To call “12 Years of Slave’s” victory at the Oscars represents an unprecedented achievement would be an understatement. Yet, even though it was a monumental and historic win, the future of “Black” films is going to hinge more on economic factors than social.
2013 was a banner year for black films. “The Butler”, “42”, “Fruitvale Station”, “12 Years a Slave” and “The Best Man Holiday” are just some of the black films that made it to U.S theaters.
However, this successful year may prove to an anomaly unless black entrepreneurs are able to create their own studios and distribution systems. There have been innumerable articles discussing the struggles of black actors to get parts and black film makers to get movies made. As always, the issue of racism is raised with much head shaking. Unfortunately, this argument is circular, repetitive and ultimately self-defeating.
While racism still exists, waiting for the “the powers to be” to become less racist is not a solution. Economics and the control of funding is what drives all industries. If blacks want to see a thriving black film industry, entrepreneurs are going to have to create it. Note that I am focusing on entrepreneurs who are not necessarily the same thing as actors. Entrepreneurs think differently and understand the importance of money and profit. Film makers and actors tend to be creative people who focus on the creative side first and the financial side second.
We are going to need people with vision who look at financial issues first and who understand what pieces are going to be needed to allow for the creation and distribution of black films. These entrepreneurs are also going to have to understand how much money is required to put these pieces into place.
It is very possible that these entrepreneurs may have to come from the technology or Internet industry. The rise of digital technologies means that there are entirely new channels for distributing films including cable, Netflix, Hulu, etc. There are assuredly opportunities for films to create and capture new distribution channels that will distribute not only black films but films from whites, Asians, Hispanics, etc. The goal is to create a distribution channel that allows for a continued revenue stream. Also, any film that generates significant viewership will eventually force the major studios to take notice.
There is a need for out of the box thinking that moves beyond racism and the legacy of slavery. Aisha Harris on Slate had an excellent article that addresses this very issue. (see http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2013/12/30/black_films_in_2013_that_aren_t_about_slavery_three_recommendations_video.html)
I find it very interesting that 12 Years of Slave had a black British Director and starred key actors of African descent. It appears that the people who brought this to the screen worried less about institutional racisms and more about what was required to get the film made. Bringing in Brad Pitt to be a producer as well as an actor was certainly a smart decision.
For those who think my approach glosses over the real obstacles posed by “institutional racism” I ask that people look at the amazing success of Melvin Van Peebles. In 1971 he made the wrote, produced and starred in the independent film, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.
While many social commentators of the time lamented the films content, the film cost approximately $150,000 to make and ended up grossing over 15 million dollars! Few films in history have had this high of a rate of return! While the film is was a product of its time, it does show what can be accomplished if you focus on getting the job done.
Had Melvin Van Peebles spent his time discussing the ongoing problems of racism his film would never have been made. I recommend that entrepreneurs who are interested in creating wealth for the black film industry study his example. I believe that they will be inspired.
Kevin Martin is an Executive Recruiter and a former technology entrepreneur . He can be reached at By1989@pacificnet.net