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Notes On Working Towards A Fanboy/Girl Culture In Black Indie Cinema Part 2: Media Coverage

by Tambay A. Obenson
June 29, 2012 1:22 PM
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Eric Deggans

I was going to call this something else entirely, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt it fit nicely into the "Notes On Working Towards A Fanboy/Girl Culture In Black Indie Cinema" series that myself and Charles Judson have both addressed in separate posts. 

It's all part of the ongoing discussion; this time however, lots of questions for both filmmakers and audiences: 

To get right into it... many of *us* (black people) routinely lament the perceived lack of interest in, and thus coverage of black films and filmmakers (especially indie black films and filmmakers) in what we could call the "mainstream" media (this site's thriving existence is proof of that); although the more *militant* among us have said explicitly that what it comes right down to is wanting validation from white people, essentially a nod to Frantz Fanon's theories on feelings of "dependency and inadequacy" black people experience in a "white world;" an inferiority complex, if you will, whether you agree with that or not.

So, the first question is for the filmmakers: how much importance do you filmmakers put in coverage of black cinema by non-black media outlets? In talking to black filmmakers over the years, I've discovered that many feel they need that kind of press because black audiences (generally speaking of course) are more likely to take the work seriously, or pay closer attention to it, if it's covered in Variety, for example, or The Hollywood Reporter, the New York Times, Deadline, or even the parent site of the network this blog belongs to, indieWIRE.

Black filmmakers feel that black audiences (again, generally speaking)  hold those outlets in higher regard than specifically black media sites, with the feeling being that, getting a write up in Variety, for example, can be of immense value to their film, not only because it might raise the overall awareness of the film, potentially broadening its reach, but also because it gives the work an *importance* or *validation* in the eyes of black audiences.

To be clear, I'm not saying this is the thinking of every black filmmaker, or every member of the audience; but I've talked to enough folks on both sides over the years to recognize that these feelings (whether imagined or real) do exist enough that this is worth discussing.

Another question I'd ask filmmakers is, for those whose films have received attention from any of these major industry sites, just how much difference has that made in the reception of your film by audiences (of all colors)? Can you say that you've seen a definite, quantifiable impact on the success (or failure) of your film, especially since there is a general perception that "black films" rarely cross-over?

There's the added question of whether "black films" directed by non-black filmmakers (read: white filmmakers) are more likely to be acknowledged within the mainstream (read: white) press than "black films" directed by black filmmakers; but that's another post on its own entirely. However, I wanted to at least mention it to say that I'm aware of that conversation and how it fits into this particular discussion.

Now I look to black audiences with the same first question: how much importance do you put in coverage of black cinema by NON-black media (mainstream) outlets? How much value do you put into seeing a "black film" written about (whether it's an announcement or a review) in The Hollywood Reporter for example, over any comparable black media site? As black filmmakers suggest, or seem to believe, do you feel that a write-up in a major trade validates the film's existence in any way, over a write-up of the film on, let's say, Shadow And Act for example? And if a black media outlet covers a film, but it doesn't get any coverage by any of the few industry standards/stallwarts, does that in any way lessen your interest in it, or do you see less value in it?

Are these thoughts even conscious, intentional ones, or is it a matter of years of programming, or the inferiority complex Fanon theorizes? 

Or do you feel that none of what I've presented here are issues at all, as far as you're concerned, and thus a conversation isn't even warranted?

The point here is to stimulate conversation on things that I don't know if we really talk about; things that are said, but within groups of like people, and hardly ever to those we really should be talking to, leading to assumptions about the other, which only worsens matters.

As the title of the series states, "Notes On Working Towards A Fanboy/Girl Culture In Black Indie Cinema;" and I feel that the success of that journey partly depends on a trusted "value system" between filmmakers, audiences and the black media. Or as Melvin Van Peebles suggested to me when I interviewed a few weeks ago - working towards being an entirely self-reliant, self-sustaining unit. 

Probably not the kind of post you were expecting on a Friday, but you have time to think about it, and share your thoughts. But please keep it civil, and stick to the topic. You can answer the questions posed directly, whether you're filmmaker or audience member, or you can give general thoughts.

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  • Ash | July 6, 2012 4:43 PMReply

    I value Shadow & Act's reviews and coverage of black cinema/media above mainstream coverage of the same projects and have for the past 3 years.

  • Wave Cap Willis | July 2, 2012 9:35 AMReply

    Glad that this post was created. I just wish that this article had a link to a more streamlined poll/survey at its conclusion. You know, because of power in numbers and proof in pudding. Or something.

  • Ash | July 6, 2012 4:42 PM

    I agree, perhaps S&A should consider polling for some of the posts.

  • vc | July 1, 2012 11:53 PMReply

    As a film maker and a film watcher (52 films a year in theaters) it's not that the white press adds validity as much as "reach", S&A is a great site but even with the"Indiewire" front page it's reach is nowhere near THR or Variety, then there is "frequency", black folks have to be reached several times to pay attention to the promotion and to become a "Fan" of the movie or movie trailer as the case maybe, for we black filmmaker press is press we need as much of it over as wide a coverage area as we can get and the indie black press doesn't do a great job at covering small black films, as far as wanting validation from white people, according to the MPAA 2010 stats there are 3.4million frequent (once a month or more) black movie goers in the U.S. we don't need white folks to have a successful theatrical opening or run.

    see (trailer)

  • everybodyknowsmyname | June 29, 2012 4:59 PMReply

    I think it is that way because credibility has to be earned. We,as black folks, know a black publication does not want to run a brother down. You aren't going to go as hard against a movie. The mainstream outlets aren't interested in black cinema. There is no I'm covering my brother's back. We know they are not going easy on the movie. It doesn't pay their bills so we trust it more.

    I think it takes time to build credibility and the black outlets have to build that credibility that they are covering the best of the black cinema and not just black cinema. And I think right now the audience feels it's covered because it's black.

    Any outlet that can build that credibility will be able to push the black indie scene more. Though there are instances where black media do push indie movies. The Heart Specialist was a movie I doubt the mainstream press pushed. I might be wrong. I never heard about it till it opened. Yet It had strong numbers for an indie film.

    That is me as a paying customer. From the filmmaker perspective, because those are the trades that the industry reads to get news, a quote, write-up, or review means people in the industry are aware but I don't know if that affects the common man or that the message trickles down to the guy who's not in the industry and not perusing the trades, you know the paying customers for God knows industry people don't pay to watch anything. They just pass screeners among themselves.

  • Tracy | June 29, 2012 4:58 PMReply

    I'm looking forward to THIS post ----> There's the added question of whether "black films" directed by non-black filmmakers (read: white filmmakers) are more likely to be acknowledged within the mainstream (read: white) press than "black films" directed by black filmmakers; but that's another post on its own entirely. However, I wanted to at least mention it to say that I'm aware of that conversation and how it fits into this particular discussion.

  • CareyCarey | June 29, 2012 4:55 PMReply

    "It's your thing, do what you wanna do, I can't tell you, who to sock it to. If you want me to love you, maybe I will, I need you woman, it ain't no big deal. You need love now, just as bad as I do
    Make's me no difference now, who you give your thing to". Some of you may have recognized those words as lyrics from the Isley Brother's "It's Your Thang". I uesd my ol' school brothers to embellish my opinion that all of this is highly subjective and personal. When Tambay, "got right into it..." with Frantz Fanon's theories on feelings of "dependency and inadequacy" black people experience in a "white world;" an inferiority complex (generally speaking), I shook my head in agreement because that's true for many, whether tor not they will publicly admit it. Or maybe - possibly... "we" (generally speaking) are not consciously aware of the subtle messages we've received (brainwashed) that would solicit our need for "validation" from "them". Anyway, contining on my theory/theme of subjectivity and personal preference, when I read reviews from whatever outlet, be it "black" or "white", I take them all at face value. First, there are only a few reviewers/critics that "I" value. If it's a white critic, I take into account that fact that he or she maybe not be able to appreciate the subtle nuances of our culture, which could lead to a corrosive affect in their review. If it's a black critic, I try to understand that individual. What elements of a film does he or she value the most. And possibly, more importantly, do they have a personal agenda? So again, there are personal things which "I" need that soothes my soul. On the filmmakers tip, I believe that ideology still applies. I can safely assume that filmmakers and the general black audience, all have personal goals, likes and dislikes. In regards to films, each of us may spell "success" in different terms. Some may spell it on the wings of money. Others desperately need adulations from white critics and viewers alike. On the other hand, there are black artist who could care less about the whimes and opinions of "NON-black media", and money is not their God. Consequently, if their artistic expression does not hit a non-black publicayion... oh well, que sera sera. Now of course an argument can be made that "more is better". Meaning, the more media outlets that mentions a film, the more black viewers will catch wind of it's existence. Huuuuuum... could be? But now it's time for "due diligence" and "responsibility" to walk through the door. And now we're back to personal goals, personal agendas, how one spells success, knowing and understanding one's market. If an artist/filmmaker has a well defined game plan and understands their personal "needs", I 've come to believe it's their responsibility to do whatever it takes to make sure their product gets in the hands of persona (white, black or dookie brown) with a need to know. In short, back to the top: It's Your Thang... do what you gotta do, I can't tell you (or anyone), who to give that thing to... Subjectivity & Personal Preference & A Well Defined Road Map, is the name of the game.

  • Janta | June 29, 2012 4:44 PMReply

    Bump Playlist and Deadline and Indiewire and all them that none of us even care about. Most of us ain't checking for them. The key is to get the Bossips and YBFs to report on our movies. If Essence will stop putting the same tired people on the cover (yes I'm lookin at you Nia Long) and give love to Adepero and others. If the black radio station will start giving the movies love that would help some of the directors. On the other hand I'm not mad at pushing the white world to recognize either. I say don't let them ignore us in comfort. We have been forced to see them all these years, sh*t, force them to see US! just sayin'


    @ Charles we need to get seen by everyone. The more we are seen the more money..opportunities etc. we make..period. Do not give up the fight because we need folks like you to keep writing. Look on Facebook Shadow and Act got like 11k friends strong. Lets run a campaign to eclipse the likes of indiewire, hollywood reporter etc. Once folks begin to see that they will start covering whatever you say trust me.

  • Charles Judson | June 29, 2012 5:13 PM

    Why do they need to see us? If getting seen doesn't get you work, doesn't get you paid, or give you feedback to help you with your work what's the point? But, if you can get work, get paid and get feedback for work without them? But why should Essence cover more films? Does it even fit their mission or their demographic? Same with the Celebrity blogs? We get those requests to cover the film festival from those type of outlets and we rarely give them media passes or many tickets. They don't write about films, or cover the other festivals in town, the other 355 days of the year, why should we think they're going to write about the films at our festival. Out of the passes we've given to those outlets, we've barely gotten any coverage and I can count those number of pieces on two hands out of 5 years. Out of that, I can remember only one who actually wrote anything insightful about the film. When he have a one off event or a film we think their coverage will fit, cool, but other than that, out of sight out of mind. So you may get them to write more about your films, but is that going to covert into anything useful? Is anyone going to be motivated to checkout your film? And are they going to cover your career or your film's path with the same diligence as whoever got into a fight at a club this week?

  • Realer than Real Deal hollyfield | June 29, 2012 4:02 PMReply

    The industry is built on perception....period and unfortunately. We are in the industry of illusions ...when the illusion becomes real then more accolades begin to pour in. Shadow and Act will always have its place in cinema especially black cinema however variety is like the wall street journal. Look how its marketed fact you have to pay for the services to view it. Its a privilege and they have done great creating that perception in the psyche of not only blacks but people in general. Sort of like the clubs in the meat packing district in NYC...velvet ropes and your name has to be on the list for entry same thing different industry. In the wall street journal when an investment bank decides to hire a Managing Director its announced in the journal. Do you know how many traders, Investment bankers etc are craving to be noticed in that regard. So yes mainstream is validation ...just as when Melvin did Badassss and made a lot of money I am pretty sure variety talked about it afterwards and everyone took notice. Nothing wrong with that and its not selling out it means you know what the fck your doing and you need to be recognized for that. We need to respect and understand that in any industry where money is involved that politics will alway be in play. We as black folks don't like politics because we tend to wear our emotions on our sleeve often to the determent of our goal. We need to curb our enthusiasm and play this game out to suit our agenda and no one is exempt from that. I love Melvin Van Peebles and what he has done for black cinema however his keep it real routine has gone wrong and he is only remembered for one film unfortunately. Spike is a distant second following suit as well and to his credit he might be 2 bad films away from selling the upper eastside townhouse to renting a room next to Melvin. Tyler is playing the game and winning, rainforest films is playing the game and winning. Overbrook is winning. Code black is winning. We need to find our lane and follow suit. The revolutionary talk is great after a couple of drinks but come on too much money is at stake and unfortunately when money is involved politics will always be in play. Anyway as far as black publications May be shadow and act needs to create a model that rivals variety. Not a paid subscription(nooooo)lol. but something that shows that your a major player that folks in the non black community need to take notice like how Vibe magazine used to be. Maybe it can serve as a feeder system for non blacks to discover and monitor new talent.


    @ Realer than misguided.. See your making this into a personal attack and apparently you have your on views on how you view black cinema and you totally missed my point. How is it misguided to be making a living doing what you want to do and doing it on your terms. Yes Code black, Tyler, Rainforest, Overbrook etc. It does not matter what you think because at the end of the day your a delusional film snob. We can look at this topic from many perspectives and from an artistic one since thats where your feeble mind likes to dwell ..Lets be real Baddasss mattered because it was the first of its kind does not make it a great film or master piece because in my opinion it was not. And I can tell you why... I understand its relevance in black cinema but thats where it ends. Quite frankly his son's remake of the film in my opinion was better. Its all subjective like a painting because you say its great does not mean that someone else will feel the same. Your looking for someone to validate the BS you have believed for so long. Its not about one film young jedi its about a body of work and unfortunately for him it ended with his first feature film. This is not a film snob discussion about who film is better and why.. thats another conversation for another day. This is about consistency. He had the opportunity however he got in his own way and did not respect the politics of the day even when he was given the keys to the studio execs car. I believe based on his personality that he offered too many fuck-you's to people in hollywood and no one will offer their place for him to crash or even to take a shit. And I love Shadow and Act and the way they help to promote black art. The writer made an attempt to understand what other blacks thoughts in regards to being accepted via mainstream and how much value we place on those outlets. As I stated before this industry is based on perception and with that offered my perspective on how Shadow and Act can create value for themselves based on that belief. I am not here to tell them what to do...hell no but since the writer wanted to know my thoughts on the matter I was just being honest on how I view this discussion. So when your done going off your ghost face killa film snob rant speaking without the benefit of an intellect then we can have a real conversation. And Thats reeler than real deal hollyfield.

    @ Charles .... I am already familiar with Van peebles work and admire him greatly and I believe you missed my point as well. Again His keeping it real routine in his actions has led to him being where he is today. He did not want to deal with the politics of the business and that has hindered him greatly. He could have done so much more for instance if he decided not to fck the bosses daughter and drive his car all at the same time. You understand. Its not about his work but more about him the person in my opinion and spike as well. I love spike as a film maker but as a person he sucks. You know what happens when ambition and fame become best friends its can create ego's. We can be militant and political at the same time. Its called recognizing your surroundings and thats the politics. Radical is a whole other entity. He could have done more if he just curbed his enthusiasm a bit thats all. As for spike lee claim to making back his money on a film was a publicity stunt to let folks know that his film is viable and that they should see it. think about it. How can you make back your money on a film before it was released. Its due to come out in August theatrically right no dvd or vod sales. The distribution company Variance is a service deal provided like free style releasing basically you pay a fee and they put it in theaters for you thus he did not get a traditional distribution deal where it was bought out right and territories were sold. And speaking of territories sold none of those actors are recognizable for foreign territories to consider picking it up. So there goes foreign pre-sales. At Sundance no distributor picked up the film hence the reason why Variance was last ditch choice. He is going indie all the way even with distribution on a Do-it-yourself tip. I can respect the hustle and the hustle to let folks like you believe he made back his money back before the film came out. If that was the case I challenge you to explain to me how he was able to accomplish that in your own words. Or interview spike and ask him how he was able to accomplish that. Like I said this industry is about perception and the fact that he is clever enough to fool people into believing that he made profit on a film before it came out to promote its worth is extremely smart..Koddos to Spike... This is not a referendum on Spike at all FYI just that I respect the hustle. I agree with you on the Rainforest tip and know the story on how they got in the game however as I said to the silly one above its not about one film. Its about a body of work and they have remained consistent. Thus they are winning. Thats all ...they could have withered away in the wind with one film however they remain relevant till this day and we need to take a page and respect the hustle....winning is about consistency weather we like the films/person or not ...thats my point.

  • Realer than the MisGuided Above | June 29, 2012 4:36 PM

    Winning? Winning is making something that will matter a decade later, damn, two or three decades later. Making ONE classic will always trumo making 12 versions of TROIS? I'm sorry, yo. That's real. I don't see MADEA as a winner or TAKERS as a winner. NOLA DARLING on the other hand? Cmon people. If course. The problem with this conversation, while being a vital one to have, is that the misguided and brainwashed among us believe that winning is being Codeblack and that Lee and Van Peebles are the losers. It's not even a conversation because you're dealing with some delusional, indoctrinated minds. With respect to this site, you don't have to do a damn thing yo increase your value. Those among us who have two cents of a brain, already value it like crazy.

  • Charles Jusdon | June 29, 2012 4:22 PM

    ?? Go to Van Peebles IMDB page. Dude's been working consistently for 5 decades. As a director, writer and actor. Does it really matter if he's "only" known for one film? He's also helped launch his son's career, whose credits are four times as long. He may not have the career you think he should have, but from everything I've heard and read, he's proud of that career because it was his. And Spike already claimed that he's made money back plus profit on RED HOOK SUMMER. I'm not sure you can draw the conclusions you have from this. Especially when examples like Rainforest Films: 1) Got on the map because their first feature in limited release had a high enough per screen average to get noticed and led to their distribution deal. 2) That first film stayed in theaters almost three to four times longer in theaters than most 4 walled films at the time. and 3) Basically created and executed the marketing gameplan they've used and refined since TROIS. These are all things they did before anyone knew who they were and without any major reviews or coverage at the outset.

  • david | June 29, 2012 2:27 PMReply

    So man points here but the quote "Or as Melvin Van Peebles suggested to me when I interviewed a few weeks ago - working towards being an entirely self-reliant, self-sustaining unit", I think is the best way to go.

    If you get caught up in the oscar hype/race for something you've done, FINE but as far as pining for it should never be the goal again. PROBLEM? We (maybe because of us not taking the smaller outlets seriously) don't really pay attention to, or know about the smaller scale "indie" films that come out.

    PARIAH was a VERY GOOD FILM as most of us who've seen it know, but people still look at me like "what's a paranna?" because they've never heard of it.

    another misconception is (and I'm guilty of this) that if the film isn't publicized or there isn't a commercial for it, or even if it isn't in theatres, or if there isn't a big star in it, that it isn't worth watching. Then on the other hand, I've seen some ATROCIOUS "black" indie

    ALL IN ALL I DO think the key is to attempt to build a genuine fan base for "black indie's" by flooding the market with good projects, and hopefully getting "US" away from needing to see a fall down funny comedy, or a super dramatic movie all the time...they've made it CRYSTAL CLEAR that they don't really care if we're here or not so lets not care (sorry for the but I'm an actor but i write and direct a lil bit too and i STAY thinking about a better way. have a great weekend yall!

  • al | June 29, 2012 2:22 PMReply

    IMHO the only way a "black" film is ever going to be covered by one of the major outlets is by getting into a top tier film festival or a theatrical release. I don't recall ever having read a Variety or Hollywood reporter review where the film was seen at a low level festival or "black" film festival. Getting coverage in one of the majors is going to get the word out about your project to a wider audience which will mean that many people who are not black will now, potentially, have your project on their radar. The major outlets don't validate a project for me any more than this site does because I will evaluate the project on my own based on the trailer , synopsis , cast and director. I don't feel like I need a lot of help and I believe other filmmakers feel the same way. I do think that once black folks come across a publication , website or blog they trust it does carry weight.

    There are a few black film festivals which have posted calls for entries this year on Shadow and Act. My film "The Next Day" ( has been discussed here a couple of times. I do not believe that it's a coincidence that my film was accepted by the three festivals that placed calls for entries on this site. Anyone who comes to this blog on a regular basis can also name a handful of projects that have reaped the benefit of being mentioned here as well as in Essence, VIBE and JET etc.

    I think black media , journalism and criticism is needed and valued by black people. Not sure if I'm 100% on topic here but I felt compelled to respond.

  • AntGrizz | June 29, 2012 1:48 PMReply

    Of course these questions are valid. Everyone knows you do not exist until you are mentioned in a mainstream publication. I don't think it necessarily has to do solely with our own self image as a Black people and our history in America of wanting desparately to be acknowledged by our oppressors. Negroes think mainstream, period. It's hard for us to support the local designer on the come up when he/she is a nobody. Let's that person get a write up in the news or an interview on a major network news program. They'd be validated overnight. Its just the way the game works.

  • Charles Judson | June 29, 2012 2:55 PM

    I have to disagree. What people ignore are the hundreds of critics and writers locally that cover films and events. On audience level, they may not be known on a national scale, but locally people rely on them for info and recommendations. If you can't local love, it's impossible to get to the next level. On national level, many of those local critics are also known in other circles. Especially as their reputation grows. And every industry has its own network, and so do film critics. So when someone in New Orleans wants to go Chicago, if those Chicago critics want to know if they're a legit talent, or what the response was locally, they can all on the folks in New Orleans. Also, it's not that people are nobodies, it's that they're unproven. On a local level, having a writer, a critic, a fellow filmmaker, or anyone with a voice champion you, is one more step in getting you over that hump. Every year 60,000 to 100,000 films are submitted to film festivals world wide. That's not including the films that skip festivals. On a global scale, if you're aiming to get noticed in that huge pile without any build up you're kidding yourself (an example is the Sundance winners this year: Ava has been in the film world for years and had previous films before this year, Behn with BEASTS has been known for awhile on the fest circuit for his short GLORY AT SEA which I brought back with me to the 2009 Atlanta Film Festival after seeing it at another film festival and people STILL talk about it). But, an example of a filmmaker helping other filmmakers, we got a submission from an Asian filmmaker who also runs a site about Asian films. Without me having to ask he sent me a list of four films from the festival circuit he thinks would be great for us to consider. One of the films is even in a genre he doesn't like and usually avoids but he enjoyed so much he's trying to help it get into other festivals. Having checked out his site, those are four films that on a smaller scale got the kind of validation that matters for what I do. Those are four filmmakers who may possibly get into a festival they didn't even have to submit to. One last thing, don't get it twisted about being in Variety or Hollywood Reporter as validation that will lead to anything. There are hundreds of films that get reviewed from the festival circuit that get amazing reviews in the biggest publications and they still get dumped, can't find distribution or just fade away. Real validation is beyond Variety and HR, when your films are seen by audiences and they are responding. Real validation is when other filmmakers are inspired by your work. Real validation is when you are able to make a living as a filmmaker. There are filmmakers who don't need the mainstream press and never have.

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