Night Catches Us

Another challenge is talent. It's rare to get either black or white high profile celebrity actors to appear in black indie features. When was the last time you saw Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Morgan Freeman, Jamie Fox or Halle Berry in an indie film? (Most of which are men - but that's a subject for a whole other essay). Actors are protected by agents and managers whose goals are career development and money for their clients - the latter of which are in limited supply to black indie producers. Some celebrity actors have made it a point to balance high paying gigs with quality indie projects with juicy roles. Witness Kerry Washington and Anthony Mackie in "Night Catches Us" and Academy Award winner Octavia Butler in "Fruitvale Station."  But because so few celebrity actors agree to appear in black indie films, we see a modern day glass ceiling for black indie filmmakers with respect to wide distribution.

Features with Euro-centric themes don't seem as encumbered by such baggage in searching for foreign distribution of films lacking Hollywood's top A-list actors. I wonder if the entertaining and highly successful "Silver Linings Playbook" would have secured as wide a distribution and box office receipts were the leads played by Terrance Howard and Zoe Saldana?

So why are black indie filmmakers important? We add cultural diversity to the film world. And let's be honest: Historically, the majority of black films produced each year have not come from Hollywood (including the usually wildly successful Tyler Perry movies such as "Family Reunion,” which boasted a relatively modest $6 million budget - well under the currently defined "indie" ceiling). This year, besides "Fruitvale Station,” there were several strong indie black films produced, including "An Oversimplification of Her Beauty,” "Free Angela And All Political Prisoners,” "Last" and "Wards Island" as well as my own "Blue Caprice" and "Mother of George."

Most people haven't even heard of these titles.  Without us, the landscape for future black film will be surrendered to Hollywood features backed by studios or rich distributors and what stories THEY want you to see. So, if the current bumper crop of black Hollywood films turns out to be an anomaly rather than a fundamental shift, and talented black filmmakers are forced to throw in the towel, who will moviegoers turn to for our stories? Were black indie producers like Nekissa Cooper, Tommy Smith and others to disappear, what would our choices of black films look like?

To sum it up, if you're a consumer of good movies with/by Black folk, buy/rent indie black films as well as Hollywood's offerings if you want us to continue to make films that Hollywood overlooks (don't bootleg).  If you're a foreign sales rep, please remember there is a continent full of black people which is seeking black indie films for consumption. If you're a celebrity actor, consider investing in indie films by doing one indie film a year (with a theme of ANY underrepresented community) so that we can get our quality films wider distribution. If you're a media outlet, please differentiate black indie films from black Hollywood films so consumers can know that by supporting black indie films they are, in fact, investing in the diversity of the film market and their culture. And if you're a black filmmaker, do not rely upon the existing model of distribution (or funding); think outside the box and cultivate relationships with channels who are seeking out our content before you shoot a single frame.

As an African American filmmaker, I sincerely hope history remembers 2013 as the year when the entertainment industry began to consistently create real and lasting diversity which reflects the diverse tapestry of our society's culture.

Founded in 2009 by Ron Simons, SimonSays Entertainment is a Film & Theatre production company with a mission to Tell Every Story™. With a focus on narratives that dig deeply into the outsider’s struggle for dignity and acceptance, SimonSays Entertainment tells stories that examine the unheard voices of the American Tapestry. SimonSays Entertainment’s most recent films premiered at Sundance 2013:  Blue Caprice in NEXT for Innovative Storytelling and was sold to Sundance Selects/IFC.  Blue Caprice opened Lincoln Film Society’s  New Directors/New Films at MoMA in March.  Mother of George was a Grand Jury nominee in the Sundance U.S. Dramatic Competition earning Bradford Young an award for Best Cinematograpy.  Mother of George sold to Oscilloscope Laboratories.  Both films open in theatres nationwide in 2013.