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Against The Bean Counter Mentality In African-American Film: ‘If It Don’t Make Dollars, It Might Make Sense!’

Against The Bean Counter Mentality In African-American Film: 'If It Don’t Make Dollars, It Might Make Sense!'

What we ought to be most loathed of is when “bean counters” dress themselves up as film critics and/or nestle themselves in film festival administrations or studio executive positions as gatekeepers to inhibit the progression of art for the Godless sake of profit.  And what I mean by “bean counters” are those industry professionals or observers who can quote you chapter and verse about the box office numbers of any film and detail for you in a single breath audience demographics, per screen averages, production budgets, above-the-line costs, SAG minimums, points on the gross, and the increase in the price of chewing gum from the year a film was made when it is adjusted for inflation today.

But these very “bean counters” rarely tell you anything as equally in depth and detailed about the experience of a film, whether you’re making one or seeing one; they have no love for the art of film.  Film is just a consumer product to them with all the prestige of ordering a “Big Mac”.  Movies are simply a business practice made up of products (individual films) that they have reduced to cold hard box-office numbers and numbers don’t lie… or do they?

The explicit purpose of this article is to challenge the soulless money grubbing mentality that infects African-American filmmaking.  I’m talking about that reductive,” If it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense,” ethos that crushes the idealism, passion and ambition of African-American filmmakers by reducing the practice of filmmaking to a cold calculated cash grab cloaked in hypocritical “uplift the race” sentiments and backed up by over generalized demographic evidence.

Film is an art form –and I know this doesn’t get repeated enough today because no one wants to appear as a fool- but I’ll bear that insult and say it again: film is an art form and all the bean-counters in the world can retort,” Film is also a business,” but they cannot deny the fact that film is also an art form even if they choose to ignore it by only looking at the box-office grosses and convincing others to do the same.

We would do well to keep in mind as we investigate this “bean-counter mentality” that shackles African-American cinema solely to notion of profit that Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 film VERTIGO performed sluggishly at the box office and was assessed with mixed critical reviews at the time of its release.  Over time, VERTIGO was rediscovered by French critics and audiences around the world and is now highly regarded as a key masterpiece of the cinematic art form.(1)  

 VERTIGO just recently knocked Orson Welles’ 1941 film CITIZEN KANE off the top spot as British magazine Sight & Sound’s 100 greatest films.  Moreover, even Welles’ CITIZEN KANE was a commercial flop at the time of its release, but again it is still hailed as a masterpiece filled with visual, editorial and narrative innovations that have all been absorbed nearly to the point of invisibility within our conceptualization of modern commercial filmmaking.

Yet,” because many African-Americans, both filmmakers and audiences, believe that filmmaking is solely a commercial enterprise. The artistic aspect of filmmaking is deliberately suppressed and/or disbelieved. Too many of our films lack innovation, originality and diversity because we have become slaves to profit and not the artisans of purpose and prestige. We have effectively created by default a slave cinema that is solely and exclusively concerned with the short term bottom line profit and marketability of a film with little to no consideration for the vision, originality, purpose, innovation or long term profitability of a work.” (Slave Cinema, pg. 22)

To debunk the “bean-counter” mentality that shackles African-American filmmaking we should begin by concentrating on three significant points that center on the notion of “box-office” profits and the cultural impact of cinematic prestige.

1a) The first, second and third weekend box office gross numbers of any film are not “net profit” numbers and are in no way reflective of the actual profitability of any film.

1b) The total reported (domestic and foreign) box office grosses of any film after its theatrical run are not reflective of the actual “net profits” of any film.

2) Not all narrative films (domestic or foreign) are made to make money; some films are made for prestige and cultural dominance on the world screen.

3) Would you dare make a film, knowing that there would be no way you would ever receive a dime of profit from it?

Regarding the first point (a & b), one of the most simple distinctions of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles that is taught in first year business school classes is that GROSS PROFITS are not NET PROFITS; which is to say that the gross box office numbers of any particular film that are reported during the opening three weekends of a film’s theatrical run are in no way reflective of the actual net profits of a film.  In fact, these first, second and third weekend box office numbers are related only to the popularity of a specified film.  And popularity should never be confused with profitability in the entertainment business.

Going further, even the cumulative box office gross totals reported on websites like imdb, boxofficemojo and Variety for any film since its release do not reveal to us the actual net profitability of a film because these enormous sums (like 425 million dollars domestically for a film like THE DARK KNIGHT RISES) have not been audited for negative costs, distribution fees, gross profit participant percentages, licensing and merchandising rights and any and all other overhead costs and interest fees many studios continually charge for a film over time.(2)

Indeed, short of invoking the Freedom of Information Act for SEC and IRS records, the total net profit a single film actually makes might be something we can never know since the many individual participant contracts attached as percentages of the gross profit are negotiated as private binding agreements with non-disclosure clauses built into what is called their “boiler plate” otherwise known as their contractual default rules.

   Moreover, each studio has a panoply of creative accounting practices and “ghost” fees that authors Pierce O’Donnell and Dennis McDougal have described as,” GAP accounting,” where,” revenues rarely bridged the gap between costs and profits.”(3)

As I have elsewhere detailed, Hollywood studios are operating on a two-tiered profit making model.(4)  The first tier is the theatrical release of a film which over time (usually but not exclusively) box office revenue must be gradually shared with exhibitors, gross participants, and other off-the-tops.  The second tier is a constant revenue stream brought in through ancillary outlets from home video, web streaming, television broadcasts on networks owned or co-owned by the studios and the like.  The constant revenue stream generated from our monthly “data” fees (cable, cellular, satellite, internet, etc) is based on the value of the catalog or library of films each studio possesses that are streamed on demand or by schedule.  

In short, what I am asserting is that both the weekend box office grosses and cumulative box office grosses of any film are industry managed “deceptions” that feed into the notion of filmmaking as a “soulless” money making machine and perpetuates the shackling of African-American cinema to a bottom line that is in no way fixed or terminated after a film’s theatrical run.

Most importantly, we cannot trust the box office grosses of African-American films as an indicator of the popularity of a film because of the rampant and detrimental effects of domestic bootlegging (movie piracy).  The fact that the recent remake of SPARKLE underperformed at the box office during its opening weekend may not be a consequence of the dramatic quality or marketability of the film, but instead could be caused by the popularity of the film on the bootleg market.(5)

As African-American filmmakers, we are being “hoodwinked” by faulty box office grosses that have been skewed by pre-theatrical release bootlegging into believing that our stories are neither popular nor marketable and as a consequence our ambitions are tamed and shackled to the all mighty dollar bill while we are forced to watch the ambitions of others soar –unfettered- upon the world screen.

This is not to say that the Hollywood studios don’t make money, but that perhaps making a blockbuster motion picture is more an effort to hide money; that is to hide profits from government over-taxation and from certain participants that the studio has deemed unworthy of sharing with in fairness.

The creation and management of such financial “deceptions” constitute an exact and sobering measure of a studio’s power and global influence.  

Regarding the second point, that not all narrative films are made to make money and that some films are made for prestige and cultural dominance on the world screen, I’ll turn our attention to the words of author and corporate entertainment lawyer, Schuyler M. Moore who emphatically declares in his book, THE BIZ: the basic business, legal and financial aspects of the film industry 2nd Edition that,” Most films lose money…The saving grace in the film industry is that when the rare blockbuster occurs, it can make up for the losses on a lot of other films.”(6)

But what of those films that lose money?  Some films are made not with the expressed intention of becoming blockbusters, but instead to enhance a studio’s reputation (with awards foreign and domestic) and to secure a certain cultural prestige that is racially coded by the performers or the producers upon the world screen.  This assertion might help to explain the importing to American movie theaters of the French film,” INTOUCHABLES” with its sentimental story of the friendship between a French-African male servant and his wheelchair bound white employer as opposed to not importing the raunchy French comedy,” PORN IN THE HOOD,” with its raw story of urban males of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds attempting to get into the pornography business.(7)

An American remake of INTOUCHABLES is already in the works because the sentimentality of the film spreads a message of pacified racial hierarchy and tolerance that those in power on either side of the Atlantic want to perpetuate- no matter what the box office risk or the actual social reality at hand.(8)  Some of us may not know that the American film THE HELP was re-titled,” La Couleur Des Sentiments“ when it was released in France last year.  It is a title that when translated [The color of feelings] highlights the sentimentality of the work while concealing the notion of African-American servitude and white racial dominance.

It could be that many African-American films are denied access to foreign markets, not because there isn’t an audience for such films, but instead because films written and directed by African-Americans do not maintain that certain genteel sentimentality and racial hierarchy (whites over blacks) that those in power on either side of the Atlantic want to endorse and perpetuate.

A collateral affect of the segregation of African-American films from foreign markets and the segregation of foreign films with diverse racial casts from American markets is that it maintains the illusion of White cultural and class dominance in the minds of people of color.  Whether we admit it or not, some of us black folk here in America are still shocked when we see people of color in other countries speaking their own native language; that there are black people of every hue in diverse foreign countries suffering many racial and class circumstances similar to our own is a shock not unlike the shock Malcolm X experienced during his trip to Mecca in 1964.(9)

 We are being deliberately kept apart from our international brethren to support the supremacy of whiteness on the world screen.

The very notion of making a film that you know you will not make a dime in profit from, which is my third point, is usually categorized as a “passion” project.  White filmmakers as either internationally recognized auteurs or maverick visionaries make these kinds of films every year. (eg. Terence Malick, David Cronenberg or Lars Von Trier)  And they sometimes make these films with the willing participation of A-list actors who often opt to take little to no actor’s fees or gross participation profits in exchange for the honor of working with the acknowledged White cinematic genius or maverick visionary.    

The fact of the matter is that when Whites have an interest in pursuing what is called a “passion” project, otherwise called a film without blockbuster intentions, they have a greater chance of gaining production funds, distribution and prestige through awards, than when African-Americans attempt to pursue a “passion” project.  The extraordinary length of time and stalled efforts of Danny Glover’s project on Haitian revolutionary leader Toussaint L’Overture, Don Cheadle’s project on jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, Spike Lee’s long held vision on baseball great Jackie Robinson, attests to the separate and unequal “Jim Crow” status African-Americans are forced to endure within the American Entertainment Industry.

What the combination of the “if it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense” ethos, the denial of access to foreign markets to African-American filmmakers and the unmitigated bootlegging of African-American films has created is a curious circumstance of “Black blackfaced minstrelsy” regarding current, potential and future African-American films.  Specifically, it is a kind of blackfaced minstrelsy where African-American filmmakers and actors must create and perform a narrow and limited conception of blackness (short of applying burnt cork to the face) that appeals to our own stereotyped and limited illusions of ourselves for profit.(10)

Minstrelsy is minstrelsy whether a black man is painting his face or wearing a dress and a wig to perform a black character of limited perception, ambition and intelligence for the amusement of ourselves or others for profit.

Those passion projects that attempt to reveal aspects that are beyond our own (or white folks) limited and narrow concepts about African-Americans are nearly impossible to produce or distribute because there is a lack of cultural prestige (foreign or domestic) associated with these potential African-American films.   Although Behn Zietlin’s BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD might seem to contradict this assertion, particularly since the film has been admired as a potential Oscar contender, we must keep in mind that the maverick visionary behind this African-American film is of Jewish descent.

This is an ironic circumstance that begs the questions: Does the race and ethnicity of Behn Zietlin afford him a broader, less stereotypical and ambitious cinematic perspective on African-Americans than we ourselves possess?  Are we standing too close to the mirror to see all of the many diverse facets of ourselves and our culture because we are blinded by the vanity of making films solely to get rich and famous?

One thing we can be most certain about is that no portion of the impressive 91 million dollar box office gross of THINK LIKE A MAN (the closest thing to an African-American blockbuster film that we have in recent years) will be used to make up for the losses on a lot of other African-American films because 1) the studios aren’t green lighting any ambitious, risky or challenging African-American films that they will lose money on; 2) those known maverick or visionary African-American filmmakers have been abandoned to struggle in obscurity and financial frustration and 3) those in control of the industry jealously guard the prestige of the world screen (foreign and domestic) for films made by whites that adhere to white dominated racial hierarchies and class privileges.

So returning to where we began, film is an art form and a business, yet what keeps it an art form is the fact that some films are made not solely to make money and other films are made for the sole purpose of making money.  Of course we want our films to be successful, but how is that success to be measured?  There has to be a balance, even if sometimes that balance is artificially created and maintained; there has to be a balance because most films don’t make money at all and only a few blockbusters actually turn what can be definitively called a net profit several years after their initial theatrical release.

Yet if visionary, ambitious and challenging African-American filmmakers cannot attain financing, are denied access to foreign markets or wide domestic distribution, nor multi-million dollar marketing campaigns, have their works bootlegged and are not supported by African-American film festivals, critics or African-American controlled cable channels- we are then collectively bereft of contemporary ideals and consistent artistic achievements to aspire towards.

We’ve become slaves to profit, performing any manner of Black blackfaced minstrelsy that we believe will make a profit whether we have to wear a dress and a wig to do it or remake classic black films with half of the heart and artistry that made such films classics in the first place.

The most important step in turning away from these dismal circumstances in my opinion is that we have to come together to debunk the bean counter mentality that shackles African-American films and filmmakers solely to the domestic box office with limited representations of African-American culture.  Remember that this is a domestic box office itself that has been corrupted by rampant external bootlegging so we don’t have the luxury of using first, second or third weekend box office gross numbers as a means of gauging the popularity or the quality of a film.  

The “get rich” model of African-American independent filmmaking, where you make an indie film and pray to get picked up for domestic distribution by a major studio is outdated and counterproductive.  As I have tried to suggest here, the way the studios make their money is far more sophisticated and long term than that type of shortsighted sharecropper’s dream has ever been.

The tentative and staggered distribution of independent black films like DuVernay’s MIDDLE OF NOWHERE (2012) and Dosunmu’s RESTLESS CITY (2012) reveals to us that even if it’s not all about money, the greatest task at hand for African-American filmmakers is building the means through which our films can be seen on the world screen.  If the alternative to this goal is the Black blackfaced minstrelsy of a Black man in a wig and a dress or remaking classics, then we should consider that the films that don’t make dollars are the ones that might make the most sense under these circumstances today.


(1) Pgs. 39, 121 in HITCHCOCK: The Making of a Reputation by Robert E. Kapsis, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992

(2) All box office gross numbers are from boxoffice.mojo. com, note that the box office gross figures are subject to change.

(3) Pg. 351, FATAL SUBSTRACTION: The Inside Story of Buchwald v. Paramount by Pierce O’Donnell and Dennis McDougal, New York: DoubleDay, 1996.

(4) The Shopkeeper’s Till and The Devil’s Pie: Notes for a Revolution in African-American Filmmaking (part 3).

(5) SPARKLE (2012) opened to 12.5 million dollars gross box office on its first weekend of release on 8/17/12.  See also:

(6) Pgs. 11-12, THE BIZ: The Basic Business, Legal and Financial Aspects of the Film Industry 2nd Edition by Schuyler M. Moore, Los Angeles: Silman-James, 2002.

(7) See the Shadow and Act article,” Irreverent French Comedy ‘Porn In The Hood’ Hits French Theatres This Week by Tambay A. Obenson, July 12, 2012.

(8) See the Shadow and Act article,” Harvey Weinstein talks ‘Intouchables’ remake; Leaning towards casting Latino in Omar Sy’s role, by Tambay A. Obenson, July 14, 2012.  

(9) As author Manning Marable notes regarding the epiphany in the Hajj,” Malcolm candidly admitted that his “racial philosophy” had been altered after all he had seen- “thousands of people of different races and colors who treated me as a human being.” Pg. 319, MALCOLM X: A Life of Reinvention, New York: Viking, 2011.

(10) For an enriching discussion of Black blackfaced minstrelsy see pages 144-163, FORGERIES OF MEMORY & MEANING: Blacks & Regimes of Race in American Theater & Film Before World War II by Cedric J. Robinson, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, 2007.

Andre Seewood is the author of SLAVE CINEMA: The Crisis of the African-American in Film. Pick up a copy of the book via HERE.

This Article is related to: Features



Official Notice: I'm taking a break! So any other future posts from "JUSTSAYING" is not me. And when I return, it will probably be under another name….so consider the real JustSaying DONE… Bigger fish to fry. Good bye.


I am getting a little worn out… There are a couple of things that are disturbing, that I don't have the energy to address, but this issue of a lack of respect for Independent films… Not respecting Independent films is like disrespecting the idea of Colleges and Universities. We are hypercritical of independents, specifically of the Diaspora, without offering solutions or ideas. Instead of criticizing and labeling such movies as without merit, we should simply look at the movie as if it were the homework assignment of a student. Independents would fall under one's undergraduate years with some students excelling and getting concepts and honing skills early, but others may not get "tight", until they've received their Master's or other terminal degrees. I'm saying… that we should think twice about poo poo-ing this LEARNING PROCESS, the INDEPENDENT FILM, for filmmakers, especially our filmmakers as the opportunities and support systems are far and few in-between. Why do I post this here? Because, it is during those formative, early years of intensive study when you discover yourself and your beliefs and GAIN EXPOSURE (if you hadn't done so already). You read more, you go where you had not imagined you'd go, you do things you did not imagine you would ever do – some with successes, often many failures, and see more than ever as every step is growth. You learn what you like and don't like, how far you can push yourself from your norms, how special and unique you are… yet not. A freshman cannot be expected to have the depth or breadth of knowledge of a particular subject as a senior or even PhD candidate simply by watching and copying what they see from the Senior or PhD candidate (although there are some prodigies or those who have been mentored as apprentices), because once they reach that viva, and it becomes clear that they must now practice what they've been taught and the unstudied will fail. This is essentially what bean-counting does to filmmakers who are so caught up in the IDEA of money, that they are ill-prepared and then, as CC would say, blame everything on Hollywood, not their lack of skills or internal insight (CareyCarey and Seewood's arguments can actually work together). The Freshman or the young (or young at heart) indie filmmaker, HAS TO GO THROUGH THESE PROCESSES. They will have to LEARN HOW TO THINK, FEEL, REFLECT, etc… and that takes time, experimentation or a naturally high EQ, often without fanfare, adulation or immediate monetary gain, but like the INVESTMENT of College OR STUDY (with an open-mind from home), the Independent filmmakers "pay-off" (commercial or large-scale filmmaking) is pretty much guaranteed through the illustration of learned excellent skills, building strong networks of similarly skilled artists who can work together for a greater and more influential project, etc… The problem for some, though, is that the "pay-off" with likely happen later, rather than sooner so then the bean-counters take the easier routes less honorable routes to instant gratification (see exploitative imagery for the titillation of the public)… and easy sell. If we don't support our Independent films and the process the independent filmmaker is going through, then we are pretty much guaranteeing lesser quality projects from our community as the Indie filmmaker is neither encouraged or inspired by our demands for anything other than them and the bean-counters are willing to "that paper" by any means necessary. I'm tired… but I hope you all can get my point. If we were to look at some of the early works of filmmakers, of any background, in Hollywood, we would likely shudder. Let's give our filmmakers the same opportunities to grow.


Yuck. Turning around and going right back out. Why'd I even come into this post. Seewood thrives on touting his OPINIONS as facts in a offputtingly superior tone. Just Saying and his many incarnations are dumb as a doorknob. Charles Judson I disagree with here but at least his arguments are well-made and written with the tone of someone who has some damn sense. And Carey Carey. Just exhausting. Outta here.


Okay, since I've had time to think about my "complicity" in this most recent dust-up, I have a confession — of sorts. Without a doubt I get on Andre's last nerve — and I know that *lol*. But somewhere in the back of my mind I always thought we might apologize, shake hands and come to some form of agreement. But look, I am not talking about the impassionate/impersonal cookie-cutter "agree to disagree" thang. Nope, if I'm going to do the damn thang, I have to have some soul in mine. But hey, it's possible that Andre does not see any value in my words or that he has done nothing wrong. Or, he doesn't respect me enough to waste his time? In that case, I can't force the man to concede anything. But you know what, I've been in similar "heated battles" with practically every regular contributor on this blog. Yep, from the old staff of MsWoo, Monica and (I forget the name of the other female) we've all been there. Are you kidding me… Tambay and I have had face to face mean mug throw-downs and Sergio too. Heck, which visitors have I NOT went toe-to-toe with? Nadine (she called my "style" disgusting :-), Blutopaz (she called me a lawn jockey and handkercheif head :-), Misha, Accidental Visitor, SonOfBaldwin (we were bitter enemies), Akimbo (we fought but now she agrees with me – sometimes :-), Carl, Micah (the young man is very intelligent but we couldn't agree on anything), Priss (to some degree), Jmac (just a touch), Darkan (a long time ago) Curtis and many I can't remember, we've all slung a little mud at each other. But all but a few, in most cases, we've found a way to bury the hatchet . But really, I don't see how that can happen between Andre Seewood and I. I mean, since most of Andre's words/post are a copy and paste job from his book and I truly believe his "position" is counter-productive to the advancement of black cinema, i don't know how we can come to an understanding of each others position? I say that because with his assessments of Spike Lee, Tyler Perry and Hollywood, he seems to focus on the "negative". I think we are better served by looking at the positive aspects of each of the above. The focus should be on doing better, not what someone else is doing or not doing, that's wasted energy. In my opinion Andre has taken the lazy and easy route of playing into man's intrinsic desires to engage in negative gossip… and blame the "other" person, place or thing game. Listen, in this thread many of the comments speak of how TP's and Spike's "success" should be analyzed and learned from, but Andre pooh-poohs those suggestions. Now, HAVE I been "wrong" in some of my comments? Absolutely YES! "CareyCarey and Andre Seewood should channel their energies into a remake of The Odd Couple. Let Spike Lee direct it and Tyler Perry produce it. Do you both act as well as write?" by ARTBIZZY. *LOL*Well, that's a goodie and I do act, but I have a more realistic idea. How about a live debate? That's right, I don't believe Andre can stand on his feet and come with it. I'd also suggest that each of us bring an "assistant" or companion debater. From all the intelligent minds who visit this blog, for my mate… I would choose… my friend… ***DRUM ROLL***** BONDGIRL! She's articulate, an analytical thinker, intelligent, quick witted and knows the business. I would choose Nadine to be the moderator. The moderator has to have the ability to stay non-biased. Plus, they also have to be articulate and stay one step ahead of the debators. Also, they must have the ability and courage to immediately step in when a team member is going off point or speaking too long (there would have to be a time limitation on responses). Now, I don't care who Andre brings to the party ( I don't fear any man, nor am I intimidated by someone with a "title", but they would have to be someone who has participated in this blog in some form or fashion. We can work out the small details by e-mail. There you go folks… this is my way of extending my hand to Mr. Andre Seewood. Question? Suggestion? Concerns? Feedback? Andre? ArtBizzy? Nadine? Orville? Charles? ARCHANGEL2020 (love your comments)? Akimbo? JUSTSAYING? JTC (loved your comment too!)? ALM (we need a young voice)? HELLUVA (you always bring 'it" – with courage)? MARK AND DARLA? What y'all say?


Would you and your entire family like to watch a movie together where you don't have to cover your childs ears or eyes? No stereotypes. No profane language. A film by a Chicago based film producer. Princess of Laos is a must see. The story of a lost love one. About a 13 year old girl born in Laos to an African American father she never knew. She also happens to be the great granddaughter of a woman once married to the King of Laos. View the trailer here at Shadow and Act. Search Princess of Laos.


Why all the contempt for Spike Lee? Why the disappointment? Is it due to some of what Andre Seewood proposes in this article? Spike is not making the money he used to so his films are no longer considered “good.” Or does he just not make good films anymore? And how are we judging this? By making the objective subjective? I remember when Lauryn Hill came back with her acoustic album after being away for several years and after all that success she had with Miseducation and people were initially disappointed because her style and flow was different. But can’t an artist evolve and try new things? Even new things that might be unpopular simply because that artist needs and/or wants to? What happened to that? Spike Lee is 55 years old. He’s not going to make the same films that he did when he was in his 20’s and 30’s or even 40’s. And for those who like more mainstream Spike, he has stated repeatedly that he tried to make Inside Man 2 but he couldn’t get the money for that even though Inside Man 1 did really well at the box office. So what’s the resentment towards Spike Lee about really? I admit I am a ride or die fan of his though I don’t like all of his work (She Hate Me…ugh) but in terms of the body of his work from She’s Gotta Have it (I have yet to see the earlier barber shop one)) to this year’s Red Hook Summer the guy is hella prolific, hella smart, courageous and stays as true to himself as he can. Sure the man has an attitude. Good for him! He’s not kissing anybody’s ass and I applaud his determination in a very white, very cut throat industry. He keeps it real and doesn’t suffer much bullshit. To that I say, hear hear! I appreciate this article Andre because the bean counter mentality truly has a grip on our hearts and minds. Some art ain’t about the bottom line. Some art is. Let’s not confuse the two perspectives.


Food for Thought, or rather a Question: If Haile Gerima, Steve McQueen and Julie Dash decided to collaborate on a multi-story film (in the direction of a Cloud Atlas), how do people think it would fare in terms of financial backing and distribution? Would that collaborative film project be able to 'break through'? Why or why not? As an artist myself but admittedly more of a theater person than film, this article has really got me thinking in concrete artistic terms…


Great article that I've been waiting for years for someone to write. I agree 150% with what the writer is propgating here. Black folks need to wake up and stop being followers when it comes to our films. Thank you so much for writing this wonderful article. It's the truth.


I also want add why don't other black filmmakers get off their black asses and do something to attract an audience? Steve Harvey's movie TLAM is more successful than Tyler Perry's movies. TLAM made over $95 million worldwide and it is also doing very well in international markets.

I think other black filmmakers need to market their films better, and be more creative. People can't blame Tyler Perry for other black directors being unsuccessful. It isn't Tyler's fault that he has his market and he's making a lot of money.

Also, look at Spike Lee his movies are doing very poorly now because his films are boring and unoriginal. People want to be entertained when they go to the theatre not depressed.
Spike Lee used to do well back in the late 1980s and 1990s but he fell off the stage a long time ago.


@ Andre Seewood, your article is interesting and definitely relevant. That being said my reason for referring to Tyler Perry relates to how he has a built in audience for his films and how they seem to turn a profit. This is not to say that every filmmaker has to do the type of films that Tyler does. What I and other commentators such as Just Saying, JTC and CareyCarey are saying is that he has a model built on his previous success with his stage plays.

Are we saying that everyone should make his type of film? NO!!!, what we are saying is that there is much to be learned from his model and incorporated into that particular filmmaker's style. As Just Saying put it, Spike had that connection with his audience with his earlier works that carried over to his later works until he started making movies that weren't interesting to some. We, at this point, need to build alternative distribution models that don't rely on Hollywood and we need alternative means of marketing to get people's butts in seats to see our projects.

What we have to do is the passion projects as well as the mainstream projects. What we can take from the majors is this. They will do a crappy,commercial film to pay for the films they really want to do. In order for us to do this, we need to educate our audiences, which means reaching out to them by whatever means available. In regards to bootlegging, some films it may hurt, others it may not. But this all goes back to methods of distribution, if I can see a quality film at home, I'd do it. This where models such as online streaming come in.

There are various ways to look at this situation, I think you and CareyCarey just have have two different ways of looking at it.

Mark and Darla

Have anyone ever conduct a poll on movie theme, subject or topic that black people would like made by black filmmakers (good business practice). The author of this post believe or want you to believe (Tyler Perry went to Hollywood with his movie idea and a bidding war erupted among white studios). Tyler Perry success had nothing yo due with a bunch of white males behind a close door with narrow minded thinking (that the whole majority of black america only want to see a Madea imagine on big screens). Tyler wanders from studio to studio until he found a taker; Lionsgate took a chance (not looking in a crystal ball, oh his idea will make us a lot of money) not knowing what was going to happen. Tyler Perry movie success is due to imagines that a group of black people enjoy hearing and seeing in black movie made by a black filmmaker within a populating of forty-three million people. To the author if you have concrete evidence(s) of Sparkle sabotaged due to bootlegging, take it to the federal authority. I just can't see Sony not finding out their movie was being bootlegging on corners in the hood before Friday, August 17, 2012. Tyler Perry seem to find out when and where his movies are being bootlegging, he said on the (Tom Joyner show).


PLEASE FEEL ME ON THIS, MY POST IS NOT GOING WHERE YOU MIGHT EXPECT FROM THIS BEGINNING. Hollywood is not on our side. No doubt. I am not sure what exactly they think about us at the highest levels, but black film continues to struggle. I spent several years there working on different films with filmmakers from different backgrounds. The black films had it harder. Some of the problems were related to budget (not enough days to shoot, smaller production teams overwhelmed by having too many responsibilities) some of the problems were related to how we tend to do each other (actors more focused on trying to act like a star than learning their lines and embodying their characters, directors who felt like they could film the first draft of their scripts, general lateness in an artistic medium in which scheduling is central, etc.) I watched my own first feature fail for the same reasons. I was told that the kinds of films I was writing would not be profitable. I argued with my peers as they tried to fit their projects into formulas, never to any avail. I went to parties and other creative gatherings and heard ignorant if not outright racist comments. I have watched the major festivals for over a decade waiting for the black filmmaker who drops that conversation changing film. I have heard about open and closed conspiracies (everything from aliens in charge of the media, to anti-zionists rants, to satanic rituals for access to the highest levels of success, to corporate entities headed by bigoted men and women)

And through all that, I DON'T GIVE A F@#K.

Let me be clear. And excuse me for getting up on a soap box. I don't mean that I don't think that you all haven't made intelligent passionate creative statements about your perspectives on the industry and state of black film. I am thankful that I was able to find S&A. I have encouraged my filmmaking friends to follow S&A and will continue to do so. I am inspired by the debate, even by those who write things which makes think they smoke crackrocks, LOL. But I DO NOT CARE what obstacles are in front of me. I do not care what the numbers say. I have my own number 2.7 billion dollars black folks spend on the movies. I use my anger and frustration from those obstacles to help keep my creative fire burning strong. My grandmother, one of the wisest women in history, told me distinctly, "don't worry about white people or black people for that matter, they are going to do what they are going to do. You do what you have to do." I read screenplays, watch classic films, study cinematic language, practice editing, receive insights from people such as yourselves. I study and push myself to go deeper, study and push myself to go deeper. I come from one of the most creative peoples in human history and I try never to forget that, not in the we built the SPINX way (though we did) but in the here and now. I believe in the awesome power of black creativity, of transformative art. I know I am preaching to the converted. However, I write this because I think that we sometimes lose ourselves in what the world thinks about our creativity, black, white, or otherwise. Art, from my perspective, finds its power from a place more esoteric in nature. The purer the vision the stronger the art. At some point, we have to dive deep into ourselves, through our issues, biases, prejudices until we locate that clear and distinct vision. After that, we have to willing to accept the results what that vision will produce. The early masterpieces will likely, as been stated about films like VERTIGO and CITIZEN KANE, my never be acknowledged or acknowledged decades after their making, but our efforts should be focused on the creation of a long term sustainable black film environment. We cannot skip steps. The recent film movements, KOREA, MEXICO, BRAZIL, for example, didn't just pop into existence, they stood on the shoulders of their giants. The most respected artists from every genre, from every generation, from every culture have been pretty much uniform about one particular perspective, the primary person they made their art for was themselves. . .

Andre Seewood

And furthermore, we don't neccessarily need a moderator, what we need are some agreed upon rhetorical groundrules and some greater intellectual maturity. Here's a start: 1) Our discussion of African-American cinema is not a zero-sum game; there are no winners or losers. The discussion is open and constantly evolving to avoid stagnation, ignorance and above all complacency. 2) All arguments, no matter how valid or outrageous, contain some amount of conjecture- so that conjecture in and of itself is not enough to invalidate an argument. This is particularly noticable when CareyCarey uses his own "conjecture" to say that someone else's "conjecture" makes their argument invalid. 3) Cherrypicking an argument to say it is invalid or contradictory is a sign of intellectual dishonesty and immaturity that cannot and should not be tolerated. This was particularly noticable with the comment by Midwestmama who counted the paragraphs of my article, then found a sentence- cut the sentence in two and proceeded to use one half of what I said to beat me over the head and say that the whole of my argument was contradictory. Since this dishonest tactic is also something that CareyCarey has consistantly used against me since I began posting on ShadowandAct over a year ago, I feel that it is necessary that we look at how it develops. Cherry picking an argument is a sign of intellectual immaturity because it reveals that the commentator who cherrypicks has only been exposed to one type of argumentative style: the oppositional style or us versus them. But cherry picking becomes problematic when it is used against higher level argumentative styles like Dialectical arguments (explaining two opposing views through which one then finds a synthesis that is greater and different from the two opposing views) or strategic arguments where one observes and gathers evidence that is used to support an alternative strategy or approach to a problem (which is my own favored style). Cherry pickers like CareyCarey and Midwestmama, when an argument becomes too complex or when the evidence gathered is beyond their knowledge or expertise, they look for sentences with complex statements that they can break into two parts, ignore one part and hold the other half as proof of the invalidity of an argument. Of course, all higher argumentative styles have complex sentences and qualifying statements which in turn makes it easier for weak-minded commentators to engage in cherrypicking which is intellectually dishonest. So I have written these few points as a warning because I am absolutely appauled at this CareyCarey character who has been attempting to intellectually crucify me everytime I post here on ShadowandAct- but all he has ever said and/or supported is the status quo, that things are fine the way they are and why would anyone want change. Thank God, he stopped using limericks and nursery rhymes in his comments, but then again those nursery rhymes made it so much easier to dismiss him. "How now brown cow?" This isn't nursery school, this is a real and urgent discussion of African-American cinema and how we can free it from the chains of the Hollywood studios. If you don't believe it needs to be freed then what the hell did you come here for other than to sabotage our efforts?


I understand the genesis of the article that film is an art form but I question if the author really takes into account the issue of race in relation to art? Hollywood is a business and it is a racist business. Art is subjective it is open to interpretation and I don't think the author of this essay challenges enough the power of white Hollywood and now it enforces a Eurocentric standard on what is considered good art. On Shadow & Act, I still notice a mentality of wanting white validation and acceptance. For instance, Beasts of the Southern Wild has done well at the box office but it has also received a lot of praise by the white film critics and white media. Is Beasts of the Southern Wild good because white people say so? Or is the film good just because it is good. Whether people want to admit it or not it seems minority filmmakers are held to a different often racist standard of breaking through in Hollywood. A minority filmmaker in order to "breakthrough" into the mainstream for some odd reason requires white validation and acceptance. Another example, is Precious, I thought that movie was a piece of shit, but once again white film critics, Oprah, Tyler Perry and the black snobs praised that movie and MoNique won an Oscar.

It is harder for black filmmakers to breakthrough because Hollywood doesn't think black films can turn a profit. So Hollywood is less likely to take a risk on black films. So yes, profit is extremely important whether people want to admit it or not.


This is all I have to say on the subject. I refuse to believe that with the creativity that exists within communities of color that we cannot build alternatives to the old Hollywood system. Not to jump on the Tyler Perry bandwagon, but I have to give him props for building a loyal audience that he has managed to maintain through a lot of movies that I thought were not that great. He built his audience at the grassroots level and through word of mouth. Now take into account this was well before the emergence of social media and was mainly built on the so-called "chitlin play circuit". We have a wide range of stories yet to be told and now there more avenues to tell those stories than the traditional route. Blogs such as Shadow and Act and others get the word out. It's up to us to support these artists if we want to see our stories told in a decent way.

Andre Seewood

As per usual CareyCarey is asking the wrong questions and coming to completely erroneous conclusions. He began his earnest attempt to uphold the status quo by saying, "Lets say all that Andre has proposed is true, what would have changed. Okay, if those barriers were not in place, or ten years ago they didn't impede our (black films) from gaining exposure, what films in that period would be more "successful"??? …Listen, to be brutally honest, in the last ten years, I can't think of one black film whose "success", "quality" and "status" would have significantly increased if the above "alleged" impediments were not in place. Granted, they may have made a little more money (as the cost of distribution and advertising increased) but the "quality" of said films CAN NOT be changed! They are in the can." I pray that those of us using our intelligence can see that this is a simple "chicken or the egg" rhetorical smoke screen, because if CareyCarey can't think of one black film whose success, quality or status would have increased significantly in the last ten years IT IS a direct result of the existence of those "impediments" that I have discussed. Furthermore, such challenging, ambitious and diverse black films are not being financed, let alone distributed- so our most convincing evidence of the existence of what CareyCarey calls "impediments" is the absence of such films. (unless CareyCarey is trying to convince us that African-Americans don't have any ambitions, challenging ideas or diversity of opinions, but I know he couldn't possibly be suggesting such a preposterously racist notion) Because ambitious, challenging and diverse African-American films can't get financing and distribution CareyCarey wants us to believe that Hollywood and the studios have nothing to do with this problem; its all Black People's fault all they got is Tyler Perry. And just to set the record straight I have not only questioned Hollywood, but I have also questioned us, as Black people, for excerbating these dismal conditions specifically in two different articles: 1) Bootlegging and the Plot Against African-American Film and 2) Spooks in a Mirror, which I all but dedicated to CareyCarey- as well as several others. To me, and this is just my humble opinion, CareyCarey is like the "happy" slave, content and pacified on the plantation several years before the Civil War. This "happy" slave says to himself," I don't know what these n*ggas is so against Massa for. Massa ain't never whipped me. He give me these rags to wear and let me stay behind his mansion in this nice tiny little shack. All I gotta do is work from sun up to sun down and let my wife warm Massa's bed from time to time. And you wanna know what the best part is? The best part is I get to eat the scraps from Massa's table- now that's some good eatin', I tells ya. I don't know why in the hell these n*ggas would wanna leave this plantation and do for theyselves? Heck, we don't even know if its any other n*ggas beyond this plantation that feels the same way." What I'm saying is that we have to be careful, its not just the "white" man or the Hollywood system (corrupt and complicit as it is) that we have to battle- but also the "happy" slave- because he's the one that will do everything in his power to force us to keep everything the same… This "happy" slave is the snitch and the FBI informant, he's the hater and the manipulator, he's the backstabber and the money grabber, but what is most frightening is that he looks, talks, walks and acts just like he's one of us who want to be free. But he doesn't want freedom, he is content with the way things are.


HOW DO WE TURN OUR RAGE w/ Hollywood's Myopia Into Power, Influence, Action…?
Tambay replied: "I'm really just trying to shift how we think about our involvement in all this… focusing much less on what we don't like, and instead investing our time, energy and resources into what we do like. I find that MUCH MORE PRODUCTIVE. Now I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with being frustrated, and angry, and raging, and expressing all of that. But at some point, [some damn point] it's got to get tiring, doesn't it? I'm just trying to inspire a different kind of conversation, and mentality, which I think is more purposeful, and gets us closer to that black cinema utopia many of us long for, where we're represented in our VARIED experiences" AMEN! I highlighted those words as a precursor to the areas of Andre Seawood's article which I believe are in direct conflict with Tambay's goals, and my own displeasure with Andre's rhetoric. But first, I believe this post is in need of a moderator. As with many posts and subjects of this nature (as witnessed in this post), the comment section can quickly run off course. Folks start speaking for the author (putting words in his mouth and then building their argument from there). Also, on several occasions arguments ensue that have little or nothing to do with the central issue. If a moderator stayed invested in the post, they could clarify confusing issues and TRY to keep the post "focused". Now, in respect to Andre's posts, how are the use of the following words and the inferred message behind them, moving black cinema in a positive direction? "Slave Cinema"… "Black blackfaced minstrelsy of a Black man in a wig"… allegations that…. "African-American films are denied access to foreign markets, because films written and directed by African-Americans do not maintain that certain genteel sentimentality and racial hierarchy (whites over blacks)"… "As African-American filmmakers, we are being "hoodwinked" by faulty box office grosses"… " We have effectively created by default a slave cinema"… "some films are made for prestige and cultural dominance on the world screen". Now tell me, how is any of the above conducive to inspiring conversations that–> "invests our time, energy and resources into what we do like"… "a different kind of conversation, and mentality, which I think is more purposeful, and gets us closer to that black cinema utopia many of us long for, where we're represented in our VARIED experiences". Questions-Questions-Questions.

kid chaos

Your Comment..This site must be run by women because of all the smack talking.

kid chaos

Face facts black films are terrible with out a good white writer most black actors would be nothing


"This is an ironic circumstance that begs the questions: Does the race and ethnicity of Behn Zietlin afford him a broader, less stereotypical and ambitious cinematic perspective on African-Americans than we ourselves possess? Are we standing too close to the mirror to see all of the many diverse facets of ourselves and our culture because we are blinded by the vanity of making films solely to get rich and famous?"

<<<Yes. As director Haile Gerima stated in his interview, "You can make a movie about my mother. I have no right to my own mother’s story." If things were post-racial, then "Beasts" would receive the same funding, support, etc. no matter who directed/produced the film. It's sad that we are still having this issue. I don't know what the fear is….if 10 successful African American films are released every year for the next 100 years, who loses out? NO ONE…the studio owners make money off of stories that aren't even their own. When studios are unwilling to greenlight films even when you have hits such as "TLAM", then you realize that "post-racial" is an extreme fairy tale.


I am roped, I'm doped, I'm handcuffed and hogtied because I can't use limericks or riddles to embellish my point. **BIG SMILE and winking @ HELLUVA (inside joke)**. Listen, I opened with that line to express the point that we all have different styles of delivery. Without question — depending on the reader — some are more engaging than others. Now, when I begin reading a comment, I first start with the name of the author. Be it a visitor or staff contributor, having read them before ( in most cases) I at least know whether "I" want to continue reading or not. "PLEASE HURRY AND GET TO YOUR POINT CAREY!" Okay-Okay, but ironically "HURRY" is directly related to my point. In our haste to express our opinions in this small limited forum/format — and not bore the reader — we rush our words and make many misguided "assumptions". As a visitor/reader of this site, if a commentor has not engaged ME in the past or I assume I know what they're on (their position – agenda), I'm gone like a turkey through the corn — before reading their whole "script". And, to be honest, that's what I almost did with this post, but I am glad I stuck around. Well, it's no secret that Andre and I don't always see eye-to-eye. However, I was dead set on sticking with this post — reading it to the end and reading it twice — if for no other reason than to see how others received it and if my prejudices may have blinded me (preclude me from keeping an open mind, and thus miss the message). In doing so I noticed a huge problem. But first, it behooves me to say that I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments and the spirit of the comments from MIDWESTMAMA, JSLEDGE and SAYWHAT (not "Justsaying"). Now, the huge problems I mentioned are two fold. First, the premise of this post — as with other posts from Mr Seawood — seems to be rooted in "blaming" Hollywood. Not only do I believe that's a fruitless journey with no rewards nor solutions, his prepositions are PURELY conjectures (sort of like gossiping). Whether it's an evil plan to disrupt the oversea distribution of black films or a dishonest accounting system or a devious plan to schedule the opening of black films against "similar" competition, Andre has repeatedly used those accusations to point fingers and cast a dark shadow on Hollywood, accusing them for our lack of success. Unfortunately the corresponding comments wander around in that dead end, which brings me to the most defining problem with this subject and the comments of SAYWHAT. First, there are words being used that "we" assume everyone agrees with… or better said, we assume everyone is using those words with the same definition in mind. For instance, the most obvious and most disturbing words are "indie" film and "a successful film" and "quality" film and "art" films? To that point, SAYWHAT said: "we are not stupid…we simply demand quality entertainment…we cannot always get that from African-American filmmakers… .nobody is coming home from work and relaxing on the couch for some pretentious "artist"/[filmmaker] to "enlighten" them… Anyone can produce an "art" film and say its great/[quality]… it is much more difficult to create entertainment that people enjoy… some critics simply can't stomach the fact that Tyler Perry is smarter than they (critics and many black filmmakers) are… he's sitting on hundreds of million$ while all the critics have is their IDEAS, theories". WOW-WOW-WOW now brown cows… Opps, I promised I would back off my ghetto slang, but SAYWHAT said what some black folks refuse to hear or will not accept. I mean, let's back up. Lets say all that Andre has proposed is true, what would have changed. Okay, if those barriers were not in place, or ten years ago they didn't impede our (black films) from gaining exposure, what films in that period would be more "successful"??? Yeah, bring the usual suspects. We've heard those same titles over-and-over-and-over-again. I am suggesting that some are placing the blame and pointing fingers in the wrong direction. Listen, to be brutally honest, in the last ten years, I can't think of one black film whose "success", "quality" and "status" would have significantly increased if the above "alleged" impediments were not in place. Granted, they may have made a little more money (as the cost of distribution and advertising increased) but the "quality" of said films CAN NOT be changed! They are in the can. Again, as SAYWHAT implied, point blank, there simply are not enough black films; indie, artsy, "quality" or whatever one wishes to define them, that warrant the praise and considerations some folks are suggesting. Until we place the blame and onus at the right doorsteps, we will continue to have these ambiguous, pointless and self-serving debates. Now, one last point of interest–> " but this is the problem… White Hollywood IS hung up on race hence the need for more diversity of stories for "non-mainstream" communities" ~ Nadine. Nope, truth be told, "we" are hung up on race. While we purposely separating "us" from them, looking back while slinging shade, it allows some black folks to rationalize and justify our failures and inadequacies. When we jack-up OUR slacks and pick-up OUR game and render a superior product, the cream will come to the top. As it stands, as much as I hate to say it (but I have to) our films lack in so many areas. And it's no one's fault but our own (imo).


Speak on it Andre! I have lived it! Reginald T. Dorsey – Producer/Star – "KINGS OF THE EVENING"


Andre Seewood…BRINGS IT!!!


D.C. Kirkwood

My concern as a consumer is the lack of access to the quality films that are put out by black filmakers. I mean don't get me excited about a film and then keep it in post production for two years and then it goes straight to dvd anyway. Just announce it on a site just like this one or send it straight to Amazon so that I can purchase the film. Sadly African Americans don't have the budget that's needed to advertise their films. Then they only come out at select cities where you have to drive an hour away to see a low budget film. On the 7th day with Blair Underwood is a perfect example. I was so excited to see this film then I didn't come out till two weeks after advertised then it only played 9;50 at night, and only in one theatre. Why bother. You know how many Negros were in line and once you get in the theatre you can't hear because they laughing and acting a fool. But you want to support your Black films but I'm just beyond frustrated with the whole process!!!!


wow. POWERful article.


This post was powerful. Many people are not aware of such intricacies, especially when it comes to reading box office numbers. Furthermore, these are the very details that the general viewing audience as well as filmmakers, and actors need to become more aware so that they can better understand the catch 22's. Your thoughts on "passion" projects are gold! Keep these posts coming!


Nice words but not a whole lot of actual experience behind it, if you call Middle of NOWHERE and Restless City releases "tentative and staggered" then you haven't studied what IFC, Sundance Selects, Magnolia, Roadside and many other indie distributors are doing. AFFRM platforms. It's a distribution technique that is widely used. Look it up. But because they're black, they're not good enough for you? When others use the established platform technique it's ok, but AFFRM uses it and you deem it 'tentative and staggered'. I actually laughed out loud. With your poor choice of words you refuted your very argument. I thought it wasn't about box office? So what does it matter HOW it's put out? Especially when they put them out with a technique that very other indie distributor uses. Eleven paragraphs of you talking long-winded about 'don't mind the box office' then you turn around and prove that you're as brainwashed as the rest. I volunteer for AFFRM in the Midwest. They bring films to my state that would NEVER EVER come here. They do it with integrity and respect. Don't be so mad that some people out here are refuting you fantasies about "Slave Cinema". Some of us are free.


Most African-Americans enjoy watching quality films…whether they are thrillers, romantic comedies, science fiction, dramatic or whatever…we are not as hung-up about race as you are…that's why we support studio films…because we like them…we are not stupid…we simply demand quality entertainment…we cannot always get that from African-American filmmakers so we will watch an entertaining film regardless of who produced it…nobody is coming home from work and relaxing on the couch for some pretentious "artist" to "enlighten" them. People
want quality entertainment. Anyone can produce an "art" film and say its great…it is much more difficult to create entertainment that people enjoy because there is competition to serve the audience…. and if a film sucks there is no bail-out by claiming "it's art…you just don't get it." Again…it is MUCH more difficult to create entertainment that people enjoy than it is to create an "art" film…but some critics simply can't stomach the fact that Tyler Perry is smarter than they are…even though he's sitting on hundreds of million$…while all the critics have is their ideas, theories, and art fantasies…nobody is checking for art films…ask Spike.


(speaking in tongues) habajababbayababbabayahahakak…. PPPPPPPPRRRRREEEEEEAAAAACCCCCHHHHH, negro, preach…. LAWD!

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