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The Greatest Lie Ever Told To The Black Filmmaker

by Andre Seewood
September 6, 2011 2:24 AM
47 Comments
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It would seem that the more different people tell the same lie, the easier it is for others to believe it as the truth. I have already discussed in several articles and in my book, SLAVE CINEMA: The Crisis of the African-American in Film, that there is a segregated relationship between how African-American films are funded, distributed and exhibited vis-à-vis how white American films are funded, distributed and exhibited.

It is this racially segregated and unequal relationship that aids in holding back African-American films (independent and commercial) from the narrative and stylistic advances often explored in white American and international cinema. To understand this aesthetic segregation we have to first acknowledge that there is always –every year- a certain amount of white films produced and distributed for prestige (Academy Awards, international awards and noble causes) rather than for profit.

For instance, no one at Fox Searchlight Pictures was expecting the great cinematic poet Terrence Malick’s work, THE TREE OF LIFE (2011) to be a 500 million dollar blockbuster when it was released this Summer, but the film which stars Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain, premiered at the Cannes film festival after a two year delay by the auteur himself, where it finally won the coveted Palme D’or. The film has played domestically and internationally earning little more than 12 million dollars as of September 1st in America from a production budget of 32 million dollars with high critical acclaim.(1) What can be deduced from this example is that white Hollywood creates and maintains its national and international cultural preeminence by funding, distributing and exhibiting certain films that are in no way made to return steep first and second weekend short term box office profits, but instead certain films are made to enhance the richness of white Hollywood’s cultural legacy and seduce those critical of Hollywood’s greed that the business is not always about profit: it is also about the art.

The truth is Hollywood makes a fortune on a handful of blockbuster films and their sequels that make millions upon millions of dollars domestically and across the globe. Yet, there is another truth repeated by author Mario Puzo on the first page of his book, THE GODFATHER, where he quoted from 19th century French writer, Honoré de Balzac that is à propos to white Hollywood’s success : “Behind every great fortune there is a crime.”(2) The crime behind the fortunes of Hollywood which will be discussed in this article is the greatest lie ever told to the black filmmaker.

The Lie: African-American films have little to no international market appeal.

This single lie which has been repeated by white producers, Hollywood insiders, agents and critics alike is the single greatest lie that has both swindled many African-American filmmakers from their just deserved foreign licensing rights and contributes to the lower production budgets, shorter development times and general lack of narrative and stylistic risk taking in African-American films commercial and independent vis-à-vis white films commercial or independent. As I stated in SLAVE CINEMA:

“Ironically, this notion that no one is interested in African-American films outside of the African-American community was started during the spark in the production of African-American films in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Many Hollywood executive power brokers literally swindled many African-American filmmakers out of their share of foreign licensing rights by convincing them that their urban themed films would have little audience interest outside of the U.S. market. We would do well to note here that surviving copies of Oscar Micheaux’s work have been found as far away as Spain (Cf., Forgeries of Memory and Meaning, Robinson, 261), so there is and always has been an international audience for African-American films but the whites that control the industry have a vested interest in telling us that there is not… Even a recent article in The Hollywood Reporter about the success of Tyler Perry states that,” execs, while careful to emphasize that they want to produce more fare for black audiences, say that the business picture is more complicated than it would appear on the surface. Advantages like new audiences for lower-budget product are offset by certain disadvantages, like limited international potential.” (pgs. 119-120) (3)

It would seem unnecessary to have to ask that if African-American music and musicians have an international appeal, if African-American athletes are known the world over, and if African-American fashion and dances are known around the world, why would African-American films have little international box office appeal? Even when we listen to the hottest French rapper today, La Fouine (pronounced: La Foo-knee) in the song Gucci Sale Musique (Trans: Dirty Gucci Music) from his latest double CD, we hear references to African-American music in the lyric:

“Je suis Notorious BIG, bitch je suis, Ready to Die.” (Trans: I am Notorious BIG Bitch, I’m ready to die.)

If we search YouTube carefully we see Swedish and Belgian youths, Crip walking, and youths in Switzerland sagging their pants with oversized hoodies and NY baseball caps on, the Boston Celtics’ Paul Pierce playing basketball in China and hip-hop fashions worn in the streets of Japan; why wouldn’t every African-American filmmaker with a Hollywood contract demand that his or her foreign licensing rights be respected? Why aren’t all African-American independent filmmakers making sure that the DVD’s of their films contain at least two different foreign language subtitle tracks or at least one foreign language voice dub track? Why? I believe that the destructive power of the lie that African-American films have little to no international market appeal takes advantage of African-American mentalities that have been shaped by 400 years of slavery’s oppression. That is to say that the lie gains its power and is often accepted as true because of the way the lasting legacy of slavery has shaped our mentalities and curtailed the expectations we associate with our racial identity. But the most persuasive tool that seduces us to accept the lie that African-American films have little to no international market appeal is that the coveted Hollywood Contract is a symbol of status and division among African-American filmmakers.

Whether or not you believe in the veracity of the “Willie Lynch Letter” as a doctrine of white supremacist control over African-Americans during the era of slavery, the gilded ideal of the Hollywood Contract has actually been the most powerful tool used to divide and ‘control’ African-American filmmakers since Spike Lee’s deal with Columbia pictures to fund and distribute his second feature film, SCHOOL DAZE (1988). Whether that contract with a major Hollywood studio is a P&A deal (Prints and Advertising), Negative Pick-up, First Look, etc, the contract itself and the major studio attached to it becomes a dividing line between the haves and the have nots; or in keeping with the theme from Spike Lee’s SCHOOL DAZE, the wanna-be’s and the jiggaboos. After SCHOOL DAZE and later Singleton’s BOYZ N THE HOOD (1991) the Hollywood Contract became a status symbol that divided most practicing and would be African-American filmmakers into two distinct categories and deliberately pitted them against one another:

1) The House Negro Filmmaker (also known as the commercial filmmaker)
2) The Field Negro Filmmaker (also known as the independent filmmaker)

The House Negro Filmmaker tries desperately to please his white masters with a successful profit making product using A-list actors, generic story lines, conventional action and safe non-threatening bourgeois ideals that appeal to both white and black audiences. On the other hand, The Field Negro Filmmaker attempts to represent reality on-screen the way he or she believes a majority of African-Americans see their everyday social realities. The Field Negro Filmmaker wants to make a successful profit making film with b-list or unknown actors, a race specific story line, conventional action but with threatening street ideals that upset the bourgeois ideals of both white and black audiences. Whether you please your masters or you please your brethren it is very possible that neither filmmaker is actually pleasing him or herself as an artist.

The Hollywood Contract (on par with the status provided by the good government job, the good factory job in the African-American community) changes the practice of filmmaking into a status seeking enterprise. The House Negro Filmmaker with a Hollywood Contract is privileged with the ability to ‘hob-nob’ with the A-list stars and celebrities; he or she is perceived as having ‘made it’ to friends and family; their film is seen on screen and occasionally on cable and satellite television. But the down side of The House Negro Filmmaker is that they have been rendered powerless in the production and development of their own subsequent works. Often the studio interferes with their work in the form of budgetary restrictions, usually citing the lie that African-American films do poorly in the international market as the reason. Their scripts are placed in ‘turn around’ (industry jargon for ‘not at this time’) or their films underperform due to script revisions, ratings board interference, foreshortened development timetables, poor advertising, even limited screen ratios. Thus, The House Negro Filmmaker, like the House Negro who served his white masters inside their plush antebellum estates, has to perform specific duties to maintain his privileges and status by learning to stay in his place, so he is still a slave; he is still un-free. The Hollywood Contract is more of a shackle than it is a key. Not to diminish the work of all House Negro Filmmakers, since some of their films usually expand Hollywood’s restricted representations of race by casting African-Americans in roles usually reserved for whites while simultaneously pleasing those African-Americans that adhere to conventional bourgeois ideals.

By contrast, The Field Negro Filmmaker seeks the status of the Hollywood Contract but only on the terms that his or her first film, reveals the way they actually believe it is on the streets for African-Americans. (See: The Realist Tendency, Part One) The Field Negro Filmmaker usually invests his or her own money into the film or the money of trusted friends, family or funds gathered by any means necessary to bring to the screen an aspect of African-American life thought of as suppressed or under-represented by commercial Hollywood films and House Negro Filmmakers. Whether gritty “Get out of the Game” street dramas or weed induced comedies, The Field Negro Filmmaker’s work can only be validated in the end by the attainment of The Hollywood Contract. In the eyes of family and friends, The Field Negro Filmmaker is a broke failure until he can secure that Hollywood Contract and insulate himself with the privileges of the status it bestows upon the signer. The Field Negro Filmmaker usually accepts the lie that his or her urban themed film will not play well in international markets because they have very little knowledge about urban cultures overseas, do not speak a second language, and are blindly concerned with the urban African-American community as their sole target audience. If the House Negro Filmmaker has to accept the lie as a prerequisite to the offer of a The Hollywood Contract, then the Field Negro Filmmaker accepts the lie on the basis of his or her own ignorance of the value of their work in markets other than those considered strictly African-American. Not to disrespect the work of all Field Negro Filmmakers, some of their work does call attention to aspects of African-American social realities that are suppressed or deliberately overlooked by mainstream Hollywood cinema.

I have yet to explain why foreign licensing rights are so important to all filmmakers and particularly to those of color. Let me begin with the fact that a large percentage of Hollywood’s worldwide box office grosses come from overseas markets. A quick glance at the box office totals of almost any American produced film on websites like ‘boxofficemojo.com’ will, more often than not, reveal an equal or higher amount of international box office grosses in comparison with domestic grosses. The additional profits associated with foreign licensing rights,” allows white filmmakers a wider margin of error when judging the box office appeal of a film against the artistic purpose and integrity of a film. This wider margin of error encourages certain white filmmakers to experiment with style, dialogue, the presentation of action, editing, setting as well as allowing these white filmmakers to take chances on subject matter and its overall narrative presentation.” (pg.16, SLAVE CINEMA) It is as a direct consequence of the denial of foreign licensing rights to African-American filmmakers that there exists, in my opinion, a segregated and unequal divide between African-American filmmakers and white filmmakers.

Returning to the issue of how the illusions associated with The Hollywood Contract pits African-American filmmakers against each other, we see how the competition involved in getting a film noticed by the industry (through festivals, word-of-mouth, social media networks) causes the House Negro Filmmaker to look down upon the Field Negro Filmmaker as an uncouth, retrograde threat to the status and privileges he believes he has worked so hard to achieve. In fact, the House Negro Filmmaker usually develops selective amnesia and forgets that he was once a Field Negro Filmmaker and had to raise money for his first film by hook or by crook. To illustrate this analogy we need go back in time and look at the tenuous and volatile relationship between Spike Lee and Matty Rich. Matty Rich launched his filmmaking career with the 1991 independent film, STRAIGHT OUTTA BROOKLYN, which was financed with credit cards and donations. He would be our Field Negro Filmmaker who attained a Hollywood Contract for his next film, THE INKWELL (1994) which received mixed reviews and was a commercial failure.
Spike Lee, of course, began as a Field Negro Filmmaker with his first feature length independent film, SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT in 1986. When he signed his Hollywood Contract with Columbia pictures for SCHOOL DAZE he had successfully transitioned into House Negro Filmmaker status. It is well known that Spike Lee spewed much vitriol against Matty Rich allegedly because he didn’t go to film school and was, ”ignorant,” in Spike’s opinion. (4) Yet only a few years later Spike would have his choke chain yanked by Hollywood when Warner Bros. refused to increase the budget of his epic bio-film MALCOLM X (1992). He would have to go back to his Field Negro Filmmaker roots and raise money from sources outside of Hollywood to complete that film and later several others.

The privileges and status associated with the fabled Hollywood Contract often blinds the House Negro Filmmaker from his or her roots and causes them to see the Field Negro Filmmaker as a competitive threat to their illusion of artistic control in the white controlled Hollywood industry. Matty Rich’s filmmaking career may have stalled and failed for several other reasons, but the hatred and anger between he and his fellow African-American filmmaker, Spike Lee, certainly blinded both of them from the Janus faced nature of The Hollywood Contract. So if you, like many of us, have ever wondered why successful African-American filmmakers and stars only rarely attempt to unite and help those up and coming in the industry, it’s not because of what’s written in the contract that is preventing them, but rather the illusion of status and privileges associated with The Hollywood Contract that divides and ‘controls’ the African-American filmmaker and changes their perception by causing them to see others as a competitive threat.

My only suggestion for a way out of this, for lack of a better phrase,” Hollywood trick bag,” is a radical one. I believe that all of the African-American filmmakers who have signed Hollywood Contracts wherein which they were denied their foreign licensing rights should band together and file a class action lawsuit against all of the parties involved. Whether these filmmakers win or lose the case would not be the measure of the lawsuit’s success or failure, but instead the lawsuit and the controversy it would inevitably create would make all filmmaker’s of color aware of the importance, the significance and their rights to foreign licensing when and if they are ever offered the gilded Hollywood Contract. Moreover, if these filmmakers should win they could use the money to start and maintain a “Collard Greens Circuit” as I have described in a previous article as an alternative means for funding and distributing African-American cinema. The crime behind the great fortunes of Hollywood and the impoverishment of African-American cinema has to be corrected. If white controlled Hollywood wants to keep a segregated relationship between how white films are funded, distributed and exhibited and African-American films then perhaps a truly segregated cinema, where we keep our profits to sustain and control our own images would show them that a house divided cannot stand, but that if you build another house it surely can.

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.

NOTES
(1) These box office totals are subject to change. Download date 9/3/11. http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=treeoflife.htm
(2) Cf., page 9, The Godfather by Mario Puzo, New American Library, 1969 New York: New York.
(3) Cf., “Perry’s Success has black films in fashion” by Steven Zeitchik in The Hollywood Reporter, October 17, 2007.
(4) Cf., “Spike Lee on Filmmaking,” Metcalfe Nasser, www.blackfilm.com, download date 9/3/11.

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47 Comments

  • Charles Micheaux | June 23, 2013 6:52 PMReply

    "Your self image is so powerful it unwittingly becomes your destiny." --Oscar Micheaux

    "Film is the most powerful medium known to man on earth." ---Charles Micheaux

  • Filmmakerharryb | March 3, 2012 5:26 PMReply

    Black People have money. If we keep waiting for superman we'll be waiting forever. Why do blacks have to write so called black films. Why not have fun & stop thinking about color. I got into films cause I found it fun. Not to save the race. I don't put pen to Pad & think black. I think DOPE SHIT PERIOD! & allow my story to flow freely. If my character ends up being white great, if they end of being black great. I'm OUT!

  • Simon Si | December 26, 2013 8:21 PM

    Blacks are not the ones who insist on this racial divide in the first place, it's white Hollywood power brokers who keep insisting on marginalizing black actors regardless of thematic details. Whites in Hollywood are the ones who insist on drawing a racial line in the sand. So, my question is, why do you find it so much easier to blame blacks and label their reality-based productions " black films"? SMH.

  • E. Joyce Moore | March 1, 2012 11:14 PMReply

    Outstanding article. I am a mid-career person who is a newbie in this industry. This is quite an educational piece. I may be naive, but I'm really wondering why folks don't consider putting their respective sticks of firewood on one fire, so everyone can get warm. I've got three great scripts that have no where to go...yet.

  • Andre Seewood | September 19, 2011 1:48 AMReply

    @Jay, I think that is definetly the problem: Black films (no matter what the subject matter or genre) are look at by the industry, foriegn buyers, etc, as ONE SINGULAR GENRE. As I discussed in my book, SLAVE CINEMA, "1) Industry executives treat African-American films as one singualr genre, separate and unequal to mainstream films (i.e., films written or directed by whites) and 2) the diversity of voices, genres, and styles of films written or directed by African-Americans is stifled by the fact that Major studios do not develop or produce different "kinds" of films written and directed by African-Americans on the same lengty development schedules or with the large production budgets as they do films written and directed by whites." (pg.151) The reasoning for this aesthetic segregation is based in no small part upon the lie that Black films don't sell well in overseas markets. By thinking of any and all Black films as a singular genre they dismiss the nuanes, variety and diversity that is Black film; a pattern reminiscent of how Africans from different tribes, cultures, and languages were all shackled together during the slave trade and considered as one group inspite of their diversity.

  • Jay | September 18, 2011 9:23 AMReply

    @Andre Seewood

    Is it a fallacy or is it a different point of view? I doubt the metrics of foreign sales are as cut and dry as 'Black films don't sell' or 'They're 'lying' when they say Black films don't sell'.

    For instance, action films, horror, sexploitation and science fiction seem to be the product consistently moving through the film markets. Genre does rule the day in these markets. Look at the one sheets in the lobby — action stars or character actors have a large amount of shelf space, often in independent productions that shoot in 18 days (using plenty of stock footage to 'open the film up') and are populated with familiar character actors or 'no longer A-List actors' that help sell the concepts. Most buyers want to know 'who is in it?' before they purchase.

    These aren't blockbusters or art house dramas, but the life blood of these markets. The multi-multi million dollar blockbusters are already pre-sold by conglomerates to other conglomerates i.e, the studio machine, with it's endless resources. I think that is where the 'lie' is perpetrated, not at the markets necessarily.

    How could a movie like "Half Past Dead" starring Steven Seagal, Morris Chestnut and Ja Rule (filmed in Germany I believe, with the now defunct tax break incentive) get the fairly high amount of pre-sales that it received? Action star Steven Seagal + Soundtrack and co-star Ja Rule + Actor Morris Chestnut. Sales agents could easily find buyers for that combination. It has marketability. The soundtrack sold decent numbers (Note I'm not looking at the quality of this particular movie, it's just an example of how something moves in the marketplace).

    The paradigm has changed drastically since 2002, but the essentials are still in place. We're talking too dogmatically in terms of 'Black film,' as if it is a genre. It's not.

  • Andre Seewood | September 18, 2011 5:47 AMReply

    @This is what I do, there are so many fallacies and deceptions in your comment that it would take me another whole article to address them point for point. Unfortunately, I do not have the time for that, but I will say that if you think that a Chick flick or a family comedy with a majority White-American cast is easier to sell in Scandinavia because Scandinavians can see themselves represented in an American film with White-American actors, then you are upholding the very "racist imaginary" that supports the "lie" that I have discussed in my article. Furthermore, making a "generic" action film with Black actors is not the solution, at all. In fact, the money to make a "generic" black action film is not there, because the industry refuses to spend that amount of money on a "black" film because- wait for it- "Black films don't sell well in overseas markets!" Because, that's where a large chunk of Hollywood's astronomical box office profits come from. It is this fallacy, this very lie, which in turn, is why we are forced to make low budget quickie comedies and "family" dramas! Which again, as you say, don't sell well (but at least they do sell!) because foriegn markets want to see themselves represented on screen as White American actors in a White American culture. If you don't get this, then perhaps you are like the fish that cannot see the water that it is breathing.

  • Bob | January 7, 2014 4:51 AM

    I think the book An Empire of their Own spells this out in greatest, and gravest, detail.

  • Cynthia | September 15, 2011 11:11 AMReply

    Hey @This is what I do...I would love to personally chat with you. Please email me: Cynthia@shadowandact.com

  • This is what I do | September 15, 2011 11:05 AMReply

    BY the way, one additional point. I have the same problem selling foreign langauge films to foreign countries. Meaning if I have an American film of a certain genre and it sells really well and I have a Polish film that is just as good it will not sell. Now this does not make sense because non English speaking countries will have to dub or subtitle the movie anyway however, for some reason it makes a huge difference. I think you need to approach the buyers in the market and see why this is as opposed to the US Disttributors because I will tell you one fundamental truth, if our buyers will buy it we will sell it. If we thought it was the most disgusting, horrible movie ever made and it would sell we would still sell it so chances are this is not the studios or the US distributors but the buyers who make the most influence on the market which is Europe, Asia and Latin America.

  • This is what I do | September 15, 2011 10:45 AMReply

    I am a Foreign Sales Agent and I can tell you this. Films made by black filmakers with back cast do sell internationally, however, it is not the race issue that is the fundamental problem, it is an issue of genre and cast level. So lets say you make an action film with 50 cent and another actor (white or black doesnt really matter) and it has lots of action, explosions, good sript, nice budget I can sell that just as well as I can sell that exact same film with a white cast. If however, you have a family film with an all black cast and you compare the revenues earned internationally with a family film with an all white cast with the same budget, it will not sell as well. I think the reason is less nefarious than you think. Take Scandinavia for example, there are not alot of black people in Sweden, at least compared to the U.S. so when a white viewer in Scandinavia watches a chick flick or a family comedy they tend to want to see themselves represented in the film, if they watch an all black cast they cannot see themselves in the film. These seems silly but it is the only way I can describe the buyers response to "urban" comedies. Sorry for the use of the word urban but that is the industry wide pc word for black. The hardest genres to sell internationally are comedies and dramas. The only way to test your theory would be to see if an action film with all black cast with name value could do the same amount of units in the UK or Germany as a white cast. I think you will find with action films and creature films it wouldnt make a difference with dramas and comedies which are already hard to sell it would. I would like to see more diversity in film myself. Believe me I have this problem in more ways than you think, I can't sell films with a Jewish story because the Europeans and Arabs will not buy it (unless of course it is a holocaust story becaue the Jews are victims and then it is OK), I cannot sell gay films in the straight market, I cannot sell Chinese films to Japan, I cannot sell wonderful art house films that deserve to be seen because nothing blows up in them.

    The interntional independent film market for the most part is very juenile and not very sophisticated.

  • Edward | September 14, 2011 5:40 AMReply

    Sycamore Entertainment Is a black owned distribution company.
    send us your films. Black films need to be seen.

    http://www.sycamoreentertainment.com/news-20110221.php

  • Jay | September 9, 2011 5:40 AMReply

    Brilliant article; excellent discussion. The cat is out of the bag — namely that if Black American artists keep in lockstep in the naval gazing landscape of the status quo, we'll lose out on the wider environment.

    Solipsism only serves to isolate us from richer, more dynamic experiences often discovered in a new contexts.
    Floyd Webb's comments are like the historical Shank of truth, cutting through the bullshit of our collective limitations…

  • Laura | September 7, 2011 7:26 AMReply

    @ Floyd Webb

    ....and let the church say amen.

  • politicallyincorrect | September 7, 2011 7:08 AMReply

    I am not in the movie business just a fan. I am confused. Tyler Perry cant get into the international market but 50 Cent has figured out a way.

    Instead of Europe Tyler should go to South America, Latinos love his movies. They have a chitlin circuit type thing too

  • Sergio | September 7, 2011 3:53 AMReply

    "Considering all of this, you can see why Lionsgate hasn’t really taken chances w/ Tyler Perry’s films in, say, French territories or Germany, especially since they don’t need to in order to recoup. Love it or hate it, Big Momma 3 KILLED overseas (broad comedy)..."

    But TP doesn't need Lionsgate to make deals overseas. Since he finances and owns his films Lionsgate really has nothing to say about it. Like I've said before Perry is always talking about wanting his films play overseas, so why doesn't he go to Cannes open up a suite of offices at the Carlton Hotel, put billboards and posters everywhere and try to sell his films in foreign markets?. Just like 50 Cent did at Cannes this last may with great success.

    Now true Perry's films may be too "regional" to play in foreign territories, but there are tons of German, British, French Japanese, Dutch, Indian "Bollywood" and films from other countries too that are too "regional" to play in the U.S. Then again African filmmakers are at Cannes every year making deals (they even have their own pavilion) but African-American filmmakers aren't. What excuse do they have?

    And Perry definitely has to money to take a shot so what's stopping him? He might fail or he might sell his film to dozens of foreign territories. Why not give a shot?

  • CareyCarey | September 7, 2011 2:55 AMReply

    Okay, I’m reading through the post and the subsequent comments and you know, there was really nothing new. I’m thinking to myself, here we go again, another round table discussion with Cornell West and the boys. And sure enough, as big bank tried to swallow little bank, somebody threw the tried and true House Negro Filmmaker or a Field Negro Filmmaker debate on the floor. Oh lord, here we go, The Huxtables vs George Jefferson and Weezy, The Thrilla in Manila was about to jump off - I thought. Oh yeah, I just knew one of my friendly film friends was going to break out in their best pompous peacock strut and spout the biggest double talk purple prose bs known to man. Yelp, I was braced for “We Shall Over Come” and the “Fours Score and Seven Years Ago”, all told through the metaphoric razzle dazzle that would make Don King, Aristotle, Socrates, and Tutor Turtle very proud. But wait, a little of that hit the floor but dman, my man Floyd Webb came by and killed this Mf’er. Yeah, I said M’fker. That’s right, Floyd laid that shit out like 1-2-3, A-B-C... no coke, no chaser, dis here is the real deal. The road maps are right there.

    Hat tipped in Floyd Webb’s direction.

  • Andre Seewood | September 7, 2011 2:38 AMReply

    @Miles, Wow that is such a tantalizing question: When Spike Lee made Bamboozled was he a House Negro Filmmaker or a Field Negro Filmmaker? I think that when an artist becomes critical of the society he or she represents on screen they go beyond the narrow confines of being a House Negro Filmmaker or a Field Negro Filmmaker. That artist is now pursuing a theme that challenges us as well as themselves. As I said in the piece Lee ossilates between the two definitions and even then he transcends these definitions in so many of his works. He is definitely an artist and beyond the definitions I put forth in the article. Having said this, I will say that I that although I thought the concept and theme of Bamboozled was superb, the dramatic and narrative execution was not fully satisfying, but it is one of those films that just remains relevant- after so many years. I think the ability to be critical of what you represent on screen through how you present the material formally is what allows the African-American filmmaker to transcend the narrow confines of being a House Negro Filmmaker and/or a Field Negro Filmmaker.

  • illthoughts | September 7, 2011 2:34 AMReply

    Malcolm X was right on the money when he said something like if you're waiting for the white man to give you freedom then you'll be waiting a long time. You can apply that to film making. It's 2011 and we have less movies in the theaters than any other time that I ca remember. Where Is Jay-Z, Fifty Cent? Both have mentioned of getting into movies and even one has. With their money they can build their own distribution company. Denzel, Will make twenty mil a movie how about them try to build a distribution company? It will never happen because ego will get in the way of doing anything of this magnitude. Coming to America made buckets of money and there wasn't one white face in the film. Eddie Murphy gave up when he made Harlem Nights, Boomerang because they didn't make as much as Beverly Hills Cop. Little does he know more white people can quote line for line in those movies more so than Beverly Hills Cop and every job I had over the last twenty years this is the case. We need to think differently and out of the box. Tyler Perry is the only one making moves but he gets criticized. Stop blaming H'wood, I mean of course they don't want us to take over like we have done with everything else. Let's get our heads together and build our own Hollywood.

  • Miles Ellison | September 7, 2011 2:15 AMReply

    When Spike Lee made Bamboozled, was he a House Negro Filmmaker of a Field Negro Filmmaker?

  • Andre Seewood | September 7, 2011 1:54 AMReply

    Magnificent continuation Mr. Webb; excellent points and information all the way around. I agree the 'sharecopper' analogy is perhaps more a propos, but whatever analogy can illustrate the point is worthy of our attention.

  • Floyd Webb | September 7, 2011 1:35 AMReply

    (continued from my last post)
    Then came Melvin Van Peebles and Fred Williamson, former football player turned actor. Emboldened by the examples of no-limit brothers like Robert WIlliams, who took the struggle abroad and challenged America from Cuba, Vietnam and China, They re-discovered global cinema.

    Van Peebles entered the American film industry as a French Director with the film La Permission (Story of a Three Day Pass) entry to the San Francisco Film Festival in 1967. http://history.sffs.org/films/film_details.php?id=4766

    Fred WIlliamson who maximized the access granted by his fame, discovered the basic tool of any business, a marketing center. Fred went to Cannes, then discovered:

    AFM - American Film Market
    * Cannes Market Marche du Film
    * European Film Market
    * Honk Kong Filmart
    * London Programme Market
    * MIDEM - Premier International Music Market
    * MIFED - Cinema & TV International Multymedia Market - Italy
    * MIPASIA - International Film, Programme & Hardware Market
    * MIPCOM - International Television Programme Market
    * MIPTV - International Television Programme Market
    * NAB - National Association of Broadcasters - USA
    * NATPE International
    * ShoWest
    * AFCI Locations Trade Show
    * Electronic Entertainment Expo
    * International Broadcasting Convention
    * International Film Financing Conference
    * ShowBiz Expo
    * SMPTE Technical Conference & Exhibition

    Fred Wiliamson has had few, if ANY, films financed by Hollywood studios. But Fred WIlliamson, love him of hate him, was one of the most well know Black filmmakers in the world, not America, but THE WORLD, for his incredible output of schlock B action film. I love it dearly!

    As Americans, some of us are crippled by our failure to see cinema as a GLOBAL market place. and as filmmakers we abdicate that power and authority of distribution of our intellectual property. We are just so happy that they love our work and include us in their world for the financially productive life of that work.

    This field nigger/house nigger thang is gotten old. What is really happening is we have a sharecropping mentality when it comes to cinema. We want the big land owner to lease us a plot, then sell our produce to them instead of taking it to market ourselves. Then we trust them to give us a fair accounting of how much they got paid for our crops and will not let us see the books. Sound familiar???

    We need to go get Jim Brown.

    "The late Richard Pryor and NFL great Jim Brown were once close friends and Brown always looked after him, he made sure no one ever took advantage of him. Pryor showed his gratitude by giving Brown a executive position with his "Indigo Productions" film company.

    At the time, Pryor was the only black celebrity who had a film production company in Hollywood, funded by a white corporation for $50 million dollars. I've heard from sources that Brown wanted to produce "The Color Purple" and "Purple Rain" through the company but Pryor vetoed him."

    Jim has vision, commitment and he had a plan based on rise of the Australian film industry. Jim saw us a nation in a national and needed to understand how national cinema institutions were built.

    Get a plane ticket, y'all. Discover the film and television markets get thee to them, meet some folks. Before you even try, go see what is being offered and how it is packaged. Pay special attention to the new Asian cinema and the recent output from South Africa.

    We need to arm ourselves with knowledge, boots on the ground intelligence gathered by concrete study and practice and participation, networking the global cinema market.

    Wanna go to Cannes or Berlin to the markets? Don't but that 5 bags of weed over the next 6 months. Save that money for a plane ticket, if you REALLY serious. Do you love cinema or that bag of weed more? (substitute bag of weed with any finance absorbing addiction.)

    And last but not least. Make cinema worthy of global consumption, with content that celebrates our community not exploit it's malaise. Stop using television as a model for cinema, go read some good fiction dammit. Discover some new authors, talk to your Garveyite 90 year old uncle.

    Do something DIFFERENT.

  • Floyd Webb | September 7, 2011 1:33 AMReply

    Film Markets Y'all, Film Markets!

    Look folks, this is not rocket science. The greatest lie ever told is the one we tell ourselves.

    I am a country boy by birth so I use agricultural metaphors. As a film community(farmers), a film genre, if that is what we want to be, we have not done the work , cleared, plowed and and seeded the field and produced a significant CONSISTENT crop of independent works to take to market.

    There has been no cinema MOTOWN.

    The late St. Clair Bourne told me that cinema is political and the promotion and distribution of cinema is all about 'WORLDVIEW." The worldview of America industry has been one in which race is a weapon and a tool. The goal is divisiveness and control.

    By our very participation in the discussion of race and racism, and not seeking to generate a new discourse that goes counter to that worldview we empower it.

    We are not a significant part of that dominant worldview. We are a special ingredient exploited and used by the dominant culture to sweeten the palate for his global imperialism they have practiced since the Spanish American War. ( Am I losing some of y'all? I know history ain't taught very well since I graduated form elementary school in the 1960s. :-)

    Americans (That's all of us raised in the belly of this beast are,NO exceptions. I disagree with my late uncle El Hajj Malik EL Shabazz PBUH. Malcolm X, for the ones who don't know. We are in the oven, we are biscuits and we get ate up everyday.) tend to view themselves and America as an exceptional center of the world. Even the victims of America (Um talking bout those of us self-identified and socially subjugated by a white supremacy in it's death-throes) attach themselves to this "exceptionalism" with an evangelical zeal. As long as we see the cultural and business model of Hollywood as the center of the world and keep referencing that culture and business as a benchmark, nothing will happen.

    Black filmmakers have already benefited from global marketing. Oscar Micheaux's Within Our Gates was distributed to Spain and South America. From 1900 to 1950 there was a nascent black film movement that died in it's youth because few had the drive, inclination or vision of an Oscar Micheaux. Hollywood took over black cinema production like the mob took over the numbers racket.

    Our readings of Black Cinema History have to be reconstructed for specifics. Micheaux opened up an office in NY to do foreign sales. Others did the same. Why not? Jazz was hip-hop back. The world has embraced every African American cultural form produced here since release of those illegal captive laborers by Lincolns decree.

    After reconstruction, Ragtime sheet music made it's way around the world before the proliferation of the phonograph. The works of Scott Joplin were known around the world. Ragtime influenced classical composers including Erik Satie, Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky. Understand the nature and value of Black intellectual property FIRST.

    The first cinematic images of African Americans were actually quite compelling in a documentary sense, before dramatic cinema, the images of Black Soldiers in Cuba and the Spanish America war were quite popular, but what resonated and dominated eventually were images like Edison's Niggers in a Woodpile, The Chicken Thief, and the Watermelon,eating contest. Images that denigrated black American in the period of reconstruction. MAny considered this Great entertainment. And most likely influenced Griffith in his creation of Birth of a Nation. These images in various forms persist in Hollywood to this day. They are as insidious as Nazi films that stereotyped Jews and helped bring about the execution of their "Final Solution. (Go on accuse me of being extreme here, this is America right?)

    Was I imagining it or did Precious not steal a bag of fried chicken in that critically acclaimed film of the same name? Are some Black Americans still ashamed of a fruit called "watermelon" and not eat it in the presence of white people? Do we not still laugh at Watermelon and Chicken jokes?

    I know I do...pass me a wang, after I spit these seeds out.

    SInce 1922, organizations like Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association of America (MPAA), in their efforts to "to foster a more favorable public image for the motion picture industry and to safeguard the role of then-silent films’ place in mainstream America" diseminated the world view of American Apartheid and promotion of the "American Dream." This business entity embraced The Production Code or the Hays Code, "a regime requiring the review of all film scripts to ensure the absence of "offensive" material." The MPAA became the cultural imperialist arm of America and stalwart champion of white American supremacy.

    This is what Black filmmakers were up against. This is the genetic DNA of the Hollywood film industry.
    (continued next post...)

  • 1555filmworks | September 7, 2011 1:28 AMReply

    I was listening to Robert Townsend speak a few months ago and someone asked a question about others who have made it helping others out. He told the young lady to get with others coming up and networking. I personally thought and think that's some BS. I spoke at Chicago State a few days ago and that same question was asked to me and as like with every other community, we pull someone up and then all I ask is for you to pull another person up. This should be in every field in our community.

  • 1555filmworks | September 7, 2011 1:18 AMReply

    an amazing article

  • NothingButAMan | September 6, 2011 12:25 PMReply

    I highly support this being a podcast topic. Wasn't there a panel @ Sundance this year about Black films and foreign distribution? Get those people on the line...

  • James Madison | September 6, 2011 11:48 AMReply

    Sergio has been saying this on more than one occasion since I became a forum member of S&A.

    Please podcast this topic if time permits.

    Interested in reading the book, so I just special ordered it from Barnes and Noble.

  • Laura | September 6, 2011 10:28 AMReply

    Ok, I'm gonna ask this question. I know that individuals go find out info about hybrid distribution model. However collectively is there anything that is going with black film is there a collective folks coming together to get stuff done. I'm learning on my own. But I am tired of us perpectually reinventing the wheel

    ***I'm typing on my iPhone, so sorry for any typo***

  • Gina | September 6, 2011 8:46 AMReply

    Can we get a post from folks explaining how they went abou distributing their films internationally?

  • Kirk | September 6, 2011 8:42 AMReply

    On the contrary, like most Black American culture, film will be far more embraced outside of the United States. My debut feature film Blueprint premiered in London and has gone on to screen in Germany, India, Guyana, Burkina Faso, France, the Philippines, and Amsterdam. http://www.Flickeria.com

    Overall and generally, "white" Americans are still petrified of Black people and our collective potential. Hollywood is "white". Hollywood is all lies. And nothing but.

  • Barry Canty | September 6, 2011 7:07 AMReply

    "L.A. Proper" is my independently funded feature-length comedy, and winner of the Heineken Red Star Filmmaker Award. The movie was featured in Variety and on IFC.com.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzpR7-HQZ78

    I'm happy to report that "L.A. Proper" has played in theaters in Japan and China and was met by standing ovations each time. To quote Public Enemy: "Fuck Hollywood".

  • NothingButAMan | September 6, 2011 6:53 AMReply

    Looking at the numbers the whole "black films don't do well overseas" argument is more about genre and star wattage than it is about color. Dramas, character/culture driven comedies, "talkie" stories are harder to sell internationally than action, sci-fi and horror... I mean, think about the majority of foreign films that get in theaters here in the US.

    Considering all of this, you can see why Lionsgate hasn't really taken chances w/ Tyler Perry's films in, say, French territories or Germany, especially since they don't need to in order to recoup. Love it or hate it, Big Momma 3 KILLED overseas (broad comedy)...

    And every star isn't necessarily an international draw... yes race plays a role but perceptions of an actor's "lead" genre and other factors play a role... Will Smith is a yes overseas (action), Halle, less so (drama).

    Not to mention the strong bootleg/pirating culture of many countries/territories of the "global south"... Nigeria, Ghana The Phillipines, many South American nations aren't seen as major priorities in the big studios' international theatrical strategy, so when everyday people in these area want to see Hollywood fare they go to the bootleg man, and can you really blame them? Even if that film opens theatrically in their area, it will be several months down the line from it's US release, so why wait?

  • Kia | September 6, 2011 6:00 AMReply

    Great, we all agree, including myself... now, can the next set of posts regarding international rights be devoted to just exactly how to secure them or more importantly how to "market" your film, so that it looks "worldly" appealing besides attaching an A-list actor/director.
    Questions I have?
    1. How to choose a sales agent that will make sure he/she is tapping a variety of markets--not just UK.
    2. Should you go for pre-sales of said films--what's the stats on pre-sales on "black films"--although I don't like to label, by doing so, I'm already limiting my aud.
    3. Which markets have their own "black cinema". I read on another IW blog where a comment was posted from a black filmmaker in Brazil, eagerly awaiting the release of Pariah:

    http://blogs.indiewire.com/womenandhollywood/archives/sundance_womens_news_pariah_premieres/

    As I do my own research, my ears are wide open for SOLUTIONS at this point. That's what I'm ready for. Bring it.

  • Laura | September 6, 2011 5:57 AMReply

    Like I always said, we haver international appeal. We did not have the infrastructure to monitize it to our benefit. It can be done.

    But on a side note. When we talk about Koreans and Mexican and Japanese etc doing it why don't we. We are talking about countries doing their own film thing. But that is not the same as Asian-Americans and Latino-Americans making films. I assure you speaking to my fellow POC American film makers their complaints are similar.

  • JMac | September 6, 2011 5:43 AMReply

    Nice article.Class Action lawsuit sounds like a plan but I may be biased.

    Question as always is will the house negroes come on board or will they keep letting their paychecks and connections do the deciding?

    Feeling some optimism with the different black cable networks coming on line. Possible backers for a black movie studio? Hope so.

  • Sergio | September 6, 2011 5:33 AMReply

    "The Lie: African-American films have little to no international market appeal."

    HEY how many times have I already said that on this post and on the S & A podcast as well????

  • Cynthia | September 6, 2011 4:43 AMReply

    EXCELLENT post Andre! Should be a MUST-READ for all black filmmakers.

  • Neziah | September 6, 2011 4:06 AMReply

    Excellent article, and he's right, we should ban together and get back our foreign licensing rights that have been denied to us all this time, and then use the money to establish our own distribution and funding company dedicated to black filmmakers. It's easier said than done, but we must take action eventually before it's too late.

    Plus, like the author said, even if we fail, we will have brought so much attention and controversy to the issue that Hollywood won't be able to keep us divided for long. It will be a revolution. Huey Newton would be proud. :)

  • NothingButAMan | September 6, 2011 3:59 AMReply

    I cosign everything Floyd Webb said. We have to temper and plan our economic expectations of doing Black Cinema and focus on fostering a genuine, transparent, accountable and diverse community of filmmakers, actors, crew, finaciers, distributers, producers and audience curators for this thing to work long term. "other" communities are currently doing this, to mixed success, but it's happening.

    The 5 major Hollywood studios are backed by multinational conglomerate corporations. That system is always going to be what it is.

  • Miles Maker | September 6, 2011 3:44 AMReply

    Thank You.

  • Floyd Webb | September 6, 2011 3:37 AMReply

    I guess I can only add a link to my post. My bad.
    http://vimeo.com/23064355

  • Floyd Webb | September 6, 2011 3:36 AMReply

    Sam Goldwyn, when asked when the Indians were ever going to win in a Cowboy movie replied, "When they start paying for the movie."

    After the great success of Birth of a Nation Goldwyn was approached by Booker T Washington and asked to fund a rebuttal film titled Birth of A Race. Goldwyn agreed to fund 50% of a budget for a film if Washington came up with the other 50%. Washington. failed to raise the other half to a shyster Chicago filmmaker and hence the deal was lost. But not the film....

    Early African American film pioneer Emmett J. Scott., a former secretary to Washington, believed that African American cinema could be financially supported through the sale of stock in his production company. Incorporated in July 1916, his Birth of a Race Photoplay Corporation produced The Birth of a Race and released the film in December 1918. Although the film did not meet original expectations, it did succeed in establishing a capital-raising tool that would prove instrumental to future African American filmmakers.

    I use these simple anecdotes to stop from yawning. This is some old stuff we been going through the last 100 years. Let me direct you to what my boy Jean- Pierre Bekolo said when we were hanging out a few months ago.


    <iframe src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/23064355?title=0&byline=0&portrait=0" width="500" height="281" frameborder="0"></iframe>

    Jean-Pierre Bekolo Obama: 4 minutes on Cinema from Floyd Webb on Vimeo.



    Are we chasing old paradigms instead of creating new platforms to exploit?
    Um just saying. We got no choice but to Do FOR SELF! Create the new platforms for monitizing our content.

    We are not pitted against each other. The battle is within ourselves. We have no excuses. Do we love the power of cinema of do we love the idea of the fame, the material gain, more. What are we willing to sacrifice to make this happen. Maybe we personally will not benefit wholly from establishing the new paradigm, new platforms.

    All we have to do stop complaining about Hollywierd and crate a deluge of significant cinema.

  • LvFlg | September 6, 2011 3:21 AMReply

    you have answered Clayton. Continue to do the work: even with smaller budgets.

  • BondGirl | September 6, 2011 3:12 AMReply

    @Clayton: He did address what to do about it from a short-term and long-term perspective. He is probably the ONLY person I know of to provide a solution (and even a positive spin on the failure or success of that plan), so for that alone, I agree.

    However, I didn't read the entire article yet, so I will have to come back to give my take on the totality of what he's saying.

  • kai | September 6, 2011 3:10 AMReply

    @ Clayton

    what indeed are we going to do about it ...

    education has to be the key... plain and simple... we need to value ownership (go oprah!), from production to distribution. from there we can determine how we want to potray ourselves on film and if we are still complaining we only have ourselves to blame

  • Jasmia | September 6, 2011 2:59 AMReply

    Interesting point of view. Except this. Entertainment is subjective and whether we like it or the system in place was developed by largely white folks from America to Europe to foster their own visual culture for both quantitative and qualitative benefits. Since then the Koreans, Indians, Mexicans amongst other cultures have done this. Blacks on the other hand are constantly asking. why have I not being catered for?

    Who can cater for you if not you? If films are made that feature blacks, blacks complain that the portrayal is 'not authentic.' Of course not. it is someone's perception.

    Where are the black owned production companies, setting up an infrastructure that works and funding their own visual culture? Rarely seen, except Tyler Perry who ooops always criticised by blacks.

    Alternatively they are making films with no blacks in them because of the same sense of desperation of being within 'the white space' as it is more prestigious. No one can promote your interests like you do and if you neglect it you endorse the view that there is no value to it. On blogs and websites, you deride the few who are making an effort, the window shoppers are relieved that what they always thought about black culture black people also think.

    No one is lying to African Americans. African Americans are lying to themselves and saying they want their stories and perspectives but they lack the courage or willingness to invest in developing in the infrastructure that will eventually yield this.

    Rome was not built in a day. Hollywood owes you nothing. You owe it to yourself.

  • Clayton | September 6, 2011 2:48 AMReply

    Even though I feel some of what you're arguing can be debated, I agree with all you're saying for the most part. However, the question is, "What are we going to do about it?" Are we to continue complaining or make the best of our smaller budgets, shorter production time, etc.?


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