Race and Economy

Activists to Hollywood: Put your money where your mouth is and fund Black projects

Jasmine Garsd Jun 10, 2020
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Ava DuVernay's documentary "13th" highlighted racial inequality in the U.S., particularly in the justice system. Paras Griffin/Getty Images for BET
Race and Economy

Activists to Hollywood: Put your money where your mouth is and fund Black projects

Jasmine Garsd Jun 10, 2020
Heard on:
Ava DuVernay's documentary "13th" highlighted racial inequality in the U.S., particularly in the justice system. Paras Griffin/Getty Images for BET
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If the last few weeks have shown us anything, it’s that Americans want to talk about race and racism.

Hollywood is taking note: Several documentary projects about civil rights issues in America have been greenlighted by platforms and funded by major industry players.

Documentary films have always had a hard time getting funded. They just don’t easily translate into box-office hits.

Mia Mask, professor of film at Vassar College, said when it comes to investment, “filmmakers of color have an even more difficult time.”

“Certainly there are outliers — Spike Lee and obviously Ava DuVernay, ’13th’ and her wonderful work,” Mask said. “But there are many filmmakers of color, Black and Latino in particular, who really struggle.”

Hollywood has been vocally supportive of the ongoing protests demanding racial justice. There’s been a lot of talk about the need for more diverse writers’ rooms. But artists and activists say Tinseltown also needs to put its money where its mouth is and fund more diverse projects.

Rashid Shabazz, chief marketing and storytelling officer at the nonprofit Color of Change, said it is time to look into the “question of resources and power.”

“The decision about what gets greenlit and what doesn’t. What gets more marketing and what doesn’t,” Shabazz said. “Often those things are cut across racial lines, and often is a very Black-and-white issue.”

Funding is happening — just not entirely through Hollywood money. NBA stars LeBron James and Russell Westbrook, along with businessman Maverick Carter, have taken matters into their own hands and are producing films about the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, in which hundreds of African Americans were killed and injured by white residents in Oklahoma.

Professor Jason E. Squire of the University of Southern California says there is an audience for this.

“Documentaries, back in the day, had a reputation of, oh it’s going to be very preachy and teachy. I don’t know if I’m going to go see it,” Squire said. “That’s changed. The public appetite for documentaries has just increased exponentially.”

If it gets made, people will watch. Now more than ever.

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