Big film studios funding and discrimination
Written by: King Pynn
“The best things in life are free
But you can keep them for the birds and bees
Now give me money”- Barrett Strong
The Majority of people say, “money makes the world go round” and you can’t challenge the majority rule. Especially if you are in The Minority… right? The concept of currency is as old as Methuselah, most likely even older. Since the beginning, everybody has traded resources, money, and services to get what they need and want. Another ancient concept that’s related to currency is Loans and Repayments. If you don’t have resources or money to trade then you ask someone who does to lend them to you, with the intention of paying them back.
People from all walks of life do this but studies have shown that certain demographics get discriminated against before loans are even requested. Notably Black people and Hispanic people experience this bankroll bias at higher rates. The film industry is no different, it is hard for big budget black movies and shows to get financial support. Due to lack of interest and poor performance in foreign markets, so many of our stories get swept under the rug and kept underground.
A while back it was announced that the WGN America hit show Underground had been cancelled after only two seasons. Underground is a period drama that takes place in Antebellum Georgia, it centers around the hardships of slavery and the development of the Underground Railroad. Despite the excellent writing from the show’s creators Misha Green and Joe Pokaski, WGN decided to drop the show because the channel is going into a new direction. This is nothing out of the ordinary and most certainly a show as good as Underground can find a new home. What surprised many people though was that the period drama cost 5 million dollars per episode. You read that right, a show with a predominantly black cast, centered around the sensitive subject of slavery on the lowkey channel WGN had a 5-million-dollar budget!
When names were being thrown around for which network would be the new home for the show Oprah Winfrey’s OWN and Viacom’s BET were two names that stood out. When asked about the show by reporter Soraya McDonald, Winfrey had this to say.
And the heads of BET had this to say.
“I was… I am very interested… we had conversations before it was announced that WGN was canceling it… We couldn’t work out a deal…,” said Debra Lee, Chairman & CEO of BET Networks according to EBONY.
When THE NETWORK that caters to Black entertainment and the network that is OWNED by one of wealthiest black people in the world give you the:
What are you to do? Where do you go to get the funding and the support needed when you are a black film maker trying to make a black film? The reality is, there is no definite answer. Black film makers and entertainers have had to do the “Hollywood Shuffle” for a long time now. Other than Kevin Tsujihara, chief exec at Warner Bros. Entertainment, the top leaders of the five biggest movie studios in the world are white.
With the decline in U.S. box office sales movie executives often argue whether movies starring minorities or that confront racial issues will sell well in foreign markets. An example of this is the 2014 movie, based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery voting rights march, titled “Selma”.
The original script for Selma was being passed around to different studios in 2007 but none of them wanted to fund it. The movie wasn’t financed until a year later when a small production company owned by Brad Pitt, Plan B Entertainment, joined with French investors to come up with a modest budget. The movie struggled getting off the ground and went through several changes in film directors. It wasn’t until Oprah Winfrey stepped in with her contributions that Paramount decided to distribute the film. Like I said before many of the decision makers and financers at these big production studios are white men. That is why it is important for black people to have their own financers. Financers like Oprah Winfrey, Spike Lee, Tyler Perry, Byron Allen, John Singleton, Keenen Ivory Wayans, and Denzel Washington just to name a few. They are vital parts in overcoming the bias and poor support our films face in the American and foreign film markets.
Many African American film makers have gone the Selma route by looking at smaller film studios to secure funding. Film studios like Plan B Entertainment, CodeBlack Entertainment, Open Rivers Pictures, The Lincoln Motion Picture Company and Harpo Productions… maybe. If that doesn’t work there is always the crowdfunding option. Sites like Crowdfunding, Indiegogo, Kickstarter, GoFundMe and Crowdrise have been useful tools in helping visions materialize. Directors and writers like Justin Simien went this route to get the funds for his movie “Dear White People”. In conclusion, like many things related to the arts, you are going to need ingenuity, integrity, tenacity and most importantly currency to tell your story.