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What Does The Future Of 'Black Cinema' Look Like To You?

by Tambay A. Obenson
June 4, 2013 10:25 AM
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I don't think any of us can say with certainty what film production, distribution and exhibition will look like in 5, 10, 15, 20+ years from now. But we can certainly speculate, based on available information. 

I said plenty yesterday in my "New York Times" rant (if you missed it, click HERE to read it and catch up, along with all the comments that follow), and this time around, I'm going to get off my bully pulpit, shift lanes, and hand the space over to you guys to share your thoughts on the future of what we call "black film." 

Specifically, what does "black cinema" look like to you, when you look ahead 10 years from now? And if you've never really given that much thought, well, now I'm asking you to do so. 

Yes, it's a broad question, but that's intentional. You can choose to be specific in your answers, and zoom in to one particular area within any of the various stages of the film production/distribution/marketing/exhibition processes, or focus on Hollywood versus Indie. Or you can be just as broad.

Note that I'm not asking you what you HOPE or WANT "black film" to look like in 10 years, but, instead, realistically, based on available information today, what do you think the "black cinema" landscape will look like in 10 years.

Have fun...

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  • ibwff | June 19, 2013 1:12 AMReply

    I definitely agree with "Just My Thoughts". Given the current status of Black cinema, it will slowly exhaust itself under hundreds of mediocre storylines, flat-line acting and rappers/entertainers as "actors"; however, because it makes money, it will be tolerated until something shinier comes along to capture the attention of the film-going audience. (FAST & FURIOUS XVII anyone...?)

    I know you said not what we "want," but I don't follow instructions very well. I seriously want more Blacks with expendable cash to invest in producing quality (or better films) under the premise that films that are well told, well acted, well written and creatively filmed are appreciated by all audiences and that Black people have stories that are compelling and interesting.

  • Blackseed | June 11, 2013 6:28 PMReply

    "The training is nothing! The will is everything! The will to act."
    -Ra's al Ghul to Bruce Wayne (Batman Begins)

    I believe this should be taken into consideration.

  • Just MY Thoughts | June 5, 2013 2:37 PMReply

    What if I told you that this article or articles discussing such topics will never be shared as much as that other article? What if I told you not enough of the "right" people care? What if I told you it will be the same indifference now in ten or twenty years? In fact people will care even less about "Black Cinema" except for the artists trying to make it.

    BUT, people will always care for new films that have the buzz, packaging etc including top actors, engaging story (not to be confused with content people "need/should" see just because it hasn't been addressed in film before) something that unquestionably pulls many audiences in and sucks the money out of them! Those can exists.... with black people in it but you can forget about rebuilding this canon of black cinema in America. Forget black filmmakers and black actors coming together to collectively flourish and celebrate their untouched success. That's too dangerous to many (including some people of color) Not happening Captain. Maybe in 2000 years an archelogist can look back on us and study the expansion of black cinema but we can't create it and celebrate at the same time. We need to focus on the work and not dwell on the praise or lack of it. We still haven't created an unstoppable force (s). No one has that momentum. Go get it and recognize that many people will need it at the same time in order for you to keep yours. Fly onward and upward.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | June 5, 2013 11:51 PM

    Van Peebles would agree.

  • CC | June 5, 2013 3:48 PM

    FIVE STAR COMMENT, Mrs. JUST MY THOUGHTS. Very insightful, to say the least. Yep, it was so short, so sweet and so fully packed; a well rounded analysis of the future of black cinema.

  • Blackseed | June 5, 2013 2:26 PMReply

    Meanwhile, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau of Game of Thrones fame is cast as Horus in the new "Gods of Egypt" directed by Alex Proyas.

  • CareyCarey | June 5, 2013 1:23 PMReply

    What Does The Future Of Black Cinema Look Like To You?

    That's easy because for the most part humans don't change. Well, I'll let Biggie, Puffy and Faith introduce my beliefs on this subject.

    Faith Evans: Are you a bad guy trying to be good, or a good guy trying to be bad?

    Notorious B.I.G.: I'm just trying to make it big.

    Sean Combs: We can't change the world unless we change ourselves.

    Stop right there, therein lies the root of my position. "CHANGE" - such a simple yet complex word. I believe where the mind goes the body will follow. Consequently, piggybacking off Puffy's words and speaking from my perspective (the only one I can really change), the future will look just as it looks today. There will be "black" products, film-makers, directors, etc, who some will adore. On the other hand, as Miles Ellison has said many times, some "black" products will not sell to the general public (in any great numbers)... and that's never going to change.

    In respect to the black consumer (I am black btw), I have to look at the products/movies/films being offered and who's championing them and why. More importantly, will "MY" perspective of that slippery slope ever change? Well, I don't think so but let me explain.

    Considering the "black" products that have been offered over the last 20 years, I believe I've seen as many as the average moviegoer (probably much more). Would I classify them as great and outstanding achievements? Nope, not in the least. But some folks would vehemently disagree with me and that's never going to change.

    Moving forward, many folks blame others (people, places and things) for the deplorable condition of black cinema, yet, as I've suggested throughout this comment, change starts within.

    Hey, as I've said many times... "I can't make you love me if you don't 'cause you can't make your heart feel something it won't..." and that's never gonna change. To that point, I can't make "critics" stop championing mediocrity. I can't make a person spend their money on films that someone said was "good" and was "good" for the black community... and that's never going to change.

    In short "We can't change the world unless we change ourselves"... and the only one I can truly change is, myself.

  • NO BRAINER | June 5, 2013 11:33 AMReply

    TURNER and VC said it all for me. I just don't see it getting much better. But, hey, I'm reaching for the stars... in another galaxy. Maybe the way it is now and the immediate yet limited potential any of us here can see now are good enough for most folks. Just not for me, both on the storytelling side, the visual side, the public reception and the business of our films side.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | June 5, 2013 11:40 PM

    The major studios aren't going anywhere. That's like assuming that the major banks will disappear because more people opt for credit unions. Sometimes "too big to fail" really is just that. MGM should have gone the way of the dodo by now. And yet...

  • lauren | June 5, 2013 7:28 PM

    @Nadia...cosign. It's like computers and music today; cheap access to music programs, samples, auto tune hasn't made music better... it sucks compared to the days when you actually had to be able to sing and/or play an instrument to be in the business... access does not translate to better and judging all of the crappy web series and god awful low rez and under realized films coming out, makes me wonder if the gatekeeper that was the pre-HDSLR cost of making a film, wasn't a good thing after all!

  • Nadia | June 5, 2013 7:12 PM

    @Daryl - I admire your optimism, but, no, there aren't more different black films being released than ever before. First, most black films released follow formula and precedence. I believe it was on this blog recently that I read about the surge in black romantic comedies. Look at how many of those there are in Hollywood and indie. You might get one or two other kinds of films here and there, but it's still overwhelmingly the same kinds of films and most of them aren't even good. How many science fiction, action, thriller, horror, fantasy, speculative, experimental black films have you seen recently? Exactly.

    Secondly, we were saying the same thing in early 2000s, and in early 1990s when there were a lot of black films being released "than ever before." Seriously, ain't nothing changed. It might look like it, but just look at historical fact and you'll see that we haven't come that far and still got a long way to go.

    I'm not trying to be a killjoy, but let's put things into perspective and be real here.

    But I'm optimistic about the future. I do agree with you that, for the first time, now more than ever, everybody has access to the tools with which they can tell their own stories. But like I said, more doesn't mean better. A lot of the films coming out should not be.

  • Daryl | June 5, 2013 6:41 PM

    Black Cinema has alreay gotten better, open your eyes it's more different black films being released than ever before, for the first time in the history of the arts, the poor and middle class man or woman can tell their stories without having to go to anybody and have the potential to reach millions without a big marketing budget. Don't judge black cinema on the studio system, a relic that is about to go the way of the dinosaur. Black Cinema will be great in the future, everybody here that is voicing their opinion can go out and make a movie, you couldn't do that before , you could only just talk and hope the gatekeepers give you some money to make your film, that right there tell you black cinema is in a great position and it's only going to get better.

  • turner | June 5, 2013 10:28 AMReply

    It's gonna take a hell of a lot longer than ten years for black cinema to get even close to where it needs to be. Until the average black audience's (not the cinefiles who cruise here) education and tastes elevate to more sophisticated fare than Tyler Perry and the like, it will be more of the same but shot on a Canon. There will be more provocative and intelligent films made by black folks because of the affordable HDSLR format but the size of the audience for such will remain the same for decades. A heartbreaking fact.

  • Kevin Sorrell | June 13, 2013 4:00 PM

    @Truer Than Thou - My focus was primarily on Black people as it was the subject of this post. When I market my projects (I am a filmmaker), I do so to everybody. But like the study I referred to said, I pay attention to who the bulk of my audience is--and it's Black. It's really as simple as that.

    Am I being taken to task for staying on topic?

  • Truer Than Thou | June 9, 2013 1:15 PM

    @Kevin, Black cinema is not just for Black people. Yes, many non-Black people will overlook it, but you can't go into the game only targeting Black people. Did Spike market RED HOOK SUMMER to only Black people? It's not just about White folks. They're not the only viewers outside of the Black community. Once you focus only on Black, you ignore the other possible nonwhite viewers and all other audiences formed by other interests and factors aside from race.

  • Kevin Sorrell | June 6, 2013 8:51 PM

    @Truer Than Thou - I'm focusing on the Black audience as a whole because the issue is, "What does the future of 'Black Cinema" look like to you?" And when talking about how our cinema can grow and improve, at some point the audience is going to come into the conversation. And since the majority of our films have a majority Black audience (a study was done that gauged folks interest in a film based on two photos of the cast--one majority white cast, one majority Black cast. White folks overwhelmingly preferred the story when the cast was white; the margin of difference was far less severe with Black participants in the poll), that's the audience I would focus on.

    I get that this is business. And a huge part of business is analyzing numbers and demographics. That's all I'm doing--recognizing the primary demographic and they're general tastes. It's not about "leaning on" the Black community, and no one said anything about one's work not standing on their own. Plenty of people are making great work in a variety of genres, but if white folks turn off when they see "too many Black people" onscreen, and our own folks only show interest in a certain type of film, a "non-traditional Black film" will only "stand on it's own" for so long.

  • Truer Than Thou | June 6, 2013 1:34 AM

    I don't get it. Why are you focusing on the Black audience (as a whole)?

    Like I said before: Above all, the creator cares the most about their content reaching the audience. You can't expect audiences (of any kind) to care as much. This is business.

    Stop trying to lean on the Black community. Let your work stand on its own.

  • Kevin Sorrell | June 6, 2013 12:41 AM

    Agreed. Really, it's the Black audience's (as a whole) deficit of experience, exposure, education and demand for sophistication that has kept Black Cinema as stagnated as it has been. There are great talents out there telling unique and varied stories. Question is, will we ever support them in the numbers that we (easily) can, or are we simply looking at the "every 20 years" boom in Black cinema that we saw in the 70s, 90s, and now 2010s?

    HDSLRs and generally more affordable production equipment will continue to have an impact, but if we don't change our mindset toward our own films (because we certainly will support films in varied genres when we are not the stars), not much else will.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | June 5, 2013 11:22 PM


  • bashe | June 5, 2013 4:44 PM

    If, Tambay, you had allowed for "hope" or "want," I could say a lot about that. But you specifically asked what we "think" the landscape will look like in 10 years. It hurts my heart to say so, but I think "Turner" has it right here. Every word. "A heartbreaking fact," indeed.

  • Daryl | June 5, 2013 10:05 AMReply

    Black Cinema will be great in the future, we will finally have what we always wanted, a variety of different stories told by black filmmakers. The studio system as we know it is on it's last leg, in the future filmmakers will carve out their own space and will partner up with investors to take their films further. I think most filmmakers in the future are going to be about owning their films and having final say on their films. The studio middleman between the filmmaker and the audience will be out the picture for good.The studios will no longer exist, you will just have management teams and agents, that will take the place of the studios. No longer will a few people be able to control what millions watch. Black films will be the best ther ever been because no longer will we have restraints on telling our stories or have to play to sterotypes.

  • Jerome | June 4, 2013 11:35 PMReply

    Excellent description. Just wanted to add the maturation of devices like the iPad and apps like "Haunting Melissa". This paradigm might give advantages over a stagnant distribution platform or could be used in conjunction with somethig like AAFRM.

    Wish Charles Judson would chime in :)

  • ska-triumph | June 4, 2013 3:06 PMReply

    Some quick but informed thoughts:

    It's something about us North and South Americans - as the West African cinemas are doing - getting in front of what CINEMA is, via the sourcing, funding, production and distribution of story. Meaning taking hold of "cinema" in terms of content and converstation but "movie" as experience. (Sort of going beyond what Steven Soderbergh talked about in the San Francisco festival, since he didn't speak on digital distribution.)

    Definitely needs and should have more Pan-African contexts, as an earlier commenter said (and Nelson George has been saying for awhile); Americans mixing it up with Europeans, et al. in actual locales.
    Stories will be increasingly sourced from successful webseries (maybe even more than shorts) that have been tested with big viewerships, awards, online channels.
    Hopefully followin this unique year, a stream of 3 or 4 limited/focused theatrical releases (with DVD/VOD dates) lead by AFFRM. 3-4 times that number (12-15) "smaller" features will utilize current and new online platforms, or be self-distributed online.
    More international co-productions that will center around other recognizable, legendary figures (Sojourner Truth, Haile Selassie, Frederick Douglass, Mugabe, Miriam Makeba, etc.); good stuff for A-list actors to chew on and get awards recognition for.
    Ms. Winfrey and Mr. Perry will support a handful of filmmakers, as well as their own projects, for sure.
    There will be a higher quality of indie filmmaking, if not storytelling, in the Western conventional modes.

    What will still be an issue, because "black cinema" won't be seen as making money (as with any other ethnicity unless it's the new Fast & Furious-type franchise), is that Hollywood's business model won't be representing stories of black identity.
    ADAPTATIONS? If they come up through a good and/or bestselling book (e.g. THE HELP) then maybe the studios will bite... There's a reason why James Baldwin's estate said no to adaptations and living authors are apprehensive. Achidie's AMERICANAH seems ripe; is there someone comparable to Reese Witherspoon (who bought GONE GIRL) to do get the rights and start developing? Would Ms. Achidie or any of her peers be willing and able?
    Having top black actors lead big-budget movies that aren't funded by HARPO or TP Studios will be rare - except for a BLACK PANTHER movie.
    Those starring Will Smith seem to be mostly SEQUELS to previous hits though I'm sure Overbrook will have a couple of originals (like THE AMERICAN CAN).
    Genre (particularly sci-fi) and period-piece films that overcome the novelty of having the black/Pan-African experience as their premise will come around every 3 years or so.

    I'm sure I'll have more to blab about, and/or correct, but I'll come back to see what others write.

  • Norris Young | June 4, 2013 1:57 PMReply

    The future of black cinema will look like "Kansas Street".
    An upcoming film I wrote and directed. It has a black leading
    Lady that is not a typical weaved out, heavy made up actress.
    Its artsy and edgy but still represents our experience. She's not a stripper
    Or a wife etc... she's a human being. Black cinema will start to show all of our
    influences. I am a student of Kubrick, Malick, Hitchcock, Spike , etc.
    We are no longer gonna put up with directors who just set up a camera and
    shoot whatever is in front of them. We want real story tellers that care about
    location, camera set up , etc. We DEMAND passion behind the lens. Show us your influences!!!

  • Miles Ellison | June 8, 2013 11:21 PM

    Unfortunately, if you want people to actually see this movie, she's going to have to be a stripper.

  • Blackseed | June 5, 2013 2:05 PM

    @No Brainer
    I know right?

  • NO BRAINER | June 5, 2013 11:19 AM

    So, "strippers" and "wives" are not human beings?

  • X ID | June 4, 2013 3:11 PM

    This guys..Lol

  • VC | June 4, 2013 1:47 PMReply

    I think the Hollywood state will remain the same but (if we are lucky) the independents will have worked out a Hollywood like sub-system that will allow us to go from script to at least semi-wide theater release unobstructed and collect the revenues to re-invest.

  • Kevin Sorrell | June 6, 2013 12:42 AM

    It's a shame such a system doesn't already exist. We certainly have the power and the means to do so. It's simply the will that's lacking.

  • Melissaenafrique | June 4, 2013 10:53 AMReply

    I know you said not to hope, but I hope in future we will see more and more Pan African collaborations between African, Caribbean and Black American film studios. Since it's pretty obvious we complement each other's strengths.
    What do I THINK it will be? I think we will see more and more white/latino actors/actresses incorporated into Black stories, in mostly a romantic manner.

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