Saturday, December 1, 2007

Stakes Be High, pt. 1

I’m trying something different this weekend. A blogxperiment, if you will, following through on a suggestion by DeAngelo Starnes in a recent comment. Mr. Starnes is a lawyer, a self-identified “black nationalist” and a friend of mine since the ’90s.

In the coming days (or weeks?), DeAngelo and I will have a semi-structured discourse on five questions, with questions 1, 3 and 5 posed by him, questions 2 and 4 posed by me. These questions will explore racism, white supremacy, black nationalism, etc.

I will break off each question into its own post, with our consequent back-and-forth dialogue running in the comments section.

This is not a “win-or-lose” type formal debate; it’s a conversation. Readers are welcome to comment, but please focus your comments on the arguments of me and DeAngelo, as opposed to your reactions to the original question.

This weekend we will kick around DeAngelo’s QUESTION #1, presented below. I intend to post my QUESTION #2 on Monday.
QUESTION #1: Since we’re in the middle of a writers’ strike... why have there been virtually no hourlong dramas with a predominantly Black cast, utilizing Black characters and written by Black writers? Most television shows that carry a majority Black cast are sitcoms.

Is this a function of white supremacy because the studios are run by white men? Or is it because these studios don’t think a show with Black characters can carry out universal themes of (as you have been quoted) “the human condition”?


Undercover Black Man said...

Greetings, DeAngelo.

This is a subject I’ve thought a lot about (of course). And as much as I hate the fact that dramas built around black characters are extremely rare on TV... I understand that the reason doesn’t involve “racism” or “white supremacy.”

It’s about money. And as you know, capital doesn’t give a fuck who’s black or white. Capital just wants to grow.

Several years ago I sold an idea to CBS called “Mayor of Baltimore,” about an ex-pro athlete who becomes the mayor of Baltimore. I thought to myself, “I want this fuckin’ thing to get made,” so I made the character a white guy... ex-Baltimore Oriole. Imagine Chris Noth.

Well, we had a hard time finding a white actor in his 40s whom CBS wanted to build a show around. So an executive at the studio which backed me said: “What about Ving Rhames?”

I thought: “Hells yeah! Since you brought it up... what about Ving Rhames?”

Next day, that same studio executive says, “Forget I mentioned Ving Rhames.” Because his corporate overlords let him know that a drama with a black lead “won’t sell overseas.” And the studios make a huge chunk of their revenue selling TV shows to foreign markets.

Was that corporation racist? I say no, because the choice had nothing to do with what these executives thought about black people personally or politically. That choice didn’t emanate from a desire to keep the black race down.

That choice – like all corporate calculations – was focused on, “How do we make the most money?”

By the same token, do you think Hollywood studios are throwing money at Tyler Perry because they love black people, and they respect Tyler Perry’s filmmaking skills? They’re doing it because there’s a dollar to be made.

Once you understand the game, you realize that the NAACP cannot shame the U.S. television industry into making dramas built around black stars... as long as the industry is convinced that those shows are an economic liability.

Bay Radical said...

But wait, dosen't that execs willingness to go along with what is essentially a racist consumer preference display at least a complicity with racism on her/his part?

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Not any more than my decision to make the character white in the first place. Job One: Get the show made (in accord with whatever conventional industry wisdom prevails). If you luck up and have a hit, then you can try to challenge the conventional wisdom... from a position of strength.

artlung said...

I want to concur with UCB's statement that "That choice – like all corporate calculations – was focused on, “How do we make the most money?”" -- all the cowardice I have seen in the decisions made about product are about whatever has worked before, because if they know it worked before, they can do it again. It's rare to find something like an HBO where, sure, they're about a dollar, but they also seem to have artistic choices they want to support as well. Exhibit A there would be "The Wire."

Now, as to the question of who's complicit with this infrastructure -- I suppose we all are to the extent that we tolerate it. This is the reason for the most part I find myself abandoning most of the mainstream culture, it seems to be for someone else -- maybe indeed it's about a homogenized "world" product.

Kudos for attempting to use comments as something other than an echo chamber.

SJ said...

Does DeAngelo consider "The Wire" to be an predominantly "black" show? Obviously the cast is majority black, but I'm talking about the writers and creators. It is created by two white guys, and most of the writers are white if I'm not mistaken.

Undercover Black Man said...

Artlung wrote: It's rare to find something like an HBO where, sure, they're about a dollar, but they also seem to have artistic choices they want to support as well.

HBO proves my point. HBO's sponsorship of "The Wire" -- as well as "Def Comedy Jam," "Def Poetry Jam," and a bunch of custom-made movies on subjects like the Tuskegee Airmen and Negro League baseball -- is not just an artistic choice.

The paid subscriber base of HBO is 25 percent black. (Or at least it was back when me and David Simon produced "The Corner.") That's a big enough audience that it makes economic sense to cater to it.

DeAngelo Starnes said...

I think there's more to it than that Dave. White supremacy is a premised, in part, on a belief that white is superior to non-white. Control of images in the media is a requirement.

The Black images they want to sell are us killing each other, acting like coons, or dressing in drag (in the infamous tradition of Flip Wilson, Martin Lawrence, and yes, Tyler Perry). I don't think a strong Black lead will feed the racial superiority inherent in a white supremacy philosophy.

So I'm not surprised that a studio exec would say a show with a Black lead won't sell. First, I don't believe that's true. Black sells. Young white kids are walking, dressing, and talking in Blackstyle. They're listening to Black music. They dig the NBA.

It's about whether these white execs are comfortable with a show with a Black lead. And since they can still make money off Black criminals, buffoonery, and drag queens, they have the option of declining to greenlight a show with strong Black characters in the lead.

Take a look at the means by which you thought it would be best to sell the show. You made the main character "white." You inanately understood the way these guys think. I'm not criticizing your strategy. But your recognition of the game was that your main character had to be white. Now why would you think that way if your instinct didn't tell you had to appeal to the white supremacist instinct of the studio execs?

But that sure sounds like it would have been an interesting show. Ding!

DeAngelo Starnes said...

sj, I do not classify The Wire as a Black show. Reason is because it is primarily an ensemble show. And even though it is one of my favorite shows, it feeds on Black pathology more than exploring universal themes. Not that I expect it to be a message show. It strikes me as a procedural drama more than a character study. And there are a few strong Black characters on the show. To date, The Wire and Homicide: Life On the Streets fit the bill as close as I can tell.

Bay Radical said...

UBM, so you don't think organizations should try to exert pressure on studios to diversify their programming? Or do you just think that kind of effort is usless?

And do you think its "OK" for an exec to make a decision solely based on money? What if someone pitched a show that was guaranteed to make big bucks, but it was a comedy called "Louisiana Lynching" or something equally horrible. Would the studio execs then be complicit with racism? Where do you draw a line - or do you?

Undercover Black Man said...

So I'm not surprised that a studio exec would say a show with a Black lead won't sell. First, I don't believe that's true. Black sells.

I must repeat, the guy told me that a show with a black lead wouldn’t sell overseas. And that was a new twist for me. If they’re like, “We can’t sell that in Europe”... what can I say to that? Not a damn thing.

The Black images they want to sell are us killing each other, acting like coons, or dressing in drag...

It might seem like a plan, DeAngelo, but I’m sure it’s not a plan. Hollywood executives lean whichever way the wind blows. And you would too, if your job depended on attracting the most eyeballs in a majority-white culture (and on a planet where people of African descent have the least wealth).

Look at BET. Been in business 28 years, and hasn’t created one piece of worthwhile original storytelling yet. (Well... “Hey Monie!” was kinda cute.) BET has taken the path of least resistance: music videos, sitcom reruns and reality shows.

TV and the movies are all about selling what they think people want to buy. And the reason I accept that with a shrug is... as time goes on, the game gets better for black folks.

I remember the ‘80s, when black people were considered cinematically unqualified to translate the best of black literature to the big screen. “A Soldier’s Story,” “Color Purple,” “Native Son”? Sounds like a job for Steven Spielberg or Norman Jewison.

Until one man came along to change the whole culture of the industry: Spike Lee. Not that Hollywood knows black people can make fine films that turn a profit... the game is different.

If you think an operable “white supremacy philosophy” is controlling the images of black men in the popular culture... don’t you think the careers of Denzel Washington, Lawrence Fishburne, Don Cheadle, Wesley Snipes, Will Smith and Jamie Foxx are chipping away at that?

Aren’t things getting better every day?

Undercover Black Man said...

I forgot Samuel L. Jackson. (Knew I was leaving somebody out.)

SJ said...

And Morgan Freeman! Though he's always the "older, wiser, black guy", even for movies like Batman Begins.

Undercover Black Man said...

Yeah, SJ, I admit I left out Morgan Freeman because he's played the "Magic Negro" role a tad too often. ;^)

Thembi said...

I can think of one - City of Angels, the black hospital drama. It still comes on TV One. It starred Blair Underwood, Gabrielle Union, Vivica Fox, and anyone else you may expect? Now that I'm listing the cast it was pretty 'star-studded' as such things go. UMB, maybe you know if the writers were black or not? The fact that it failed after 2 seasons may be as much of an indicator of the exec mentality as anything.

DeAngelo Starnes said...

There are times when things appear to get better, and there certainly seems to be more exposure for strong Black actors such as those you and sj mentioned. However, it doesn't answer the question as to why there aren't more Black shows.

Cavemen (I know it's a sitcom) can sell but a show with a strong Black lead couldn't?

And again, I'm having a hard time buying the "show won't sell in Europe" line. I know it didn't come from you, but they love us overseas! Some of your and my favorite music artists, who can't get a record deal or shows, are huge in Europe and Japan.

And your show was just one example. Is that the excuse for every pitched Black drama? It won't sell.

Let's assume that's true. Why doesn't it sell? Because the audience can't accept a show Black characters in the lead? What does that say about the audience and where it's coming from?

The fact that Spike broke through, and on his own terms, proves strong dramatic stories that don't involve criminals, coons, and drag queens sell. If given a chance, a Black drama will sell.

And the limited list of Black actors mentioned proves that they will let a few through. But there are a whole lot more being held back.

Finally, (at least for this post), I don't subscribe to the theory that there's conspiracy. You don't need a conspiracy when you contol everything. You can just say no. Now, if you don't want to get called out as a racist, you come up with a colorless excuse like "It won't sell." And when there's a pattern of those kinds of excuses, it seems to prove the hold-back is a function of white supremacy.


DeAngelo Starnes said...

So Dave the lovely Thembi pointed out a show that fell off our radar. With a cast like that, why? No money poured into pubbing it. Why?

Undercover Black Man said...

If given a chance, a Black drama will sell.

And when one comes along and succeeds, the game will change. I'm sure that will happen.

But the TV business is governed by such a fear of risk-taking, you can't really blame executives for failing to try and try and try until it does happen.

Because, again, they're not averse to a black-centered drama because they hate black people, or disrespect black culture, or want to poison the image of the black race. They're averse to it simply because it hasn't succeeded yet.

Just like they're averse to shows about the newspaper business. Because there hasn't been a successful one in 30 years. ("Lou Grant.") I'd love to do a show about a college newspaper. But I won't go in and try to sell one when I know (and understand why) they don't want to make a newspaper show.

Michael Fisher said...

Mills. Stop bullshitting DeAngelo.
We are both basically in the same business and you should know better. How many TV shows and Movies are produced on a daily with obvious lack of potential of ever making any money?

By the way. Spoke to my former client Toy Connor yesterday. She asked me to tell you hi.

Andrew said...

It's worth noting that The Unit on CBS has a black main character and it has done perfectly fine for itself and I've never noticed any indication that people are avoiding it because of a black main character.

It seems to me like the notion that "black characters don't" sell is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If nobody ever green-lights one, then how can they be so sure? If there was a steady flow of shows with black leads coming out every year, I bet that their success rate would be similar to the average industry wide success rate. How many black dramas have even been attempted in the last decade? There have been a couple of Andre Braugher shows and a couple of Taye Diggs shows, but that's hardly enough evidence to prove an economic trend.

Undercover Black Man said...

Fisher, thanks for passing along that last bit. Toy Connor is a superb actress.

As for the rest of it, I don't think you and I are quite in the same business. I'm in the business of walking into these motherfuckers' offices and trying to get them to put up millions of dollars to film some shit I wrote.

And as long as they've got the millions and all I have are some words, it behooves me to understand the rules of the game. It ain't personal, it's all business. And they're not in the black-self-esteem business. And we have no right to expect them to be.

Michael Fisher said...


"I'm in the business of walking into these motherfuckers' offices and trying to get them to put up millions of dollars to film some shit I wrote."

And how often did they put up millions for stories and material that had less money-making potential than yours and that certain other writers pitched?

Who is your agency? CAA, WMA, or ICM? Or neither? Why?

DeAngelo Starnes said...

This shit has kicked off now.

Dave, when you mention "rules of the game" I'd like a response to who made the rules? If you have concrete evidence Spike Lee is part of the rule-making, I will sit this topic out.

But let's get to the nitty gritty.

On your pitched show, would it have sold if Ving Rhames was married to a white woman?

And is the audience conditioned by seeing so many Black sitcoms, criminals, and drag queens that they reject a City of Angels or the Showtime drama (another under the radar Black drama) Soul Food that these studio execs don't think a Black drama will sell?

I know you have an insider scoop I don't have because you deal with these muthafuckas all the time. But we, the consumer, are being fed shit when it comes to Black images on tv. And to me that's a function of white supremacy.

For instance, a guilty pleasure is seeing a smart Black thug muthafucka, like The Wire's Stringer Bell, or Homicide's Luther Mahoney, or The Shield's Antwon Mitchell, kick ass. But what ultimately happens? White cops with personal issues that distract them from showing up for work on time always catch them slipping. When Michael Corleone or Tony Soprano get caught doing the same out of the blue dumb shit by a similarly written dysfunctional Black cop, as written by someone like David Mills, then I'll think we overcame.

But let's ask ourselves a larger societal and psychological question, why don't we demand a Black drama? Why is it that people would rather see a 2000s version of Stepin Fetchit rather than a Denzel, Samuel L., or Morgan on a weekly basis? Why are we more comfortable with fat Black folks on TNT (or TBS), family sitcoms with usually blue-talking comedians in family settings,or fucking drag queens as a sign of progress on tv?

Amos and Andy ain't dead. They live. You may be on the inside working yo' thang. But we on the outside get the product. While I can understand your frustration, the production to a person with any sensitivity knows the game ain't changed. Yeah, there's some Black folks making money. But they ain't writing the checks. And since white folks are writing the checks, they're supreme.

And if you ask me, rhetoricallyk, why is that a bad thing? My answer will be that I don't trust these muthafuckas. Give me a reason why I should, beyond Mandingo/OJ-getting white pussy, and I'll consider it.

And back to The Wire, I change my mind. It's the McNulty show. White dude dominant catching the (we thought) brilliant Black criminals. And how does the white councilmember beat the popular Black incumbent? Even with a predominantly Black cast, more white supremacist shit. Rescue me if I'm wrong, brotha.


DeAngelo Starnes said...

This will be the last time I respond to a comment in this string. First, let me say, I enjoy this bit of discourse. Please chime in, and don't hold back!

But to the comment saying Black doesn't sell is self fulfilling prophecy, that's bullshit. Blackstyle sells. It might have to be whitefaced like Elvis Presley, but Black sells.

Not being able to handle strong Black characters because then tv will look evolve like the NBA and Black NFL quarterbacks is the fear.

Michael Fisher said...

Mills. What is the percentage of successful writers who are white people who classify themselves as Jewish in the filmed entertainment industry. Is this percentage, given the laws of mathematical probability, within the parameters of randomness of any such mathematical probability?

Oh, and by the way, it's Toi. Not Toy. Sorry, Toi.

SJ said...

"And back to The Wire, I change my mind. It's the McNulty show. White dude dominant catching the (we thought) brilliant Black criminals. And how does the white councilmember beat the popular Black incumbent? Even with a predominantly Black cast, more white supremacist shit. Rescue me if I'm wrong, brotha."

Well parts of The Wire are based on reality aren't they? In real life we had this white detective, Ed Burns, who caught a black drug kingpin who goes by the name of Melvin Williams.

As for the white mayor plot, there's a real-life parallel there too. Martin O' Malley became mayor of Baltimore, and now he's the governor of Maryland. So if anything, The Wire is representing reality to a large extent.

Undercover Black Man said...

Oh, and by the way, it's Toi. Not Toy. Sorry, Toi.

Since when? Used to be Toy.

Let me ponder the rest.

DeAngelo Starnes said...

I was gonna wait for a response before posting again, but I just thought of something.

Do negative Black images in tv shows contribute by the rush to judgment that Mr. Shapiro made when writing about Sean Taylor?

DeAngelo Starnes said...

sj, point well-taken.

DeAngelo Starnes said...

My syntax is off.

Dave, as a corollary to this topic, do negative Black images in tv shows contribute TO the rush to judgment that Mr. Shapiro made when writing about Sean Taylor earlier this week in the Post?

Undercover Black Man said...

Holy crap, we’re slapping around ideas like hockey pucks! Very cool. Thanks, DeAngelo, for getting it started.

Now... you write that “the game ain’t changed.” That right there is the crux of our philosophical difference.

I say the game is steady changing.

First, though... I feel what you’re saying about the power of images. You know that. Whenever I drive around L.A. and see a billboard with a bunch of pretty young lily-white actors from some damn show on the CW, I vomit a little bit in my mouth.

I came out here to battle. Believe that.

But, again, the dominant force shaping TV and movies is capital, it’s the market, it’s not racism or white supremacy (though it might look like it). Like those CW billboards, they’re not just selling white. They’re selling young. They’re selling skinny. They’re selling pretty.

And if you happen to be old or fat or homely or all of the above, don’t go around thinking that Hollywood executives have something against you personally. (Though it might feel like it). Don’t think it’s a plan to control your political destiny.

They sell what they think people want to buy, and that changes over time.

Look at the book business. Remember the ‘80s? How many black authors were dealing with the major publishing houses? Enough to count on one hand, probably.

Now you go in a chain bookstore, and there’s a whole black section... an exploding market in black popular fiction. Why? Because the publishing industry felt bad about ignoring black writers for so long? Because the NAACP practiced moral suasion to get publishers to sign black writers?

No no no no. Because there’s a market for black books, a market for black popular fiction. The black middle class and upper middle class have exploded in size over the past 40 years. The market adapts. Because the market wants some of that money.

The game most definitely has changed.

If the problem (with the depth and breadth of black cinematic images currently) is in the market, the solution is also in the market. And black people have to Be Like Spike.

With entrepreneurial vision and creative vision (and maybe even some political vision), somebody out there will produce something that will prove there’s money to be made with high-quality dramatic television rooted in black life.

Undercover Black Man said...

Fisher wrote: "Mills. What is the percentage of successful writers who are white people who classify themselves as Jewish in the filmed entertainment industry..."

Oh shit, what kind of mess are you trying to start here? You think a Jewish writer gets behind closed doors with some Hollywood exec, speaks a little Yiddish, and the next thing you know he's got a gig?

The Jewish community globally produces a disproportionate number of excellent writers. I assume that's because it is a culture that has highly valued the written word for centuries... as opposed to other human subgroups I could mention. (That's right, Navajos... I said it!)

What was the proportion of Jews at the Yale Daily News? More than their ratio of the student population, I would bet.

Fisher, don't pretend that America is full of writers who can out-write David Simon. Because it ain't. If it were, black writers would be all over the New York Times bestseller list. Being jealous of talented Jews won't get you anywhere.

I had a cute idea for an episode of a show I tried to create a few years ago. There's a talented actor out there named Peter Dinklage, who is a dwarf. A Shakespearean-trained dwarf actor with serious chops.

I imagined a role for him as a talented dwarf actor who is a raging anti-Semite. He is 4-foot-5 and he can't get hired in Hollywood as a leading man and he blames the Jews.

Would've been hilarious. But the deeper truth is that Peter Dinklage's dwarfism does prevent him from being cast as a leading man, despite his great talent.

Why? Not because Hollywood executives have an animus against dwarfs. It's because Hollywood makes money by selling products to people who mostly aren't dwarfs.

Is my point clear?

DeAngelo Starnes said...

Touche', Dave. The game be changing. I guess I'm just a little frustrated with the pace of change.

Your mention of young, skinny images struck a chord. Cuz I personally like big, shapely asses myself. So corollary to the corollary: why don't we see a big ass on the billboard? Is that a function of white supremacy since sistas got the big asses?

DeAngelo Starnes said...

Dave, on your comment to Fisher, I think there are many talented Black writers who can out write a lot of the crap on anyone's best seller list. I mean Dean Koontz? They're not getting publicity money necessary for exposure that creates a greater market.

A point I think you drove home pretty well is that given a break, Black sells, witness Spike Lee.

So I don't think Jewish writers are any more talented than any other group. They have a network set up that allows them greater freedom to test ideas for the market place. But there's a lotta theft from Black culture that goes uncredited.


Michael Fisher said...


"The Jewish community globally produces a disproportionate number of excellent writers."

The same thing applies to booking agents?

artist managers?

Movie executives?

TV executives?

Record company executives?

Entertainment attorneys?

Entertainment accountants and business managers?

Movie directors?

Successful (i.e. working) actors?

and, yes, it is Toy. I guess I've been misspelling her name since 1990.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ and, yes, it is Toy. I guess I've been misspelling her name since 1990.

And she was your client? A Jew would've known how her name is spelled.

Joke! Just joking, Fish! I got jokey-jokes...

Now, to get serious: What do you think all those Jewish booking agents, talent managers, TV and movie executives and movie directors want?

To promulgate a global system of white supremacy?

Or to make money by selling whatever they think the most people will buy?

Undercover Black Man said...

DeAngelo wrote: "... why don't we see a big ass on the billboard? Is that a function of white supremacy since sistas got the big asses?"

You might be joking (or half-joking), but the serious answer is it's not a function of white supremacy but white majority. More white folks; bigger market. Thus they are targeted by the advertising industry.

But the size of the "white majority" is steady changing too. As I will spell out in QUESTION #2, which I shall pose to you tomorrow morning.

Take it easy.

DeAngelo Starnes said...

I don't know, Dave. I'm seeing a lotta white dudes with sistas now. Maybe they like that round ass better than OJ-type bruhs. Round one's been fun. Thanks.

Michael Fisher said...


"Now, to get serious: What do you think all those Jewish booking agents, talent managers, TV and movie executives and movie directors want?"

David. It's not a question of what they want, it is a question of what is. The next question is how is what is maintained?

As to Toy. She was a client but is more of a friend. She's also a prolific writer.

DeAngelo Starnes said...

Fisher, if your friend is a prolific writer, have her chime in. The more the merrier.

Thanks for chiming in, bruh.

memomachine said...


"Now, to get serious: What do you think all those Jewish booking agents, talent managers, TV and movie executives and movie directors want?"

1. That's rather curious.

Fight against Fear, Southern Jews and Black Civil Rights, by Clive Webb

Pg 23+ is interesting.

2. *shrug* frankly I might go ahead and post my opinion on this, as non-black conservative. But my point of view isn't generally warmly embraced by the other commenters here. ... oh what the hell.

A. liberal's need to make all black characters as infantile as possible. Which frankly precludes any sort of real drama that doesn't also include addiction, pregnancy, prostitution and/or murder. A simple drama involving a family that doesn't include any of those and a laugh track? Never seen one.

B. Native Asians in Asian countries aren't known for being really pro-foreigner. Gaijin isn't a compliment and some Chinese phrases are translated as "white devil". As as much as whites are despised by Asian cultures, blacks generally fare worse. Note this attitude depends heavily on whether or not the person is pre or post WWII with pre-WWII being far more likely to be anti-black.

And Asia is a huge market for American television. Go figure.

C. The formula is a sitcom about a strong black family where the mother is the strongest, the father is a bit of an idiot and the white neighbors and friends are total losers. And quite frankly I think it's that way because it completely plays into the perceived liberal stereotypes.

*shrug* my opinion.

eeaster said...

A couple things ..

Dave, while I understand the whole "follow the money" theory of why things do/don't made, that just isn't the reality. Black films consistently are the most profitable of all films, in a pure cost to profit ratio.

Is Hollywood rushing to make them? No.

There is considerable evidence of Black-led films doing well internationally - from Fred the Hammer Williamson's success in Italy (who made all kinds of money by killing white men in his movies) to Will Smith (Independence Day). And given the success of other forms of Black culture globally, it's a bald face lie to say that Black does not sell overseas.

Even if it is not racism, as you say, there is a disconnect in the willingness to risk dollars on balck talent. Rather than repeating successes with Black talent, Hollywood regards Black success as a fluke and continuously waits on the other guy to take the risk and maybe come up with another fluke.

Studios execs are not about profit, they are about image. $100 million box office day is image. No matter that the movie costs $200 million and you won;t see a dime until it reaches $600 million.

A $3 million black film that makes $40 million is a HUGE profit, but carries no bragging rights. The thing that saves stufio heads their jobs is that entertainment companies are not just film companie, so profit comes from other areas. If stockholders ever really started looking into the P&L statements of just the film divisions, they would clamoring for Black films and the profit they make.

Undercover Black Man said...

Hey Eric. Thanks for contributing.

I was talking about the foreign market for TV shows, not movies. But let me point out some interesting data:

Only five movies starring Denzel Washington have made more money overseas than in the United States: “Déjà Vu,” “Inside Man,” “The Bone Collector,” “The Seige” and “Philadelphia.” (Here’s a neat chart.)

By contrast, almost every movie starring Tom Cruise makes more money overseas than in the U.S. Even “Magnolia.” (Exceptions: “Eyes Wide Shut,” “Jerry Maguire,” “The Firm,” “A Few Good Men.”) Here’s that chart; admittedly it’s incomplete, but I’m making a general point. Which is:

Hollywood sells its big movies worldwide, and that reality is part of their creative and economic algorithm.

leo said...

Seems to me like its a bit of both (profitability and racism). I don't know about the inner workings of the industry, but I heard a comment by Neil Gaiman - who was having difficulty making 'Anansi's boys' into a feature. The interest was there, but [the execs] couldn't get past all the characters in the book being black. Plus the novel was part comedy, part fantasy, not the stuff typically associated with black people.

If enough people bought and read the book for it to be considered for a feature, why the hesitation?

If not racisim, there is certainly bigotry, in which white people assume nobody wants to see black people living a non-stereotypical black existence.

On the other hand, remember Love Jones? It flopped, right?

eeaster said...

Ok, I see your chart, but "only 5 movies with Denzel Washington...". What's the equation for how many it takes to at least assume the risk?

Even if you say TV and not movies that would be questionable. Think of the quality work that we're importing from Britain that has Black folk in, in not the lead, at least leading roles that have done well --the cop show with Helen Mirren where she was screwing all the Black guys, Lenny Henry's "Chef" did well worldwide.

And aren't TV shows less risky than film? It's not like you get paid per viewer. You get a a check for distribution rights, period. have there been enough Black dramas to even test whether teh globe will accept them?

Either way, my point is this: Your basic premise that if one Black product does well others will follow, cannot be proven. Every Negro who won an Oscar claims that their role offers got worse, not better, after winning. Success for black people in any field --film, coaching, business - seems not to guarantee repeated opportunity. At least not the kind of automatic and repeated opportunity white folks get - even when they fail (again, see coaching).

eeaster said...

forgive the typos, doing too many things at once

DeAngelo Starnes said...

Yo E, what's up my fellow January 19th brotha.

The point about bruhs not getting the opportunity to fail is well-taken. And to me that kinda brings us back to the point I made re: Jewish writers. They have such a strong network set up that they can test ideas in the marketplace with the knowledge that another opportunity will come despite having such flop.

And really, you learn more through failure than immediate success.

Now if we, Black folks, ran this muthafucka, maybe we'd see the same deference. But when fall on our face, I wonder how often the assumed rationale is "well it was a Black show or movie."

Watched a very good Black film last night by the way. It was called Constellation. Great cast and great performances. Billy Dee, Zoe Saldana, Gabrielle Union, Hill Harper, Lesley Ann Warren, Rae Dawn Chong, and Melissa de Sousa. The quality was there and it used Black characters to exhibit the human condition. In this instance, dealing with death and unspoken, and underspoken, fallout from family issues.

elle said...

to the poster that said The Wire is communicates white supramecy,are you and me watching the same show? or did you stop after the 3rd season? McNulty is the flattest,most one dimensional of all the characters on the show, as well as mayor garceti. Mcnulty only appeared about in half of the episodes in season 2 and 1/10 the episodes in season 3,and becomes a uniform in 4 with little screen time and garcetti had little screen time too,when he first appeared in season 3. Now compare that to Stringer Bell,Bodie,Colvin,Cedric Daniels, or even Kima Breggs and Bubbles, and they all had more screen time and better storylines. And McNulty never caught Stringer, Stringer was killed by Brother Muzone and Omar,two black man, for crossing them earlier. Before he died, stringer had turned informant and told the police about Avon Barksdale's oporation, and if it wasn't for stringer, mcnutty would have never gotten Avon. On Homicide, when Kellerman murdered Mahoney it started a turf war that claimed many innocents, and didn't end until it killed two cops, and Kellerman had to admit to unjustly shooting Mahoney and ol' mikey was fired, a disgraced cop. I honestly believe that The Wire and Homicide are,and always will be, the blackest shows on TV, white writers or not. To say a show with a predominantly Black cast isn't Black because of the White creators or writers is like saying a adopted Black child ain't black because his or her adopters were white. The Shield, on the other hand, is one white supramacist peace of shit, and overrated, I will agree with you on that.

DeAngelo Starnes said...

In the immortal words of the older Michael Corleone, "Just when I thought I was out, they keep pulling me back IN."

Elle, I've watched every episode of both The Wire and Homicide. So I appreciate where you're coming from.

Now onto responding to your points.

McNulty and Garcetti may be one-note characters. But how do they end up on top? And they'r both white?

I write sometimes myself. I know how you can write yourself into a corner. You might have a fascination with writing dark-side characters because that's the portion of your personality you suppress. But it's a guilty pleasure indulging that character. Then you have to balance that. Your choice is a John Wayne in the form of McNulty/Garcetti? What does that say about where you're coming from?

Not to turn this into a The Wire/Homicide forum, but how does a character such as Stringer Bell, as smart and cautious as he had been, do that? Stringer Bell ain't real. He's a figment of someone's imagination. Now if it was me, he wouldn't've turned state's evidence.

But Simon wrote that a little better than I've seen. Mahoney on Homicide was sheer bullshit. That muthafucka was Stringer Bell before Stringer Bell. He got himself into a real stupid situation. And maybe that's the reality of nigga-thinkin' that mirrors real life, and the reason these muthafuckas always find themselves in prison in real life.

In any event, that was a great post and caused pause for the cause.

And you're right, as much as I like The Shield, that's 2000s version of Huggy Bear. Forest was kickin' this muthafucka's ass and then they catch him on a slip up as opposed to Vic? Right!

Check the new post but we can keep doing this one, too, since it seems to have some juice.

Dave, you a muthafucka!

NunaOni said...

In addition to living overseas (Europe and Latin America) I interact and teach internationals from every part of the globe. This has been my life and profession for over 12 years and I have seen everything from That's My Mama to The Fresh Prince to Bernie Mac in various languages. Additionally, my international students know all these characters and shows as if they were their own.

This was a racist decision and I am sure the conversation was a little more colorful than "it won't sell overseas." I am not saying that an exec stood up shook and angry index finger and declared "no nigger will ever head a show while I am in charge of this studio." However, their choice to negate Ving because he is Black (when they have sold Black shows overseas) is a racist decision.

elle said...

Starnes, I see were your coming from, your wondering how in a cast that is 95% black, the John Wayne wannabe white boys still made the biggest changes, and I agree,that is some bullshit,could it have been hard for David Simon to create a Black cop that brings down the Greek,who is fictional and got away in season 2, however I disagreed with your assesment that the Wire's all about Jimmy Mcnulty show,because I believe ole Mcnutty wasn't even the best detective,method or character development wise. Lester Freeman,Kima Breggs,Leander Sydnor,all contributed more to the initial Barksdale case, the dock case,and 2nd Bardsdale case. I also always felt that Bunk Moreland was the better homicide detective, solving those 14 homicides in season 2. Jimmy was all talk and no action to me. And while Garcetti ended up winning by the end of season 3, can you really say Jimmy McNulty came out on top? You remember how in the final episodes, he admited to Beadie Russell that being a homicide detective was killing him,that bringing down the Barksdale clan didn't bring the amount of satisfaction he wanted, that he's a fuck-up and asshole that ruined his marriage with 2nd-rate pussy(Rhonda Pearlman), and quite the Homicide unit to be a beat cop,to be replaced as the main character by four pre-teen Black boys. And one last thing,your right that every industructible druglord does tend to fuck up,why don't anyone of these guys save up enough money and retire? but that wouldn't be "hard" so thats why Avon,Luther,Stringer, and eventually Marlo, will be dead or end up in jail. Proposition Joe said something along the lines of "fuck rep,I rather be living making money" and thats why people like Joe will always remain.

DeAngelo Starnes said...

elle, I like your style. But consider the following.

Freeman is the clearly the best detective. But the person who dogged the brass to bring down all of the above was who? McNulty. McNulty is the key to all the busts. And I said that earlier in my post, why do these white cops with personal issues bring down all these careful muthafuckas?

Now, whose the writer? And Dave, I know he's your boy, but he's done the same on two different shows. And I applaud him for providing some very well-written Black characters - for once. But why are Garcetti and McNulty landing on their feet? Is that a reflection of what's real or imagination?

I'll give him his "P's" for being real on bruhs fucking fucked up looking white women though.

I think somewhere earlier in this post, someone mentioned The Wire reflected real life experiences by the creators.

It also reflects some white nostalgia for what they believe Baltimore should be. White mayor, white cop turned white teacher turned white savior of Black kids. White detective stopping Black money from being legitimate.

I love The Wire, The Shield, and Homicide. But they piss me off. If bruhs was writing some of that shit, there might be more pissed off white viewers. Like Paul Mooney said, let a brotha write some of that shit. Different show with different outcomes. And as Dave might point out, no market. Fuck market. My feelings keep getting hurt with the brothas and sistas losing.

But my money's green, too.

Steve Lieber said...


Isn't The Wire actually actively making points you agree with? Carcetti won the mayor's election by screwing over a black cop who had done something good for community, (forming Hamsterdam) and by splitting the black vote, (screwing over his city councilman friend Tony in the process.) He's not a "likable" character in the Tony Soprano sense. He's just a self-centered weasel. The point of the show is clear: the system rewards guys who act like Carcetti and Rawls, while shit-canning real heroes like Bunny Colvin and Lester Freamon. What part of that message would you disagree with?