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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Where Are The Next Generation Of Stars in Black Hollywood Going to Come From?

There’s an ongoing crisis in Black Hollywood. It has nothing to do with getting Black screenplays greenlit, financing to make Black flims, or getting Black films distributed. It’s finding young fresh Black faces to become the next Black stars.

Most of today’s current popular African-American performers are over 35 and getting older. Leading Men Will Smith, Terrence Howard, Jamie Foxx and Tyler Perry are in their 40s. Leading Ladies like Kimberly Elise, Thandie Newton, Jada Pinkett, Taraji P. Henson, Vanessa Williams and Halle Berry are in their 40s to mid 40s, while Angela Bassett is over 50 and Whoopi Goldberg is close to 60. And veteran leading men like Denzel Washington and Laurence Fishburne are almost 60. And seasoned actors like Samuel L. Jackson are over 60 while Morgan Freeman is 73 years old.

Worse, the African-American up and coming performers are over 30 well. Actresses like Paula Patton and Zoe Saldana are in their mid to late 30s while the youngest actresses I can think of Jurnee Smollett, Raven Symone and Kyla Pratt are in their mid-20s. And the up and coming Black male lead performers? Not many working outside of Evan Ross. Oh and that curly haired brotha from High School Musical. What’s he doing right now?

Craft wise with so many Black performers being over 30, it means there’s no one around to take the place of veteran black performers and learn the craft of acting in the next few years. Worse, there are no new Black faces emerging who are strong enough to carry a movie on their own or open strongly at the box-office currently.

While I enjoy the work of many of the older Black performers, I feel there’s a desperate need for a youth movement in Black Hollywood and in Black Cinema. The average age of a young Black actor today is 35. To today’s young teen or twentysomething ticket buyer, those actors are OLD. For teens and twentysomethings today watching these performers is like watching, well their mothers and fathers telling their mother and father’s stories at the movies.

On the business side, I feel the glut of older stars is one of the reasons it’s so hard to get a Black film greenlit these days. Most studio executives are anxious about hiring older actors to lead films. Usually the older Black demographic isn’t as eager to pay money to go to the theater as younger audiences, and generally, films targeted to audiences over 40 often do very poorly at the box-office.

With Black films already having one strike against them because they target African-American audiences, the age issue often makes for a second strike against them. Couple these two strikes with the third strike of a history of poor performance at the box office and the fourth strike of an inability to sell to foreign audiences and it’s clear why African-American films are having a hard time getting out of development.

I also feel it’s one of the reasons most African-American films outside of Tyler Perry films are struggling to find audiences at the theater these days. Movies primarily are a youth-oriented business. It’s tween, teen, twentysomething and some thirtysomething performers who appeal to young audiences of ticket buyers. With most of today’s Black films appealing to older audiences, many of today’s Black youth don’t relate to or identify with the characters onscreen. Because they can’t see themselves in the characters onscreen, they have no reason to invest money in a movie ticket or the time to see the movie.

Ironically many African-American Filmmakers prefer working with older, established stars because they think short-term they’ll draw bigger crowds and open stronger at the box-office. Unfortunately, many Black filmmakers are unaware their films skewer older and don’t appeal to younger audiences where the most money at the box-office usually is. Usually, younger audiences are often turned off watching people old enough to be their parents starring in movies.

Because so many Black filmmakers want to sell films with established black stars in the lead, they don’t see the long-term damage that’s being done to the future of black cinema by not developing fresh talent. Because no Black filmmakers are taking the time to develop new stars it may be harder to sell black movies in the future.

It takes years for a performer to establish a body of work, and many young black performers aren’t getting the opportunity to hone their crafts. While there have been noteworthy performances from black actresses and black actors There hasn’t been a breakout black star in over a decade. Moreover, those black actors and actresses who have had noteworthy performances haven’t been able to follow up on that work with a project that would allow them to break through and establish themselves as the next black star who can draw an audience. And without new stars, there won’t be anyone available to carry a Black film and help it open strongly in the future.

Long-term the impact of this shortage of young Black actors could cripple the Black film industry. With no young actors to be trained in the craft of acting or be mentored by seasoned performers, there’s no pool of new performers to draw on when older talent dies, retires or just doesn’t fit the role anymore. New Black producers and directors will struggle to get films greenlit because there’s no talent pool available to tell the stories of the Black experience on film and on stage.

I feel the time is NOW for Black film industry to seriously start cultivating and developing fresh new talent. While I enjoy the work of seasoned Black performers like Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Terrence Howard, Angela Bassett Halle Berry and others, I really think it’s time to start developing the next generation of young black lead performers who could become the next Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Terrence Howard Angela Bassett and Halle Berry. These are going to be the performers that sell to tomorrow’s movie audiences and will sell films to tomorrow’s ticket-buyers. I feel if Black filmmakers took some time to target younger audiences and spent a bit more time developing new performers African-American films would do much better at the box office and would be a bit easier to sell to distributors and studios. More importantly it’d get young Black viewers back buying tickets for Black movies.

1 comment:

  1. Shawn, I really do thank you for this one because I haven't read anyone else addressing it. A great thing would be for the successful ones -- the stars -- to mentor younger AA's. If that's being done, again I haven't read about it.

    I'm sure you're a singular voice crying in the wilderness and right now, without you many of our paths would be dark indeed.

    Whateveer you do, don't stop now and don't stop here. Please find some way to shine your beacon to a world that listens, takes heed and values it.

    May God be with you in doing this!