Oscar Diversity: Producer Calls for an African-American Studio (Guest Column)

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Marvin Peart, co-founder of Marro Media Co., is executive producer of the 2013 Weinstein Co. release “Escape from Planet Earth” and TV shows including “Mob Wives.” In a guest column for Variety, he calls for people of color in the entertainment business to join forces to create their own content and studios.

A color-free Academy Awards is indeed a strange anomaly, in an America more enriched every day by its people of color. But the problem is one that those less experienced in the art of filmmaking — and the art of the film business — might not recognize.

So I think we should put a magnifying glass on the larger problem — the offices of the studios where projects and budgets are approved.

Minority performers are being watched closely by fellow African-Americans and other communities of color for two reasons: first, they’re in a business they want to join; and second, they most resemble them physically. That is, they’re the present — along with the community’s hopes and dreams for the future. Spike and Will have an audience right now, one even more important than the viewership for the Dolby Theatre presentations. If luminaries of color say, “Inclusion in the Oscars is the be-all, end-all,” that’s where people will set their sights. When luminaries like Spike and Will say, “Raise capital — let’s build businesses, broaden our ambitions,” these accomplishments will ultimately be more significant than an Oscar nom here or there.

Why is it, as African-Americans, we long and clamor for seats at a dinner party where the host must be forced to invite us, instead of pushing for ownership of the house, which includes the kitchen, dining room, table, silverware and especially, the door and its hinges.

Why does the African-American strive to be talent? Where is the outcry for content ownership: ownership of the studios and platforms where we so desperately want our talent recognized?

I don’t mean token efforts — our equivalent of the 40 acres and a mule our ancestors were promised.

I mean a serious approach to raising capital and producing content we want to create and own. As we push for Oscar inclusion, how far should we take it? Enact the Rooney rule, like they have in football — where one African-American coach must be interviewed for every head coach vacancy? Would any of us feel good — satisfied personally, proud in front of our children — accepting our industry’s highest honors, once the balance is re-calculated in our favor? Dash makes the point in “The Incredibles”: “If everyone’s special, then no one is.”

Will we feel respected next year — when due to this outcry half a dozen minorities receive nominations? Won’t we question the legitimacy of our nominations — at the same minute we’re settling into the Oscar party, and our nominees are getting fitted for a tux or Valentino gown? And what difference will it actually make?

So my advice to my counterparts — either on the studio lot, at rehearsals, or in the ticket holders’ line — is this. The Oscars are about gold but the industry is about and thrives on green. The award is a statue: it sits on a shelf, doesn’t grow. Money, as they say, changes everything; it’s restless, it moves. Study the audience at the Dolby; don’t study the winners or presenters.

When Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen got together and decided to form Dreamworks, how did they go about it? Did they make and execute a plan? Or try to dictate the process and terms? Not only did they build an independent studio, that studio also spawned a major animation house that competes with the likes of Pixar and Disney.

So where are our African American versions of Spielberg, Katzenberg, and Geffen? Where is the solidarity on the African-American side that says, let’s join forces? When will we start telling and stop asking? In the last 24 months, two independent studios were created — STX and Broad Green. Clearly it can be done, it’s just not being done by us. What I am suggesting is not simple by any stretch of the imagination. If it were easy, then anyone could do it.

If my African-American counterparts want to boycott the Oscars, more power to them, but if they truly decide to stay home, they should get on the phone with each other, wait for Chris Rock to exit the stage and his dressing room, then set a serious meeting. Use February 28 as the start date to address the urgent thing: How we can pool talent, resources and experiences — and have the first serious dialog about how to build the first African-American-owned studio with its own distribution platforms and output deals.

When you guys do start this independent studio, I strongly suggest you make films that inspire and also show the world that our sensibilities are much broader than “Ride Along,” “The Perfect Holiday,” “12 Years A Slave” —they’re that, and everything in between. Can’t we also produce “The Martian,” “The Godfather,” “The Sound of Music” and every other genre?

I implore African-Americans to move the goal posts. Move them, by building them. Making the roster should no longer be enough; strive to own the team. Physical skills erode. Business skills, business access — isn’t that the plot of “The Godfather”? — can be passed down between generations. Creating this type of wealth will put us on the path to true equality, in this business, country and world.

As the first African-American to executive produce a major animated motion picture — 2013’s “Escape From Planet Earth” —the opportunity came with gratitude and true sadness. Gratitude for being the first and sadness at how long it took to achieve that.  

We as African-Americans need to focus on what’s important. Boil it down to math, pure percentages: whereas five films every year get released with Academy-level roles for actors of color, 100 films are made with Oscar-worthy roles for everybody else. Those who aren’t white will be locked out every year and every year’s losers vastly outnumber any year’s winners anyway — the only people to succeed every year are the ones who own the Dolby Theatre, the network broadcasting the awards and the studios. Inclusion at an ownership level will instantly change the landscape — colorize it, bringing in the diversity that’s transformed America and kept it great.

It’s the old fishing maxim. Cast an actor of color in a movie as talent, and yes, you’ve given them a job. Teach them to own a fully-integrated studio and distribution platform, you’ve given them something for many lifetimes — a business, decision-making power, real responsibility and autonomy.

— Marvin Peart

 

 

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  1. Nanny Mo says:

    Yeah, an all Black studio, that sounds diverse. How can an industry so in love with inclusion and so historically a part of helping it be, not see this? Are all these people truly this racist?

  2. Byron Allen runs his own network and went to Sundance and bid $20 Million for Nate Parker’s BIRTH OF A NATION—he lost to FOX Searchlight’s $17.5million bid. But if Black Hollywood wants to make some serious moves, aligning with people like Byron Allen, even Oprah’s network and building that way as well.

  3. bravo encore… Shame on you black hollywood… this crying andbegging is not a good look…real talk!

  4. Lavisse Smith says:

    This is the first time I have seen or read something that goes to the heart of the matter. Stop being a victim and become a competitor. Stop begging for a seat at the table and buy your own table and chairs.

  5. Yes! Yes and Yes!! Thanks for this post…Let’s create sustainable pathways out of so many ongoing setbacks for marginalized people through education and employment.

  6. Chicago860 says:

    Be careful what you wish for.

  7. E says:

    Why is it always people of “Color” or African Americans, that are being excluded or talked about being excluded, but never do they talk about minorities as a whole i.e Hispanics, Native Americans, minority women, etc its more than just a people of “color: exclusion and problem, people need to look at the bigger picture, not just their agenda. I am a Hispanic Actress, trying to make it in this industry. And I dont want to0 be cast as a maid

  8. LindA says:

    Creating an African American only studio is not solving things but rather causing more segregation. The oscars, studios and everything in this country need to be about something that stands/represents for all, not separating the world into their own nationality groups. If it becomes about that, than this really isn’t America anymore, just a continent separated.

    • meche says:

      It’s not about segregation. It’s about being able to play on the field. That’s what America is about. Everyone gets to play in the game. Right now it’s an elitist club. It’s about being able to make any movie regardless of race. In hollywood if you happen to be black you are pigeon holed and stereotyped to only make buffoonish black movies, slave movies, buddy copy movies when our sensibilities are well beyond that. Go to a hollywood office and see how much diversity you see in their offices – This black-owned studio is talking about integration into a system of elitists not segregation.

  9. Bill Handy says:

    Have you heard/ Tyler Perry has done just that, are you not paying attention?

  10. Wanda says:

    This is ridiculous

  11. Bill says:

    Were such a studio formed it would be entertaining to watch the teeth gnashing hat would occur were its films not nominated irrespective of their quality or the performances within.

    There’s no longer a dream of a color-blind world but instead one where race alone is the primary factor.

    • Brandon Bell says:

      Boy Bill, do you ever miss the point. NOBODY, I ever heard mention the fact that the Oscars are so White this year thought that someone should be nominated simply because they did the work. The complaint came because the Oscars seemed to go out of their way to ignore performances and other work by people of color in order to keep the Oscar’s White. Now everybody knows it wasn’t a concerted effort. But we also know that it only takes a mindset of a collection of individuals.

  12. Daniel says:

    Blacks are so successful with music. Let them build heir own damned studio. And try not plagiarize content.

    • Brandon Bell says:

      And whites are so successful at coopting others’ culture and trying to claim it for their own. It’s too late to think about suggesting you shouldn’t plagiarize. That’s just what you do.

    • joi karen says:

      @Daniel: I KNOW you didn’t just use the word “plagiarize” implying that blacks have ever stolen any ideas,content or intellectual property from whites when, in fact, it has always been the other way around. YOU are the culture bandits; so stop preaching to us.

  13. Michael Anthony says:

    When the author, at the onset, says Spike and Will have the audience now, I immediately dismissed this opinion. They don’t. Both have not had a hit in years and it completely ignores the true stars of TODAY, who could pull in the green, so to speak. Even consider Will’s wife, Jada. Her big film last year? Magic Mike. Stop and consider the upcoming generations.

  14. 1favored says:

    A solution longggggg overdue!!!!

    • iris says:

      I think the author was referring to Will Packard who just had a hit with Ride Along, and if he was referring to Will Smith he is still a very valuable star in the WORLD. he could easily gather resources.

  15. Shawn Maus says:

    Why did you not mention Tyler Perry? He’s been doing movies and TV from his studio in southwest Atlanta for years. They’re well-made and make money. Why is the focus always on Will Smith and Spike Lee. Give Tyler Perry some credit for making a studio of his own, writing, producing, acting and directing his own. He’s real movie mogul making things happen.

    • Michael Anthony says:

      Perry’s Box office has been in decline for years. Once again, focusing on the old, rather than the new. Anna Duverney moaned and groaned and then signed a TV deal with OWN. Guess she really didn’t want to make a difference.

      • joi karen says:

        did anyone here think to mention that tyler perry’s movies are actually kind of stupid? sure, people will gladly appear in anything he does just for the badly needed exposure but the Medea series and The Haves/Have Nots are actually his best. All the other cringe worthy attempts are just Adam Sandler stupidity such as LOVE THY NEIGHBOR, THE BROWNS, HOUSE OF PAYNE, etc.

        And STOP telling all blacks what to do, what to think, or even how to get along in HollyWood.

      • iris says:

        That’s exactly the writer’s point… Look at the type of movies Tyler Perry is making, it’s “black” in which luckily has crossed over and thanks to the help of Oprah as well. He doesn’t have his own distribution or output deal. He doesn’t own a studio rather a production company. he actually had to tame down his Madea character to conform to the studio heads…

  16. KWK says:

    Finally…a voice of reason beautifully expressed during this season of discontent.

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