According to Variety.com, it was Wakanda for the Win at the 2018 MTV Movie & TV Awards, with Disney Marvel’s “Black Panther” winning the most film awards, including Best Movie, Best Performance and Best Hero for Chadwick Boseman and Best Villain for Michael B. Jordan.
Tiffany Haddish hosted the show, which aired Monday night on Viacom networks and was taped Saturday at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, CA. Haddish took home the popcorn herself for best comedic performance in “Girls Trip.”
Netflix’s “Stranger Things” dominated the television field with three awards, including best show. Millie Bobby Brown also won for show performance, while Noah Schnapp was recognized for frightened performance.
Apple and Oprah Winfrey have a signed a multi-year content partnership. Under the deal, Winfrey and Apple will create programs that will be released as part of Apple’s original content lineup.
The deal marks one of the first such agreements struck between Apple and a content creator. This is also the latest addition to Winfrey’s media empire. The former hit talk show host formed her own cable network, OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, in 2011 in partnership with Discovery Communications. The channel has become one of the fastest-growing cable networks among women and has produced hit shows like “Queen Sugar,” which boasts Oscar nominee Ava DuVernay as showrunner.
Winfrey recently extended her contract with Discovery through 2025. Sources tell Variety that Apple’s deal with Winfrey does not conflict with the Discovery agreement. Winfrey remains exclusive in an on-screen capacity to OWN with limited carve-outs, such as her role as a correspondent for CBS’ “60 Minutes” and her recent acting work for HBO.
Via her Harpo Productions banner, Winfrey has also developed several long-running hit syndicated shows including “Dr. Phil,” “The Dr. Oz Show” and “Rachael Ray.” Through her Harpo Films, she has produced several Academy Award-winning features including “Selma,” which was directed by DuVernay. Winfrey also had a featured role in that film, and recently starred in other films like “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “A Wrinkle in Time,” and HBO’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.”
Winfrey also runs O, The Oprah Magazine and published the New York Times best-selling cookbook “Food, Health and Happiness” last year. As a noted philanthropist, Winfrey has contributed more than $100 million to provide education to academically gifted girls from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2017.
Even before the Oprah deal, Apple has a robust slate of originals prepared to launch. In addition to the previously mentioned morning show drama, the streamer is prepping shows like a reboot of Steven Spielberg’s “Amazing Stories,” a psychological thriller series from executive producer M. Night Shyamalan, the true crime podcast drama series “Are You Sleeping?” starring Octavia Spencer and Aaron Paul, and an Emily Dickinson series starring Hailee Steinfeld among many others.
On April 4, 1968, Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy took to the stage in Indianapolis, Indiana to tell the mostly Black crowd that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated.
“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country,” Kennedy said that evening. “Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”
Two months later, Kennedy was killed — shot to death in Los Angeles, moments after winning California’s Democratic presidential primary.
While Kennedy has been lionized as the rare politician who could bring together working-class whites, African-Americans, and Latinx voters, his transformation from being openly suspicious of those in the civil rights movements to being one of its biggest supporters is one of the most interesting components of filmmaker Dawn Porter’s last project, Bobby Kennedy For President.
In the four-part Netflix documentary series, Porter uses archival footage and interviews with people like Harry Belafonte, activist Dolores Huerta, and Congressman John Lewisto chronicle Kennedy’s rise through the ranks to become one of the most beloved figures in American history, particularly for scores of Black people.
“He’s a really fascinating historical figure,” Porter tells ESSENCE. “I’ve always been interested in politics. Career-wise, a lot of my films deal with social justice, and I felt like this one dealt with social justice from a different perspective.”
“In our initial research into the story, when I saw what a difference civil rights leaders made in his life, it meant that made a difference in all of our lives and I wanted to add in their voices to this history,” she says. “He’s a very compelling figure and it was just a rich opportunity to dig into the archives as a filmmaker, but to also tell the story through a different lens.”
While many look to Kennedy’s life and ability to bring people together as an example of the type of coalition they’d like to build in the future, Porter says his life can teach us a valuable lesson right now about extending people grace and room to grow.
“We’re awfully quick these days to label people and keep them in a box and I think that that doesn’t serve any of us well,” Porter explains. “All of us are complicated, but if we’re smart and mature we all evolve. I think what you see with Bobby Kennedy is his evolution, but you have to understand the beginning to deeply appreciate the end.”
Under his leadership at the Justice Department, Kennedy authorized the surveillance of African-American leaders like Dr. King, who was considered a threat to the nation. However, as he forged relationships with people in the movement like Belafonte, Huerta, and writer James Baldwin, his perspectives began to shift. Soon, Kennedy would send federal marshals to Mississippi to protect the Freedom Riders, and later, would commit himself to healing America’s racial divisions. Kennedy’s shift in his commitment to racial justice made Porter even more enthralled by his life.
“I appreciated the end so much when I understood that history,” she says. “The fact that the man who authorized the wiretap of Martin Luther King, Jr. would then break Cesar Chavez‘s fast, would march with Dolores Huerta during the grape strikes and would announce Martin Luther King’s death to a largely Black audience in Indianapolis. Those are seminal moments in our history, but I think they’re made even richer and deeper and more meaningful because that’s not where he began.”
Many wonder what America would have looked like had Kennedy survived and gone on to the White House. “Had Kennedy lived we wouldn’t have had Nixon, Watergate, Bush, or Trump,” Huerta said in a recent interview. “Kennedy was a different kind of individual. He believed in bringing people together. He was not divisive, he was a uniter.”
For Porter, the nation’s current political climate makes it the perfect time to reflect on Kennedy’s life. “Bobby Kennedy, John F. Kennedy Jr. were always really, really important in marginalized communities, in the African-American community,” she told PBS. “And I thought what a great time to explore that legacy, at a time when politics feels so dark and when so many people… are so impacted by the political discourse of today.”
Now that Porter has tackled Kennedy’s complex life in Bobby Kennedy For President, she’s hoping to reclaim a little of her time and work on a project about yet another impactful politician, California Congresswoman Maxine Waters. As she explores her next potential subject, Porter says she just appreciates the opportunity to make films that matter, and support other Black folks in the business, too.
“I’m just grateful the offers are coming and the projects are coming and I’m also interested in sharing that love,” she tells ESSENCE. “As Ava DuVernay always says, ‘It’s no fun being the only.”’ It’s important that there are many of us with many visions because there’s not one way to be Black.”
Come Friday, we can all watch the seeds of the future, stand-alone Oprah Winfrey Museum be sown.
Opening June 8 and running through June 2019, the “Watching Oprah: The Oprah Winfrey Show and American Culture” exclusive exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture will, according to The Washington Post, feature video clips, interview segments, movie costumes, and personal photographs and journals to explore what has influenced Winfrey and how her work has shaped America.
“What’s interesting is the same way America thought about Walter Cronkite — you could trust Walter Cronkite and his opinion — they trust Oprah,” said museum director Lonnie G. Bunch III. “An African American woman becomes the person America turns to.”
Winfrey donated $12 million to the $540 million museum as it was being built, making her its largest individual benefactor (its theater is named in her honor). But her role as benefactor did not influence the exhibition, Bunch said. “We made sure there was a bright line, that this was done by the museum and museum scholars,” he said. “The fundraising was not through Oprah’s people.”
Curators Rhea L. Combs and Kathleen Kendrick worked with Winfrey and her staff on arranging loans for the exhibition and on fact-checking and background information. “In terms of content and narrative and the way the story is told, it’s the museum’s product,” Kendrick said. “The way we approached it was the way we approach all of our exhibitions.”
The exhibit balances Winfrey’s humble personal story with her achievements. “We’re providing a context for understanding not only who she is, but how she became a global figure, and how she is connected to broader stories and themes,” Kendrick said.
The first section of the show, which is in the Special Exhibitions gallery, explores Winfrey’s childhood and early career and how the cultural shifts of the 1950s and 1960s informed her worldview.
“Civil rights, the women’s movement, the media and television landscape, she’s at this distinct intersection of all of these dynamic moments,” Combs said. “She becomes someone at the forefront of dealing with ideas, of discussing hot-button topics like racism and sexual orientation.”
The middle section looks at the 25-year run of the “Oprah Winfrey Show,” the highest-rated talk show in U.S. television history. Using artifacts from Winfrey’s Harpo Studios in Chicago, where the show was filmed, this section focuses on its evolution, its variety of subject matter and guests, and its reach into social issues such as racism and equality.
“She used television as a social medium, convening conversations and creating these interactive experiences with people,” Kendrick said. “She’s offering lessons for living, social guidance in a way.”
The third section looks at Winfrey’s role as cultural influencer and tastemaker in the movies she has made (“The Color Purple,” “Beloved,” “The Butler”) the books she promoted in her television book club and her philanthropic work.
The timing of the high-profile exhibition was planned to coincide with the last quarter of the African American Museum’s second year, when officials expected a drop in attendance. Instead crowds are regularly at capacity and timed passes to enter are still required. Since opening Sept. 24, 2016, the museum has welcomed 3.8 million visitors, making it one of the most popular Washington D.C. attractions.
“I really thought after the first year it’d be business as usual, so at the end of the second year I’d do something to give it visibility,” Bunch said. “I didn’t anticipate we’d have the same crush of crowds.”
Bunch said he hopes the exhibition will encourage visitors to think about what Winfrey has represented over the years.
“There are so many issues, about women, power, media, body image,” he said. “This should be a popular show because of the impact of this person, but it is also a show that allows us to think about what it means that a woman who doesn’t fit the TV look could build a media empire and become an entrepreneur.”
Netflix has secured a deal with former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama to produce series and movies for the streaming service. The former first couple will, according to an announcement Monday from the company, potentially work on scripted and unscripted series as well as docu-series, documentary films, and features under the multi-year deal.
“One of the simple joys of our time in public service was getting to meet so many fascinating people from all walks of life, and to help them share their experiences with a wider audience,” said Barack Obama. “That’s why Michelle and I are so excited to partner with Netflix — we hope to cultivate and curate the talented, inspiring, creative voices who are able to promote greater empathy and understanding between peoples, and help them share their stories with the entire world.”
“Barack and I have always believed in the power of storytelling to inspire us, to make us think differently about the world around us, and to help us open our minds and hearts to others,” said Michelle Obama. “Netflix’s unparalleled service is a natural fit for the kinds of stories we want to share, and we look forward to starting this exciting new partnership.”
Signing the Obamas is the latest, and by far the biggest, in a string of moves by Netflix to lock up the entertainment industry’s highest-profile producers in exclusive production and development pacts. Last year, Netflix poached “Grey’s Anatomy” creator Shonda Rhimes from ABC Studios with a deal valued at more than $100 million. “Glee” creator Ryan Murphy jumped from his longtime home at 20th Century Fox Television earlier this year to also join Netflix. Murphy’s deal was reported at the time to be worth as much as $300 million. However, sources tell Variety that tally includes money that Murphy is expected to make from his current and former Fox series over the life of his Netflix contract, and that the true value of the deal is in line with that of Rhimes’.
It is unknown how much the Obamas’ Netflix agreement is worth. In March, Penguin Random Housesigned the couple to a joint book deal that pays them a reported $65 million for their respective memoirs.
“Barack and Michelle Obama are among the world’s most respected and highly-recognized public figures and are uniquely positioned to discover and highlight stories of people who make a difference in their communities and strive to change the world for the better,” said Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos. “We are incredibly proud they have chosen to make Netflix the home for their formidable storytelling abilities.”
Among President Obama’s most visible public appearances since leaving office was on David Letterman’s new Netflix series, “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction.” Obama was the first guest in the former “Late Show” host’s new long-form interview program.
Word of a possible pact between the former U.S. president and first lady surfaced in March, when the New York Times first reported that the couple was in talks with the streaming service on a deal to produce several high-profile projects.
Sarandos has a close relationship with the Obamas. His wife, Nicole Avant, served as U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas in President Obama’s first term in office.
Former NBC executive Vernon Sanders has joined Amazon Studios as co-head of television, according to Variety.com. He will oversee creative and production units for Amazon Prime Video.
Sanders will head the TV division with Albert Cheng, who was hired during a reorganization of Amazon’s entertainment division under new top executive Jennifer Salke in April. Cheng also serves as Amazon Studios COO. “I’m thrilled to announce Vernon Sanders’ appointment to Co-Head of Television for Amazon Studios,” said Salke. “Vernon’s undeniable expertise in nurturing talent and creative material will be a huge asset to our studio. Having worked side-by-side with him for seven years at NBC Entertainment, I can speak first-hand to his talents as a leader and creative force. I know Vernon and Albert Cheng will be a formidable team as we continue to build Amazon Studios.”
At NBC Sanders held posts as executive vice president of current programming and executive vice president of comedy. He also has experience in drama-series development, having been senior VP of drama at the network and sister studio Universal Television. “I am tremendously excited to be joining Jennifer Salke, Albert Cheng and the forward-thinking team at Amazon Studios as they build an incredible destination for high-quality, compelling content,” Sanders said. “My time as a producer has reaffirmed my passion for working closely with creators to champion shows which delight and surprise our audiences. I’m grateful to my family at NBCU for their support as I jump into this new challenge.”
Among the series Sanders worked on while at NBC are “30 Rock,” “The Office,” “Friday Night Lights,” “This is Us,” “The Blacklist,” “The Good Place,” and the revival of “Will and Grace.”
Ellis Haizlip broke the talk show and public television color barrier when he introduced “SOUL!,” the weekly program he hosted during the late ’60s and early ’70s, to PBS. Now, a half decade after the show debuted, his niece Melissa Haizlip (“Crossing Jordan”) revisits his legacy with the documentary “Mr. SOUL!” Deadline anticipated the world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival by unveiling the trailer (above) on April 4.
“There exists, as far as I know, no TV program that deals with my culture so completely, so freely, so beautifully,” the senior Haizlip remarked in archival footage from the trailer. To drive that point home, the trailer incorporates clips of performances from now-renowned Black artists as varied as Maya Angelou, Donny Hathaway and Alvin Ailey. Haizlip also conducted interviews on the show with Stokely Carmichael, James Baldwin and other activists and thought leaders.
Interviewees like Kathleen Cleaver, Sonia Sanchez and Harry Belafonte spoke to the importance of this show, which centered Black culture at a time when the U.S. was waging full-scale war on Black activism. “This is serious business, our lives were at stake!” Cleaver emphasized in the trailer.
PBS/Thirteen noted that Ellis Haizlip fought both on and off camera. He intentionally staffed his production team with Black crew members and publicly criticized the government-created Corporation for Public Broadcasting for pulling funding. “Worse than racism, I see this as the beginning of a systematic plan to remove Black programs from public television,” he told Jet magazine after the show’s cancellation in 1973.
“Mr. SOUL!” debuts at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 22.
Recently, Good Black News was invited to cover the launch of “One Strange Rock,” a ten-part space/science series on the National Geographic Channel that premieres Monday, 3/26, and is hosted and narrated by Will Smith. It is director Darren Aronofsky‘s (“Black Swan,” “mother!,” “Requiem For a Dream”) first foray into television, and the series is produced by Jane Root through her production company Nutopia. It is a cinematic look at Earth from a variety of perspectives – from space, from the sea, from the desert – and across all continents.
From the episodes I’ve seen, “One Strange Rock” is a gorgeous, meditative, eye-opening look at our planet, and Smith is a welcome, friendly guide along the journey to get to know Earth and all its ecosystems in ways we haven’t seen or previously considered. But what honestly got me excited about “One Strange Rock” was the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American female to travel into space (and one of my personal she-ros) to speak with her about her participation in “One Strange Rock,” as well as her other current projects (100 Year Starship and Look Up).
As I start to record the interview (this is moments after I fangirl and tell Dr. Jemison I dressed up as her one Halloween, entered a costume contest and won a 25-dollar gift card to Virgin Records), I state into my Voice Memo app the date, time, and that I’m about to interview Dr. Mae Jemison, she charmingly interrupts.
Mae Jemison: How about if we do it in Star Date Time? 2018.01.13, right?
Good Black News: Way better! That’s a Trekkie for you! I appreciate that, thank you, Dr. Jemison. Well, first I want to ask you about your involvement in “One Strange Rock.” Why, of all the different entities out there covering space, space travel, space exploration, did you want to lend your voice to this project?
MJ: So “One Strange Rock” is the story of the extraordinary journey of Earth. It’s about our home planet and how we went from this collection of rock and gases to something that supports life and an incredible diversity of life, and I wanted to be a part of that. When people think about space, so frequently they think about it just as the stars and the pictures and images and the rockets. But actually, space allows us to see our world that we live on. Space allows us to understand that when we look up at the stars, we’re actually made of the stuff of stars. Right? Inside of us is the heart of an old star. Doesn’t that make you feel like you belong to this universe and that you’re supposed to be here?
Absolutely. So is your hope with this particular project that more people will get that understanding that there isn’t a separation?
MJ: “One Strange Rock” does this incredible thing – it takes us from the smallest microbe, or to how oxygen is generated in small bubbles, all the way to the vistas of continents or being able to see our atmosphere, and connects it together. And so for me, one of the things we need to understand at some point in time – we’ve got to figure this out – is that we’re Earthlings and that we’re connected to this planet. So when I went into space, one of the things that happened to me is that I had an affirmation of something that I always believed. You know when people say, “Save the Earth”? They’re mistaken – the Earth will be here. The difference is, can we act in such a way that it continues to support our life form? You see, what “One Strange Rock” shows is how integrated life is on this planet and we as humans are part of that life. If we go to another world – just go to the space station – we have to carry some of the Earth with us. We have to carry that environment with us because this is where we evolved, this is where we developed. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t leave – obviously I want to leave -I want to go and explore other places. But it’s the recognition that there are a… unique series of coincidences, events and everything that led us to this day, to humans, to me sitting talking to you. And they started billions of years ago.
So with all of that, you talk in the first episode about the “Overview Effect” – about seeing the planet and essentially what you just communicated to me. How do you get people who don’t have the opportunity to go into space to understand that boundaries and countries and all of these things that we do as human beings to identify in all these different ways is a way of looking at Earth that isn’t going to help foster the survival of our species?
MJ: So I want to make one thing clear – I know a lot of astronauts talk about the “Overview Effect” – that everything belongs right here on this planet – for me when I went into space… I knew damn well that water crosses from one country to another, that our sky is over different countries and weather affects everyone. What “One Strange Rock” does is help people to understand and feel that. So I can maybe mumble words and give you statistics and stuff, but it’s not the same thing as having that emotional connection. What I’m so proud about with “One Strange Rock” is that it takes images from lots of different countries, from African countries, from South American countries – it goes down underneath the Earth and goes up to the top. And all those things help us to see this planet and the imagery from people, to animals, to… desolate locations. And so, it’s not so much again about mumbling the words, or even saying the words very clearly, it’s about allowing people to see and be there with you. And not just from space, because we get down to the detail. We see kids playing, we see folks who’ve been collecting salt for generations from one location. All of those things are important for us to understand our connectedness to this world. And it’s not about preaching and it’s not about how fast the Space Station is orbiting the Earth or any of that kind of stuff – it’s that vantage point.Continue reading “Pioneering Astronaut Mae Jemison Offers Insight and Forward Thinking to New National Geographic Channel Series “One Strange Rock””→
Producer/director Deon Taylor and his Hidden Empire Film Group have launched a new shingle, Dark Circus, that will produce film and television content aimed towards urban audiences, with a focus on the comedy and horror genres.
The first project set up under the banner is a Snoop Dogg-produced horror anthology series, The Thrill. It centers on a mysterious hotel, The Last Stop Inn, situated on a lonely stretch of foreboding highway, where the unlucky guests who check in each week struggle to understand the supernatural events that unfold during their stay.
The first feature release under the new label will be The House Next Door, the previously announced sequel to Meet the Blacks. Taylor directed the comedy that stars Mike Epps and Katt Williams.
“We have the resources and market expertise to deliver branded content with a unique voice — one that speaks to an urban audience,” said Taylor. “I won’t say that this market is underserved, as there are a great deal of films still finding their way to the marketplace. However, our intention is to raise the bar with Dark Circus and create an enduring brand. Partnering with Snoop on this first anthology series will have us coming out of the gates strong, and we couldn’t be more excited.”
Taylor — who directed and produced the upcoming Paula Patton-starrer Traffik and is attached to direct the police drama .38 — runs Hidden Empire with partners Roxanne Avent and Robert F. Smith.