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The Pan African Film Festival: “A Conversation With…Powerful Black Men in Entertainment”

February 15, 2013

Does the black man have power in a monopolized Hollywood Studio system? Are black movies marketable in Africa and other international territories? The 2013 Pan African Film Festival hosted an insightful discussion- the “Powerful Black Men in Entertainment” panel.  Featuring a distinguished group of men with differing experiences and opinions, the panel made for an interesting, informative, and very memorable evening.

The panelists included:
Jeff Clanagan and Quincy Newell-  (CodeBlack Entertainment, presidents)- pictured 3rd and 4th
Ise Lyfe (spoken word artist)- pictured 5th
Jeff Byrd (King’s Ransom director)- pictured 2nd
Don D. Scott (Barbershop writer)- not pictured
Charles Murray (Criminal Minds and Castle, writer & producer)- not pictured
Sharif Atkins (White Collar, actor)- pictured first
*Moderated by Shadow and Act columnist, Jasmin Tiggett- not pictured
Things started off light, but after brief introductions, we proceeded to the meat and potatoes. This meant delving right into how these men had achieved a position of power and why so few black men do. Charles Murray took a stab at the question and candidly said, “I took the knowledge that the industry gave me and empowered myself.” A few of the other panelists mentioned opportunities were limited for them but they chose not to focus on that. Rather, they decided to secure partnerships outside of the Hollywood Studio system. Sharif Atkins, recognizable from TV shows such as Eve, ER, and currently White Collar agreed, stating, “Having a vision and knowing what kind of stories you want to tell can be the most empowering thing.”  Jeff Byrd was quick to point out, “We’re not using the power that we should in the black community.” He then mentioned how Think Like a Man star Kevin Hart is taking the right approach to “celebrity” by continuing to work on independent projects in addition to starring roles in studio pictures.

As the conversation progressed, writer Don B. Scott affirmed that he exercises his power by creating stories that feature black protagonists who have something to say. Quincy Newell took a different approach to the question. “We’re already powerful as black men. The opportunity is here and we have to focus on not asking Hollywood to do it. This whole panel of black men could put a movie together right now,” said Newell. His sentiments were well received by the panel as Charles Murray declared he would not be sharing the role of director.

The conversation shifted as the topic of why black movies or movies that feature predominantly black casts scarcely come from the Hollywood Studio system. Many of the panelists agreed that it comes down to a business mindset that says black movies do not generate international revenue and there is no market for them. Jeff Clanagan was the first to address it. “You have your six major studios in Hollywood. People are not incentivized to build up the international market. The reason why these movies aren’t generating international revenue is because the studios are not taking the time to develop and advertise to the international markets.  If we want to break overseas, we have to work the market like we would here.” This profound statement led to echoes from the rest of the panel suggesting that they believe there is an international market, not only in Africa, but also in other parts of the world.

The last topic addressed the professionalism of black people in entertainment.
Spoken word artist Ise Lyfe suggested, “We are overly familiar with ourselves. Black folks don’t always have the proper decorum.” Quincy Newell followed this statement. “Aspire to be the best, not just among our people, but as a whole,” said Newell. This was followed by an unapologetic stance from Charles Murray. “People need to step their game up and do their best,” he affirmed.

Concluding remarks from the panelists echoed a need for black men to create an allegiance- that the black man’s concern for self-progress is problematic to progression of the collective. One panelist answered, “We don’t open up our brains to each other because we’re trying to be that ‘dude’.”

We want to hear your thoughts. How do you think the black man is perceived through media and entertainment? Is he powerful?

The Pan African Festival runs through Monday, February 18th, and we will be covering the stories you want to hear about! Be sure to stay tuned for more PAFF updates. 


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