Celebrities using Kickstarter to raise money for a venture is nothing new. “Napoleon Dynamite” star Jon Heder, author Neil Gaiman and musician Amanda Palmer have all done it. But when Academy Award-winner Whoopi Goldberg launched her own crowdfunding campaign yesterday to help fund her directorial debut “I Got Somethin’ To Tell You,” you can bet more than a few folks’ eyebrows were raised.
Goldberg is hoping to make her Kickstarter goal of $65,000 to finish producing her documentary on one of her role models, legendary stand-up comedian Moms Mabley (born Loretta Mary Aiken), who rose to national recognition in the 1960s. Mabley, who passed away at the age of 81 in 1975, has over 20 comedy records to her name and performed everywhere from Harlem’s Apollo Theater to Carnegie Hall. As Goldberg says in her Kickstarter pitch, “Moms was the first and without her there probably would not have been a Totie, a Joan, a Kathy, a Wanda, or any of the others who may follow.”
Indiewire caught up with Goldberg following a taping of “The View” to find out why she sought out the help of the popular crowdfunding platform, and when we can expect to see “I Got Somethin’ To Tell You.”
So first things first: Why Kickstarter? Why not just finance the film yourself?
I have been financing the film myself. But you know, I’m doing that, I put together the show [“Sister Act”] for Broadway. I have limited funds. I have family. I take care of a lot of people on one check. So I needed some help. We were doing it and it started to get away from me and I thought, “I need some help!” And I thought, well, the Kickstarter folks are really good, maybe I can get some help this way.
It’s a worthwhile project. This isn’t a little bullshitty project. I thought there might be enough people out there who remember Moms who’d like to see this happen. When you run out of dough you have to start saving up again, and that postpones everything. I didn’t want this to take five years to do. I thought it would be a good idea to go to Kickstarter and say “Hey, I’m doing this project.” If you want to help get it done, this is a great way to do it. And people have been really remarkable.
Kickstarter also serves as a great platform just to get the word out. Was that part of the reason you approached the crowdfunding source?
The reason I love Kickstarter is because a friend of mine was trying to get her teeny tiny restaurant going — called Fusebox. The smallest Korean restaurant in Oakland. She wrote to me and said “I’m doing this thing, can you help me?” And so I said, “Yes!” I kicked in a little bit of dough. But then I saw all these other projects, and under my real name I started funding these other projects, you know, because I could do it. I think it’s a great thing.
You launched yesterday. How’s the reaction been?
We had two shows [of “The View”] so I haven’t checked. I know that yesterday, once it went live, people just started giving what they could. It was really gratifying, you know? It’s nice to know that. A lady said that, “I don’t have much but I have 15 bucks I can give you.” And she’s shared 15 bucks with the project because she wants to see Moms out there again. People do want to help. They want to see good stuff and they don’t mind contributing what they can.
You know, you’re not saying, “I want a million dollars. I want you to give me half a million.” You say, “Listen, if you put in five bucks I’ll send you a picture that I signed.” That’s a great thing. It’s a great barter system, if people find themselves trying to open something small and they’re trying do it themselves.
I could have gone back to one of the cable stations, but what that means is you don’t get to do the project the way you want to. This project is about the impact that Moms had on people. Impact on comics. It’s less about her life story and about what she brought. She was the only female comic for about 40 years! That’s never been celebrated and it’s never been celebrated as a woman. She was on the cutting edge, a pioneer, talking about things that nobody was really talking about at the time and how she did it. So that’s what this is about.
I think with some of the cable folks, they wanted it to be more of her life story, asking questions that weren’t of interest to me. So then they said that we’re not going to give you the money. I was like, “Ugh, ok.” So I started to do it myself. Paying for all of the clips and the material and clearing things and paying the people who do that — it was a lot. It’s different, of course, when HBO is behind you or another cable thing and they throw dough at you. But if you want to do the project the way you want to do it… I know there are a couple of groups that do this but I fell in love with the Kickstarter people because they were so good to so many people.
This marks your directorial debut. Has directing always been on your radar, or is it just this story you feel you need to tell?
I think that if I had a lot of dough, maybe I could’ve gotten somebody like Ken Burns, who said to me “You should be doing this. This is something you should be doing because you know this story.” And I said, “Well okay, but I’m an actor, this isn’t my thing.” And it’s not something that I live for, but there are probably one or two other things that I will end up directing because they are part of the art. And I love that.
But listen, if I were a rich girl, it would be a whole different story [laughs]. Doing it this way means I don’t have to convince people that what I’m doing is a good idea. I don’t have to beg or steal pens because someone doesn’t get it. I get it and if I put it out and people say, “We don’t care.” Then it’s on me.
So how’s the production been going for you?
It’s been going well. I got to talk to a lot of different people about Moms. It’s crazy because we think of her as one thing, this character, but she was a multi-dimensional performer. I discovered a lot of really wonderful things, like the fact that Moms wrote a play with Zora Neale Hurston; that she, in fact, was the first cougar [laughs]; and that never has any women’s or comedy group talked about Moms as a viable and amazing comedian in a world where there weren’t any females for years.
Celebrating this woman of color and discovering that there are so many stories — like the Flip Wilson story, that I would love to tell. Because, you know, we live in a different kind of world now where unless you’re seeing re-runs, young people don’t know these folks. They don’t know who Willie O’Ree is. Willie O’Ree was the first black hockey player. Black entertainment. It’s important!
When I was a kid, at least, people got together on Friday and Saturday and played records and laughed. People don’t do that now. You don’t have party records.
Last year you lent your voice to narrating the documentary “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey.” It seems like you’re really taking to the documentary form.
I love documentaries. I think they’re great pieces of information about Americana that we need to have in order to continue to paint the fabric of the United States. If you look at a lot of the things they’re saying on television and in movies, those stories aren’t being told! And we’re seeing fewer and fewer black performers, unless we’re looking at musicians.
When do you hope to have the film done?
I’m hoping to have it done just after Christmas.
Do you want to take it on the festival circuit?
I think so…yeah. You know I’ll go back to HBO with it because I love them and I’ll put it in a couple festivals and hope that people dig the story and will get more interested. Maybe someone will make a full-on movie about Moms Mabley and maybe that’ll be my contribution to the world.