Here's an excerpt from a summary of an event at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business on Friday, where Robert Johnson gave a speech about his rise to success:
“I fundamentally believe that if there were more John Malones in this society, there would be more Bob Johnsons,” Johnson said. He said that society needed to find a way to make capital access more available to black businesspeople. “It is becoming more and more difficult to gain access to capital and not because of scarcity of capital,” he said. “There is a trillion dollars sloshing around this economy, but none of it is blowing our way.” He believes that in many situations, black people and other minorities just need the opportunity to get their foot in the door. “My story is because someone in the white community said, ‘I want to back this young African- American guy on this idea called BET,’” he said. “It was a real roll of the dice kind of gamble. But somebody did that, and it paid off.” He said that as he is nearing the end of his career, he wants to see more black and minority Americans prove to the broader society that they deserve the right to manage and create value out of the wealth of the nation.
That got me thinking about many of the conversations we've had and continue to have on this site, especially about power, ownership and influence in this industry.
I could be reading too much into it, but the sentiment I get is that Johnson is stressing the fact that a rich white man in John Malone invested in him, a black man with promise, and that this is the kind of thing we need to see happen more often if black people are to participate in the broader financial success stories of this country.
So essentially, reiterating the idea that white people have the money and power, and that we (black people) may need them in order climb that ladder of success - especially those who want to be owners and power players themselves.
I feel like this goes against a lot of what we discuss here at S&A about the need for *US,* black people, to invest in ourselves; meaning that there are more than enough black people in this business (or in the business world in general) with their hands in some of that trillion dollars he says is sloshing around the economy, that instead of the John Malone's of the world investing in us, those black people whose bank accounts are overflowing (like a Robert Johnson for example), should be investing in up-and-coming black business people who've shown promise and have a track record.
Although to his credit, the summary says that Johnson *invented* what he calls the "RLJ Rule to give back," which states that companies should interview at least one minority applicant for any position at or above the director level; but of course it's all voluntarily. Companies aren't forced by law to do so.
“I’m not asking for any form of reverse discrimination, but I just have to live with the facts,” he said. “If you can’t get access to pursue your dream, you will not be able to be competitive.”
That's true, but other than *inventing* this rule to give back, I think we'd all like to see Johnson do for up-and-coming black entrepreneurs what John Malone did for him. Although maybe he has, and he isn't shouting it from rooftops.
But my point here is really to ask if this is popular thinking among *US,* black people. When it comes to the film industry, are we waiting for white folks to help us out, or are we looking to those black people with power and influence to do that for us?
I think of one example in Lee Daniels, when he was trying to get funding for Precious. Long story short, white millionaires funded the film. And then what happened after the film was made, and it was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival? Two prominent and very rich black celebrities in Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry came onboard as "executive producers."
My question to them would be, where were they when Lee Daniels was trying to raise money to get the film made?
And we've seen this kind of thing happen more than once.
I know I'm probably beating a dead horse on this site (I know Tambay has called for some kind of black-owned and operated film studio in the past) when I say that I'd love to see Oprah and Tyler (or anyone else at their level, or close to it) team up and create some kind of a financing company specifically to finance films by black filmmakers, especially indie black filmmakers. I think it actually reflects negatively on US when we have to go ask white people for money, when we have black people who have the money to give/loa/invest.
Just my take on the whole thing, spurred on by what Robert Johnson said above.
You can read the full report of Johnson's talk HERE.