Friday, December 8, 2017

The Business of Making Black Films: A Talk by Ava Duvernay and David Oyelowo

On November 29, 2017, Oscar nominated and Emmy award-winning director Ava Duvernay and acclaimed actor David Oyelowo joined Dr. Rhea I. Combs, Curator of Film and Photography, at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAC) in Washington, D.C. to discuss the business and creativity involved in making black films. The event was part of the Smithsonian’s 6th Annual Ingenuity Festival and Awards. Ms. Duvernay was one of eight award recipients that included notables like recording artist John Legend, astrophysicist Natalie Batalha and Apple technologist Jony Ive.* She attended the talk via Skype because her team had to pull an all-nighter to meet a post-production deadline for her upcoming 2018 release, A Wrinkle In Time. Duvernay is making history as the first black woman director to lead a film with a $100M budget. Mr. Oyelowo attended the session in person in the museum’s Oprah Winfrey Theater.

Making black films in Hollywood is a tough business. It’s not that there is a shortage of talent among the cadre of actors, directors and producers of color although this would not be known from the lack of recognition that they have received over the years from highly visible industry award shows. It’s that there has historically been a lack of opportunity and support commonly given to other mainstream films. Director Spike Lee recently posted a Thank You on Instagram to investors Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Janet Jackson, Tracey Chapmen, Bill Cosby, Peggy Cooper-Cafritz and Oprah Winfrey who helped him finish the “under budgeted” highly-praised biopic Malcolm X when he ran out of financial support from the Hollywood studio.

Ava Duvernay talks about making the film, 
"August 28", for the Smithsonian.**

Black and women filmmakers alike are oftentimes hampered by road blocks like financing, distribution, and biases/prejudices of what type of films actually sell. Ava Duvernay addressed this by saying that she created ARRAY, which was first known as the African-American Film Releasing Movement (AFFRM), as a ‘defense mechanism’ or ‘survival technique’ to get creative works by people of color to their audience. I remember responding to her on Twitter when she was seeking theaters in the Washington, D.C. area to show her first film, I Will Follow (2010). Although she financed that film with her own money and cleared that hurdle, she still faced the next hurdle of getting the film to her audience. Social media was just beginning to have a significant impact and provide a path for directly communicating with fans and moviegoers. Her experience as a publicist working in the entertainment industry enabled her to get the film in front of some key critics like the well-respected Roger Ebert who gave her a glowing review and helped to create a buzz about the film.

African American moviegoers represent a sizable audience for films. According to a report by the Motion Picture Arts Association of America, African American moviegoers contributed $1.6B or 14% of the total $11.4B U.S./Canada box office in 2016. The key for filmmakers is getting a platform to reach this audience. If it’s a good film and black audiences know about it, box office hits like Fences, the $200M grossing Hidden Figures, and $100M grossing Girls Trip prove black films and films with diverse images can be widely successful.

By the way, Hispanics and Asian moviegoers account for 21% and 14% respectively of the total U.S./Canada box office receipts. Together minority moviegoers contributed 49% of all tickets sold in the U.S. and Canada. Understanding those numbers brings clarity to why The Oscars' (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) responded so quickly to the #OscarsSoWhite Twitter campaign and accelerated their efforts to diversify their membership.

To make blockbuster films, filmmakers have to convince large corporations that their stories are worthy of the risk and investment of financing and distribution. For women and minorities, this task becomes even more arduous because they have to fight stereotypical images of what some studio executives believe minority and women audiences want to see on the large screen. When talking about getting Oscar and Golden Globe nominated Selma made, Oyelowo who was attached to the movie five years before Duvernay said that “they” felt that black people did not want to see “black pain” and white people did not want to feel “white guilt”. He personally lobbied to bring Duvernay on as director and Oprah Winfrey as an actor and co-producer.

Referencing Oprah Winfrey, Oyelowo said with her clout, influence and network, she has been able to provide a soft landing for black stories and creative works. “Without those soft landings, we will not be able to fully display who we are.” He went on to say that this is what black people in America have been lacking, a soft landing or a platform where our stories can be embraced and we can be “truly ourselves”. So it leaves us to wonder how this week’s announcement of Winfrey’s sale of 25% of her Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) to Discovery Communications, giving them almost 75% ownership, will change and affect the “platform” she has built and branded since 2011. Only time will tell. Duvernay currently has a top-rated television series on OWN, Queen Sugar.

New platforms and distribution channels are emerging like Macro led by former WME Partner Charles King, and joining minority-owned networks like TV One led by Cathy Hughes; Aspire led by Magic Johnson; Bounce led by Andrew Young, Jr. and Martin King III and Sean Comb’s Revolt channel to provide a bridge and conduit for stories by people of color and women. We are assured though that the ingenuity of mavericks like Ava Duvernay will enable black stories and diverse films to find a way to their audience and black people will find a way to support and value those stories.

The Ingenuity Festival and events will run through December 30, 2017. There are special events for children. For more information, go to:

To listen to the full discussion between Ava Duvernay, David Oyelowo and Dr. Combs at NMAAHC, go to:

by Nona O., Liberty Ink Productions

*See the full list of Ingenuity Award Recipients here: 

**The short film, "August 28", written and directed by Ava Duvernay is currently showing at the NMAAHC. Those without reserved tickets for the museum may be able to gain entrance into the museum by standing in line at 1:00 pm, Monday -- Friday. Visitors are admitted as space allows.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Are You A Witness? Where Is The Savior?...Happy Resurrection Day!

They came to the tomb where Jesus had been buried after his crucifixion looking for him. Interestingly enough women were the first to arrive at the place where Jesus' body had been last seen. (See Luke 24, The Bible)

Met by angels, they were told that that Christ was alive and had risen from the dead. These women became the first witnesses and reporters of Christ's resurrection.

Today, the only witness of the risen Savior some people will ever see is the one reflected in our lifestyle. If you are one of the 70% of Christians in the U.S. or 30% of Christians around the world, are you a good representation of who Christ was and is? Something to think about...

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Happy Palm Sunday!

Happy Palm Sunday! As Christians all around the world celebrate the beginning of Holy Week, we are reminded of lessons from Jesus' life during a most critical period. Popular opinion and polls change and people are fickle. One minute they are celebrating you and nominating you for President or the Secretary of Defense when they think you can save their hides from oppressive dictators and their armies. The next minute they will desert you when they discover your mission does not line up with their expectations. Some will even turn in you for the right price.

Here's another lesson: some of the people in the crowd that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem shouting "Hail" and "You down with G-O-D", were inevitably in the crowd a few days later when the masses yelled, "Crucify Him!" Also, there were definitely individuals in those crowds that served the same God as Jesus. You do know that the people who paid for Jesus' betrayal and arrest were religious leaders. Everyone praying with you ain't praying for your success.

Jesus knew his mission and that steadied him during his toughest trials even when his closest friends deserted him and his mother could not help him.

Just like Jesus, at some point during our lives we will face injustice. If we know our purpose, we will be able to stand up to the bullies, liars, and demonic forces, and speak the truth.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Confidence over Insecurity

Don't project your insecurities onto someone else. Maybe it's not that they think they are too this or that, it's that you're uncomfortable with who they are and what they represent.

I saw a television show this weekend where a group of women attacked and disliked another woman because her aproach to life and values were different than theirs. "She thinks she's too good for us. She's too quiet. She doesn't hang out with us all the time. She's a goody two-shoes." They felt this way because she did not like the same things they liked. She expressed opinions that were different from the group's opinions. So, naturally she became a target.

As adults and women, we have to be careful that we don't go through life constantly playing middle school games. Let people be who they are. That's a sign of maturity. If you are uncomfortable with who they are, check yourself first. Have the courage to do this as an individual away from the group. It maybe that her example will help you find the confidence to be more of who you really want to be rather than always fitting into the questionable expectations of the group.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Be Present

This week I saw on a talk show the story of two women who had been best friends for a number of years. It appears that the friendship had been lost for several years after an incident where one of the friends did not feel that the other person cared for her the same way she cared for them.

They missed each other's loving support during so many life events where the support of a true girlfriend means more than words can describe. An engagement. A marriage. The birth of a first child. The death of a parent.

The essence of the first major "blow" to the friendship came when one friend called and gave the other friend her credit card number and told her to order a pizza when she heard about the death of her friend's mother. Sounds really callous, right? Of course, the friend who called with her credit card number had an excuse. She said that she did not deal with death very well, but she wanted to help. Now to you or I, this may seem like a lame excuse and would have been unforgivable. But it wasn't just this event that broke up their friendship. However, it was the one thing that always hung over any other misunderstanding.

The bottom line and the moral of the story is this: show up and be present. Sometimes this is going to require you to be in situations that are uncomfortable for you, yet your presence could mean the world to your friend or loved one. When words are in adequate, your presence can communicate the universal language of love. So as much and as often as possible, choose to be present in the lives of those who are important to you.

#emPowerHER #BePresent #Friendship #RealLove #whm #WomenMakingHistory

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Reflections On An Extraordinary King and His Dream

I grew up believing in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream. His dream, which should be every American's dream, was that people would be judged by the content of their character, not their skin color. He believed that individuals  should be judged by their skills and comportment, not the pigmentation of their skin, the size of their nose, eyes or lips, the length or texture of their hair, or even their accent.

In the almost 50 years since his death, there has been progress, but not enough. Some of the same problems that plagued King's generation and all those who came before him, still plagued us in the 21st century. Disparities in unemployment and health care, unequal justice, systemic racism, etc. In 2017, we still live in a country where people and their voices are marginalized because they express views that are different.

We as a nation must become uncomfortable with the intolerable just as King, Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, James Baldwin and so many countless others stood up to racism and discrimination, and initiated change. You will not change a system when you are comfortable with the benefits of its injustice. We must become uncomfortable.

The indomitable spirit, that fire that burned within an ordinary mortal man and caused him to risk his life to lead a people to wage a nonviolent war against an unjust system, must lead us to a place where we are re-filled and re-energized to stand against bigotry and exclusion from the rights that every citizen should have. I have personally experienced silence from leaders who are willing to look the other way when the injustice is against those whose beliefs they disagree with or whose profile is not high enough to warrant their attention. But this is not right. 

Injustice is like cancer. Unless we identify it and confront it, it will spread and take over our system. We must stand up and rededicate ourselves to the equality and the inalienable rights of everyone. We are the ones we have been waiting for... 

--Nona O. 

"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed - we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

 --Martin L. King, Jr.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year!

Happy 2017! πŸ˜†πŸ˜ŽπŸ’•πŸ‘’♪πŸΎπŸ•›πŸŽ‰