Academy Awards: Blacks In Hollywood
Black Enterprise Magazine January-March 2019 Issue

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As 41 million people tuned into the 82nd Academy Awards, a segment of viewers wondered whether history would be made that star-studded night. Lee Daniels, who helmed Precious, the brutally honest film about an emotionally scarred, sexually abused black teenager, was among the nominees for best director–a win would have made him the first African American to capture the coveted prize. When the envelope was opened, however, Kathryn Bigelow would achieve a milestone as the first woman to receive the honor for directing The Hurt Locker.  (Geoffrey Fletcher, who wrote the film adaptation for Precious, would become the first African American to win an Oscar in the screenwriting category.)

An Academy Award is not the only accolade that eludes black filmmakers. Getting a film produced and distributed has become a rare event as well. Of the 558 feature films that were released in 2009, only eight were filmed by black directors. Two of them were creations from multifaceted powerhouse Tyler Perry.

Moreover, while blacks comprise roughly 13% of the U.S. population, the Director’s Guild of America reports that just 4% of its members are black. This scene is acting itself out at a time when Hollywood has produced an impressive performance: Despite the recession and a decline in DVD sales, 2009 box office receipts topped a record $10.6 billion in the U.S. and Canada, an increase of more than 10.1% compared with 2008.

While there have been some advances for blacks behind the scenes in Hollywood over the past decade, many still confront persistent barriers including a studio hierarchy in which no African American executive has power to green-light a film; the assumption that films featuring African Americans will not sell overseas; and the constant battle with major motion picture studios over production budgets, marketing dollars, and expansive distribution. “One of the biggest challenges is that there are not enough people inside the studio system that champion the stories black filmmakers want to tell,” says Zola Mashariki, senior vice president of production at Fox Searchlight Pictures, who advocates hiring more people of color in studio management positions.

Others argue African Americans must create their own means of distribution. “We need more African Americans with significant financial resources to partner with filmmakers in the marketing and distribution of independent black films,” asserts Jeff Friday, founder of the American Black Film Festival, which has provided a showcase for independent directors. In fact, Film Life, his distribution company, is launching the Pro Hollywood Initiative to help more independent filmmakers secure financing to release films. His goal: Create a capital pipeline by introducing 20 professional athletes to 20 filmmakers.

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.