When BlackTree TV CEO and executive producer Jamaal Finkley sought opportunities to talk with “Girls Trip” talent prior to the film’s July 2017 release, he ran into an alarming roadblock. After submitting a request to cover the junket, he received an email from a Universal Pictures representative: “‘Girls Trip’ will be hard as we don’t have that many slots for AA,” meaning African-Americans.
Finkley, who shared the emails with IndieWire, replied to the studio: “You don’t have that many slots for AA for ‘Girls Trip’?! I don’t get it. Really. Makes no sense. What movie does have extra AA slots? … If I send a white person, will you have a slot?”
Today, Finkley still finds the exchange unsettling. BlackTree TV has over 226,000 YouTube subscribers, with more than 1 billion video views. “Designating us as limited because of the color of our skin and not because of the reach of our outlet,” he said. “I think it’s just an openly racist practice … The studio should invite me for my viewership, not because, ‘Oh, we have two slots for black people.’” A rep for Universal declined comment.
In the year of “Black Panther,” and in the summer of “Sorry to Bother You” and “BlacKkKlansman,” many black entertainment reporters say they have had enough. In multiple interviews with IndieWire, these journalists describe being consistently marginalized by Hollywood, overlooked for everything from screenings and set visits to log-ins for studio and network media centers. When it comes to red-carpet placement, they have a name for it: It’s the “Rosa Parks section” or the “negro section” — a few undesirable end spots frequently passed over by actors and their publicists.
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Some described being denied promised interviews, or arriving at junkets and learning that they would only be permitted to speak with black actors. Others spoke of studios that hold “black press days,” separating reporters for black outlets from their mainstream peers.
This summer, Netflix chief communications officer Jonathan Friedland was fired for “his descriptive use of the N-word on at least two occasions,” while Paramount TV president Amy Powell was let go for the “racially charged” language she allegedly used to describe black women. (Powell denies the claim, and has a team of lawyers who specialize in gender discrimination.) More often, however, racism in Hollywood is more subtle and systemic.
There are few black studio executives, and black writers and editors remain underrepresented at major media companies. However, the internet now contains thriving websites such as The Root (460K Twitter followers), Global Grind (406K), HuffPost BlackVoices (404K), Blavity News (202K), The YBF (128K), TheGrio (95.5K), and MadameNoire (81K).
Internet democracy also led publicists to create more complex taxonomies to address and prioritize the influx of outlets. As a result, an entertainment journalist who writes for black audiences is more likely to be considered a member of the “niche press” — a subset that also can include Latinex, Asian, and LGBTQ media, and one that is often considered a lower priority.
These problems, and the attendant frustrations, are not new. In 1992, journalist Gerrie E. Summers published a Billboard op-ed, “Publicists Treat Black Press Unfairly,” suggesting that black reporters only receive last-minute invites and fewer tickets. That same year, while promoting “Malcolm X,” Spike Lee demanded all publications send black reporters. (Only some acquiesced.) However, the current visibility and reach of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movement has inspired black journalists to speak out.
Jonita Davis, managing editor of Black Girl Nerds, has covered three Universal events since she began working with the studio this spring, and most of her experiences were positive. At the “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” junket in Hawaii, however, she did note that of the “ungodly amount” of outlets present — she guesses it was at least 60, but could have been as many as 100 — fewer than 10 reporters were black.
“There could be a movie as black or as urban-reaching as ‘Soul Plane,’ but they would still only invite a handful of us,” said Jawn Murray, founder and editor-in-chief of Always A-List. “There’d be these large groups of 30 and 40 white journalists, both from mainstream or large outlets, [and] some guy who was from a small town and wrote the film column.”
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