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With the Sale of Indiewire, What Happens Next for Shadow & Act? You Need to Read This…

With the Sale of Indiewire, What Happens Next for Shadow & Act? You Need to Read This...

As I’m sure a lot of you have already heard, Indiewire was purchased by Penske Media earlier this year (January); however, none of the individual blogs are part of the package. And so, in roughly 30 days, Shadow and Act (S&A) will no longer be a part of the Indiewire network. 

As several of you have asked me since news of the sale, what does this mean for the S&A blog? And it’s obviously time that I formerly address it here, and do so very frankly.

In short, I’m still vetting my options.

The longer story…

When I first launched the site in 2009, I had many big ideas for it – ideas that were never fully implemented, if only because of a lack of resources, notably money. It may appear that there’s an entire staff of employees working behind the scenes to keep this site up and running everyday, but, in reality, what many may not be aware of is that, Sergio (who’s been here since the beginning of it all) and myself are the only what you’d call full time employees of S&A. Everyone else who contributes does so on an independent contractor basis. No one is exclusive to S&A. And how often they contribute depends on how much I can pay out each month, which varies, as it’s all based on advertising revenue, which isn’t at all constant. I have to pay my writers. I don’t expect anyone to work for free. I value them and their contributions too much, and we all have to make a living.

I’m a filmmaker first and foremost, and it’s something that I essentially “left behind,” to focus entirely on S&A, because I simply couldn’t do both (while also working a 9-5 job I should mention; although I had to leave it eventually because I just couldn’t do all 3, with very little help). Running a blog in what has become a 24/7 news environment, fraught with challenges that come in the ongoing battle for eyeballs, with very little money and assistance, leaves you practically no time for anything else. And that actually took a toll on me psychologically and physically – the stress of it all specifically – when I had to be rushed to the hospital in 2014 to find out that there were some abnormalities with my heart, due to unchecked extended periods of high blood pressure, which was primarily due to the stress that came with running S&A, working a full-time job, and all the other things I was involved in simultaneously at the time.

My initial long term vision for S&A was to build a global brand – a massive online space where readers anywhere in the world could read/watch/hear about black cinema wherever it was happening. It would comprehensively cover black filmmaking/filmmakers globally, with writers who are informed and are experts in cinema (by and about people of African descent) in whatever country they live in, contributing with some regularity to the website. That was, in short, my initial design. And as time passed, the site would evolve beyond the usual news, interviews, reviews, essays, *think pieces*, etc, adding new features, like original video (scripted and otherwise) content, on-the-ground reporting globally, podcasts, and even eventually financing and producing its own films – the kind of work that we often champion on this blog, but that we are not getting enough of (or at all) from the dominant Hollywood studio system that has demonstrated it isn’t willing to take risks when it comes to content produced by and about people of color (although maybe that’s starting to change somewhat; but for how long, is anyone’s guess). I also envisioned S&A-branded live events, streamed, like round-table discussions, conversations with creatives at all levels (not just those who’ve *made it*), and ongoing screening series, in which we highlight films that may not have been widely-seen but we believe need to be, as well as community and educational spaces (on and offline) where creatives of African descent can network and learn, and so much more – all of it happening on a global scale.

In a nutshell, wherever what we call “black film” is happening, we will be there to cover it, and do so thoroughly.

Long-time readers of this blog will have seen glimpses of all of the above ideas introduced on the site, although just not fully committed efforts, because of, again, unavailable resources. So it’s really now come down to fully committing to the original dream (and the work that it takes to get there), or just letting this go altogether. I don’t like doing things half-assed, pardon the expression; and I feel like that’s essentially what running this blog has been like for the last year-and-a-half since I was hospitalized, as I was unsure of what to do with it, and my well-being suddenly became much more important to me, determined to spend whatever number of years I still have on this earth in the most pleasurable ways possible, and not waste precious minutes dispirited.

I’m not one to grumble, and asking for help or depending on the contributions of others is something of a last resort for me. You can call it both a personality strength, as well as a flaw. I’ve always been entirely dependent on myself, and, for the most part, that strategy has worked well. But I do understand the need for community, especially in this context.

Looking back over the last 6 years, I recognize that there are some things I could’ve done differently to better my situation, but I’m not one to dwell on mishaps and regrets. I’d rather learn and move forward wiser.

Since the 2014 incident, I’ve had other health-related setbacks, which have all put me in an increasingly disheartened state. Then news of the Indiewire sale a couple of months ago, meant that I had to make a very quick decision on what happens next with S&A. So I’ve been in something of a whirlwind since then, considering all my available options, the pros and cons of each, as well as what I really want for myself regardless of everything else. 

And that’s where I currently am.

At least I’ve crossed off most of my available options as I consider each of them individually, and I’m down to a much more manageable few.

I really believe that there’s a need and public want for a web presence the likes of which I summarized above, and that it could be very successful if properly run; especially in a time when issues like “diversity” are cause célèbre here in the USA specifically; although, as we’ve covered on this blog, you’ll find very similar conversations being had across countries in Europe, countries in South America and continental Africa, as well as our neighbors up north, Canada – regions all over the world where people of color are still unfortunately woefully underrepresented in cinema (in front of and behind the camera), and effectively marginalized. If relaunched, it could be a well-run global brand accessible to anyone with an internet connection, anywhere in the world, that we can all be proud of, and will be extremely pleased to know exists.

And if I’m going to do this, I want to do it right and go all the way with it, or not do it at all, which, again, takes hard work, people and of course money to build something of real value. 

In the next week or 2 (at most), I will have reached an answer on what comes next – at least in the short term – and, of course, I will share with you all here. However, a decision on the longer term life of S&A will take a bit more time to reach for a number of reasons – like detailing what it would take to get where I want to go with it, and what resources I have immediate access to.

But you’ll definitely hear from me again on this subject by April 15th at the latest. The only thing I can say with certainty right now is that, at the end of this month (April), there will no longer be an Indiewire network of blogs.

In the meantime, if you’re in the business of ad sales, fundraising, grant writing, sponsorship-seeking, and the like (or you know somebody who is), please email me at obensont@gmail.com. Your expertise would be extremely useful here. Let’s talk.

Thanks to everyone who’s made the site what it’s been thus far (all the writers who’ve contributed over the years, and YOU, the readers)!

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