the trailers in your articles. Blog it on youtube, skype/record interviews with the directors as part of your thing. Do that weekly and inside of 6 months you'll be a thing to be reckoned with in the film niche of your choice. Just my 2 cents.

  • Alan | May 28, 2014 3:47 PMReply

    It seems to me that Nia and Larenz should head to Kickstarter to get a "Lone Jones-like" romantic film with them starring as the leads (with Theodore Witcher directing) funded by the people.

    interesting side note: Jay Stern is the producer of Love Jones, Love and Basketball (its clear descendant) and the Rush Hour franchise (either entry from the last of which outgrossed the first two combined, times three).

  • troublemaker | May 29, 2014 1:02 PM

    @ALAN
    Love Jones was an okay movie and it wasn't memorable after Love and Basketball opened. The filmmaker needs to take some responsibility for this movie not doing well at the box-office. Love Jones rarely gets shown on cable. Love and Basketball did a better job of mixing a love story with a job/passion. Love Jones had that opportunity to show poetry and photography mixed with a love story but chose to focus on only the love story. Women have seen this type of love story in mainstream movies many times before and it becomes boring. It also didn't help that the filmmaker chose Larenz Tate has the leading man. Nothing personal against Larenz but women never looked at Larenz as a romantic lead.

  • Shanae | May 28, 2014 11:22 AMReply

    I found this article insightful and hope there are more on S&A in the future. Great work, Mr. Seewood!

  • NiceTry | May 28, 2014 6:45 AMReply

    Black people are not fooled into allowing comedy films to "pacify" them...people seek entertainment in order to be pacified...that is it's purpose. Mass audiences are not in search of
    films which make them take action (social or political). Intellectuals refuse to accept that some people don't need "art" or "enlightenment"...they are not searching for anything. As for Hollywood...they respect money...period. Blacks who deliver get as wide a distribution as Whites...Will Smith and Denzel on a hot streak will get as many theaters as Tom Cruise or
    Russell Crowe...but you don't wanna call Will or Denzel Black filmmakers right?....even if they have a producer credit? Bootlegging is give and take. It is good because some people cannot afford to go to theaters or buy dvds at full price...and yet they want to be a part of the conversations around big films...so I have no problem with it. Also bootlegs increase the fan base of actors which drives their twitter followers and expands their ability to attract sponsors and marketing opportunities....the same way that free music videos on youtube supports musicians careers. It is not a conspiracy. Black movies do just fine overseas if they are good pieces of entertainment (Will, Denzel) instead of woe-is-me serious "art" films which are not fun for most people to watch. And, love it or hate it, that's what most people want...fun.

  • Alan | May 28, 2014 3:38 PM

    I've *never heard anyone....

    Typo.

  • Alan | May 28, 2014 3:38 PM

    I've heard anyone call someone who isn't a director a "filmmaker".

    And there is a differential in the theater count between Denzel movies and Tom Cruise movies. You can't be serious. "Flight" was on 2638 screens (and barely got made, by the way). "Oblivion" was on 3,792 screens. You live in a fantasy world. "Two Guns", with Mark Wahlberg carrying half the bill, still "only" opened on 3,025 screens. You're objectively completely wrong here.

  • Miles Ellison | May 27, 2014 11:52 PMReply

    Bootlegging is a problem. But the reason that Love Jones didn't make money was because nobody wanted to see it. There is a significant audience that would rather watch the latest opus by Tyler Perry or offensively stereotypical reality TV. That's the bigger problem.

  • Andre Seewood | May 28, 2014 7:32 AM

    Yes, we are in agreement that bootlegging is a problem. But our perspectives diverge onwards from that point. When you assert," But the reason that Love Jones didn't make money was because nobody wanted to see it," you are actually pointing out one of the central paradoxes upon which this article began. In the article by Tambay Obenson cited in the foot notes," Nia Long On "Love Jones " Sequel "We've Been Talking About It (Do You Want To See It), Tambay states that,"One that I do know is that it's a film that's nearly universally loved by black folks; its rare that I hear anything negative said about the film, and it repeatedly turns up, year after year, on various "top Black films of all time"lists; some even think of it as a classic even though its not that old." So the paradox is if the film is "nearly universally loved" but only made 12 million at the box office during its theatrical release, then a reasonable explanation for its low box office performance but high profile classic status among Black cinéphiles is external pre-theatrical release bootlegging. Of course, there could be other explanations: perhaps the Black audience's affection for the film grew over time as the film hit ancillary markets after its dismal theatrical release, but I remember the film being heavily bootlegged at the time on VHS from clear image screener copies. Furthermore, I think our perspectives diverge because you see "Tyler Perry or offensively stereotypical reality TV" as the bigger problem facing Black filmmakers and I see those two major factors as a consequence of the bootlegging of Black films during the mid to late 90s, because bootlegging weakened the monetary and cultural profiles of Black cinema to the point that such low grade/quality material could be cheaply produced as satisfy the desires of many Blacks to see themselves on the television or movie screen. Your comments certainly have me thinking though and its always worth a try to investigate how Black cinema got bamboozled into the situation that it is in now. Less Money/Mo Problems.

  • Dave's Deluxe | May 27, 2014 9:05 PMReply

    Mr. Seewood, I'm an admirer of your writings, but there are posits here that are so ungrounded in reality it is astonishing. Too many to count.

    One glaring fiction I can't help but address though: in today's world of fast digital filmmaking and easy-access storytelling, if you believe it's BOOTLEGGERS that have "negatively affected the decision to ever make a sequel to the film", you are truly out of touch with what's happening in the world.

  • Dave's Deluxe | May 28, 2014 8:57 AM

    "The difference between our perspectives is that you stated that the Black filmmaking community's biggest problem is one of quality and I am stating the problem of quality is a consequence of the deliberate bootlegging of Black films during a critical point in film's transition to digital technology."

    Yes, that is it in a nutshell. We seem to have a circular "chicken-or-egg" type debate here. I don't believe bootlegging is connected to quality at all. I believe the answer behind our choice of storytelling quality (or the lack thereof), and the willingness of black audiences to celebrate mediocrity, runs much deeper than "piracy"and "bootleggers". Both bootlegging and low-quality-standards are dual symptoms of a deeper problem, not the cause of each other. (In my opinion.)

    Thank you for responding, Mr. Seewood. I appreciate the debate and your work. I guess we will forever have to wonder who is truly the "out-of-touch" one... ;)

  • Andre Seewood | May 28, 2014 8:00 AM

    With all do respect, I don't mean to offend you or trivialize your highly detailed points, but if you think that the loss of revenue is *not* a large obstacle of black filmmaking, neither in the indies nor the studio world, then I have to return your earlier statement about me back to you and say that "you are truly out of touch with what's happening in the world". Although, Blacks have the ability create digital content for a mass audience the problem is as you have stated," one of quality." I think you have failed to grasp both the context and the content of this article in that I am tracing one of the ways in which Black cinema lost its ability to create high quality content and that was through the conspicuous external pre-theatrical release bootlegging of Black films which lowered the monetary and cultural profile of Black films at a critical point in film's transition to digital technologies. I think you also fail to grasp my point concerning LOVE JONES, I am not implying that the LOVE JONES sequel is still pending because of threats that it will be bootlegged-No my point is that deliberate bootlegging affected the original's box office in such a way that those in the industry who only look at numbers as a means of determining if a film should have a sequel- are less committed to making a sequel happen because bootlegging skewed the box office for this particular film. So although the film LOVE JONES has a high profile among Black cinephiles, the commitment to make a sequel has been stalled in part by the low box office numbers that were caused by bootlegging of the film during its theatrical release. Although it is true that bootlegging "most likely HELPED" Tyler Perry's career in its nascent stages- it was bootlegging that hurt other African-American filmmakers in such a way that Tyler Perry's eventual success at Lion's Gate actually contributed to the reduction of the production of other African-American films different from his own. Finally, I think that you are mis-reading my intentions and concepts within this article. It is not written as a Dick Cheney style terror alert, it is written to detail and give context to the current situation of African-American filmmakers vis-à-vis the American Entertainment Complex. The difference between our perspectives is that you stated that the Black filmmaking community's biggest problem is one of quality and I am stating the problem of quality is a consequence of the deliberate bootlegging of Black films during a critical point in film's transistion to digital technology.

  • Dave's Deluxe | May 27, 2014 11:27 PM

    My apologies on context: duly noted and thanks for the correction.

    I'm in agreement with your overall point regarding bootlegging, sir. My counterpoint to your valid argument is that as problematic as bootlegging may be, the loss of revenue is *not* a large obstacle of black filmmaking, neither in the indies nor the studio world.

    Tyler Perry is a perfect example. As much as I hate to admit this, every black household I have visited in Atlanta in the past 5 years owns at least 1 Perry-related bootleg in it. If I recall correctly, Mr. Perry himself admitted himself "piracy" most likely HELPED his career in its nascent stages. And today, studios (and Oprah) jump at the opportunity to work with him, regardless of the "bootlegging threat".

    My second example is "Love Jones." In the past 15 years, there have been many entities attempting to bring a sequel to light, most recently in 2009. To my knowledge, those attempts are still pending (but have slowed for multitude of reasons, let's just call it "development hell".) But not one-- repeat: Not One-- of those reasons prohibiting production on "Love Jones 2" would ever be considered "piracy weariness". And in my opinion, to claim such is irresponsible and discouraging to aspiring filmmakers who may be overly-paranoid to the point of immobility regarding such fear.

    Dee Rees, Issa Rae and Ava DuVernay can all create great digital content for the mass audience, but the "Love Jones" camp is afraid of bootleggers? No.

    My counterpoint to your argument of "piracy" is that it's a trumped-up Dick Cheney style-terror alert: legitimate, yes, but not our real problem, not right now. No sir, bootleggers will never hamper production of a great script, particularly in these days on "easy-access" cost-effective digital filmmaking, where "Love Jones 2" would/could/should flourish. Bootleggers can't even stop a crappy script! And that brings me to my final, overall point.

    Larger than piracy, larger than bootlegging, I believe the black filmmaking community's biggest problem is one of quality, and then public support of that quality. We are all too eager to support "The Housewives of Reality TV" and "2 Fake Boobs and A Weave Go To A Party" and other pulpy ilk. When Big Hollywood Studios see that crap makes piles of easy money, what is their motivation to raise the content bar? What is OUR motivation to raise the bar, when we see "Largely Unfunny Comedy 2014" making a jillion dollars at the theater? Why even BOTHER to raise the bar? But that's a whole nother conversation.

    Cheers and peace to you, Mr. Seewood, I appreciate your responses. Time to get back to work here.. these Fed Ex packages won't deliver themselves!

  • Andre Seewood | May 27, 2014 10:00 PM

    It would help if you had put that "fiction" in its context, the discussion was centered around LOVE JONES and its disappointing box office but classic status. I also fail to see how Fast digital filmmaking and easy-access storytelling is relevent to the issues addressed in this piece. But the salient point here is that bootlegging harms Black films more than White films because the losses in revenue feed back into various discriminatory fallacies that are held against Black films and filmmakers by the White controlled American Entertainment Complex, namely, that Black films appeal solely to a small niche domestic market and make less money than White films.

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