Essence to honor African-American men in cinema

Tyler PerryLos Angeles, CA — Essence is known for honoring black women, but during Oscar week, it’ll also be lauding the accomplishments of African-American men in film.

The magazine is launching its first “Black Men in Hollywood” dinner, an intimate affair that will salute the work of Spike Lee, Lee Daniels, Malcolm Lee, and filmmaker Tyler Perry, who will host the event.

The California Endowment’s “Sons and Brothers” campaign, which acknowledges role models for young men of color, will also be recognized.

Honorees will gather on Feb. 26 in Los Angeles on the eve of Essence’s annual Black Women in Hollywood luncheon, which returns to Beverly Hills to recognize best supporting actress nominee Lupita Nyong’o for “12 Years a Slave,” Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs and writer-director Ava DuVernay.

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BET Networks and ICON MANN Partner to Honor Black Men!

nickBET Networks and ICON MANN today announced a partnership to celebrate the positive impact that Black men are making domestically and across the globe with the launch of ICON MANN™ “28 Men of Change.” ™ This special Black History Month initiative will share the journeys of 28 contemporary trailblazers whose formula for success includes empowering others, and who credit their personal and professional advancement to their continued investment in philanthropy.GTY_Forest_Whitaker_mEach day, beginning February 1, 2014, BET Networks will feature the personal story of one of the “28 Men of Change” ™ with 2:00 minute vignettes on BET and Centric. BET.com will offer viewers original videos, photographs and editorial features on these inspirational figures, providing a personal and in-depth interview detailing how they have combined their passion with their purpose.
The diverse list of celebrants recognizes men from multiple countries and a wide array of industries spanning entertainment, business, art, law, finance, medicine, science, politics, education and professional sports. Each individual selected continues to inspire many different generations with his vision, ability, commitment and success in creating positive changes throughout the world.

The group of honorees selected for the inaugural ICON MANN™”28 Men of Change” ™ include (in alphabetical order):
1. Lonnie Bunch III, Founding Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture
2. Nick Cannon, TV Host, Writer, Director, Executive Producer and Philanthropist
3. Lee Daniels, Film Producer and Oscar-Nominated Director
4. Kasseem ‘Swizz Beatz’ Dean, Grammy Award-Winning Record Producer, Composer and Philanthropist
5. Dr. Courtney Hollowell, Cook County Hospital Chairman of the Division of Urology
6. Nyjah Huston, Professional Street Skateboarder
7. Charles Jenkins, Pastor of the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church
8. Ron Kirk, Sr. Council of Gibson Dunn and Former U.S. Trade Representative
9. Edward Lewis, Co-founder of Essence Magazine and Latina Magazine
10. Ndaba Mandela, Chairman, Africa Rising Foundation
11. Leland Melvin, NASA Astronaut
12. Dr. Steve Perry, Founder and Principal, Capital Preparatory Magnet School
13. Nile Rodgers, Musician, Producer, Composer and Philanthropist
14. Dr. Robert Ross, President and CEO, The California Endowment
15. Marcus Samuelsson, Chef and UNICEF Ambassador
16. Gary Simmons, Artist
17. Forest Whitaker, Actor, Producer and Director

The remaining honorees will be revealed each day during the month of February 2014.
Founding Partner of ICON MANN™ Tamara N. Houston comments, “There is so much wealth and inspiration within our Black Diaspora, of good men, great men being leaders within the community, the home, across the nation and around the globe. It is time we start to shine the spotlight on them and focus on what is possible. We are thrilled beyond measure with the support that Louis Carr and the entire bet family have provided ICON MANN.”

American Black Film Festival: A first look at new films

“Just saw the BUTLER rough cut for the first time with @LennyKravitz and director Lee Daniels,” media maven Oprah Winfrey tweeted on June 1.

The CEO of OWN — who stars in the film based on the life of a man who served as butler to eight U.S. presidents — added a special note to audiences on the Instagram image accompanying the tweet: “Can’t wait for you all the see it. #theBUTLER.”

While she may be biased towards her own star vehicle, Winfrey is hardly the only person excited for Precious director Lee Daniel’s latest opus. The Butler, which features Forest Whitaker in the title role, is part of a coming crop of African-American films that movie critics are hailing as a stellar season for black filmmakers. Black films make a big comeback. With nearly a dozen African-American-related pictures slated for release in the coming months, the diverse offerings look refreshing compared to previous years filled with family-oriented romantic comedies, Tyler Perry-produced features, or worse few black films at all.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Tyler Perry. What is being celebrated by industry watchers is the scope, breadth, and variety of films in the black genre on tap, and the number that will likely be serious Oscar contenders. The large number of African-American films being released this year comes, as The New York Times points out in a recent feature, after “years of complaint about the lack of prominent movies by and about black Americans.” American Black Film Festival showcases the latest black cinema renaissance: ‘Fruitvale Station,’ and more.

“Black filmmakers say the wave of 2013 releases was built in large part on the creativity that has flourished on the independent-film circuit,” the Times continues.

Events such as the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) have long been part of this network that nourishes black filmmakers. Many of the coming films will be first viewed by the public at ABFF. In addition to the Sundance Film Festival favorite Fruitvale Station, the lineup of films screening at ABFF starting on June 19 in Miami sheds light on the wide scope of issues being tackled by modern black filmmakers. Beyond the festival, upcoming historical dramas The Butler and Mandela, and the holiday film Black Nativity also highlight the range of black films in the works.

Those behind the scenes attest to the renewed opportunities that have fueled these projects, and the hope that this trend will continue. Praising the uptick in quality African-American films. “The only way we can break down these barriers is to continue making movies, to keep pushing, to keep trying,” George Tillman, Jr., director of ABFF’s opening night movie, The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, said.

Tillman’s film portrays the challenges of youths surviving in an area of Brooklyn untouched by gentrification. By contrast, the ABFF will close with Kevin Hart’s new comedy documentary, Let Me Explain, shot during his tour stop at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Fruitvale Station address institutional racism and police violence. Playin’ for Love, Robert Townsend’s basketball-themed romantic comedy; Full Circle, about a drug deal gone bad; and Home, focusing on mental illness, all demonstrate how distinct this boon of films is. ABFF Founder and CEO Jeff Friday said that the emphasis this year is less on marketing and selling movies for the festival, and more on spotlighting the ingenuity of these filmmakers.

“We really are now doing things that we can control, and focusing more on developing individuals, and finding opportunities for those individuals’ talent to be showcased,” he explained.

Given the breadth of films at ABFF, as well as those in theatrical release, Friday says it’s definitely a comeback year for black cinema, and a throwback to the “glory days” of the ’90s. “I know how we got away from it, I’m not sure why we came back,” Friday said. Friday’s office recently did a study of African-American movies over the years, discovering that black films and artists thrived in the mid-90s when directors like Townsend, Spike Lee, and John Singleton were in their heyday.

“I say this in a jest, but the black community kind of took [the ’90s] for granted,” he admitted. “What happened in 2000, studios shifted their focus away from niche movies… Now, you don’t move [you’re] stock price until you’ve had an Iron Man or a Star Trek. People think it’s attributed to race, but that’s not true. Hollywood, I don’t think they sit around and plot against us, like, ‘Let’s put out two black films a year.’ I don’t think they do it. It’s driven by money.”

As Friday’s study further found, even the most iconic black films of all time often tapped out at $35 million in box office earnings, a mere pittance by Hollywood standards, even if that might be a handsome return for an independent film. He found the exception to the rule, of course, was Tyler Perry. “If Tyler Perry was happening in the mid-90s when Love Jones came out,” Friday observed, “we wouldn’t be focusing [on him] so much. He would just be one of 15.”

Today, part of Perry’s power is that he can bring in the big numbers, something with which other filmmakers, especially unproven ones, have had to contend. Tillman’s movie stars a top-tier cast including Anthony Mackie, Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Hudson and Jordin Sparks. It was produced by singer Alicia Keys among other influencers. Despite Tillman’s reputable players, the 44-year-old director said it took three years to get this independent project off the ground. It was only possible through outside funding, bucking the Hollywood system.

“I went around to all the studios,” Tillman recalled. “They showed interest in the material, interest in the script, but it came down to [the question]: Who wants to see a film about a 13-year-old black kid surviving with an 8-year-old Asian kid?” After spinning his wheels and exhausting sources, Tillman looked outside Hollywood to find people who believed in his story, and wanted to see something different on screen. He was then able to produce the movie, and later sold it to studio distributors at the Sundance festival.