By Guest Contributor Aymar Jean Christian, originally published at Televisual
For my first post on black web series, including links to shows, click here.
From my Wall Street Journal post:
“Doing a Web series, working in this new medium, you have a little bit more autonomy, an ability to tell the story you want to tell,” Ali told me in an interview.
With a little help from Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment, Breece and Ali (and producer Aaliyah Williams) brought their show to BET. The result is “Buppies,” premiering Nov. 24 on BET.com. The show is BET’s first original Web series. It’s not the first Web series to feature a predominately black cast, but with BET’s promotion of the show online and on TV, it is arguably the most high-profile.
“BET was definitely not a part of my plan at all,” says Breece. “But a lot of black people flock to the Web for content. I just feel like it’s the new frontier.”
Some thoughts and more quotes from the interview below.
One of the things Ali and I discussed in the interview was how we’re in a moment where TV networks have to realize the value of black content for capturing audiences of all races. Though I’ve written before that this may or may not happen, there are signs it may — as I mention in the article, Idris Elba, Don Cheadle and Aaron McGruder are all developing shows. Ice Cube, Ali noted, is following the Tyler Perry model with his show for TBS, Are We There Yet?, based on his movie. Ali (with Martin Lawrence, Bentley Kyle Evans, and Raphael Saadiq) are pursuing the same model with Love that Girl.
“I remember working on Fresh Prince, we had a very wide audience, because the story was good,” Ali told me. “It’s about relatable characters, and relatable characters come in any color, any age. I mean, the Golden Girls is airing constantly and I watch it every day! I can completely relate to them.”
Buppies is an intervention in that arena. When show creator Julian Breece was shopping the idea around to network a few years ago, before Grey’s Anatomy he said, the networks weren’t looking for shows like that or they wanted to change it substantially. Breece and Ali — brought together by producer Aaliyah Williams – took the web in part to tell their own stories — also in part because it’s manageable and affordable. Ali seemed especially proud that Buppies could include gay characters, and Breece could write them mostly outside of corporate influence. A lot of the black web series I’ve seen have gay characters as leads, actually, which is really interesting: this doesn’t happen on TV, almost at all.
“I think people tell the stories that are closest to them, that they relate to the most. So I don’t think it was ever, ‘oh, we’ll do this black web series and it’ll be amazing.’ It was more like, ‘let’s tell this story with these incredible characters.’ I’ve never seen any characters like them treated in this particular way,” she said.
In general, Ali stressed that web series are about making her own opportunities, because those perfect roles for actors are quite rare; most just take what they can get. For black actresses, it seems to me, this is especially true. Buppies gives Ali a chance to glam it up, playing a woman who is both stylish and fully realized.
This is a very interesting moment in the history of black media, especially this fall. There have always been black TV shows and black movies. What seems to be happening now is black producers are putting money into making their own shows (yes, Tyler Perry, Ice Cube, even Wanda Sykes and Mo’Nique are listed as executive producers of their talk shows). Precious, of course, is an example of this effort in film; while Daniels’ initial benefactors were white, something Shadow and Act has been smart about pointing out, the marketing push for the film has been fueled by Oprah and Tyler Perry. We can even look to Spike Lee’s continual support of emerging black artists and his recent filming of Stew’s Passing Strange as yet another example. As I’ve written about before, black entrepreneurs, along with the likes of Will Smith, Denzel Washington and Percy Miller (Master P), are putting money into distribution sites for original web shows by and about people of color.
Regardless, history comes in waves, so who knows if this is even a moment, and, if it is, how long it will last. Still, some very interesting things are happen. I hope I can keep up.