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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Check My Bag? No, I think I'll check My Senses Part 2- Why Bag checks don't work in the Inner-City

Last week I wrote about bag checks as retail security in the inner-city and why I thought they were racial profiling. Now I’ll reinforce that data with some interesting facts.

According to national retail statistics, on loss prevention 31 percent of loss is done by shoplifters. However, over fifty percent of those shoplifters are MIDDLE AGED WHITE WOMEN. And another significant percentage of shoplifters are WHITE FEMALE SENIOR CITIZENS.

So why are there so many images of African-Americans shoplifting in the media? And why are so many retailers so eager to target African-American customers as potential shoplifters when they walk into their stores? If these statistics are true, shouldn’t retailers be taking a harder look at middle aged white females and white senior citizens when they come into a store instead of brothers and sisters?

No, because white females are considered the most coveted customer in the United States. They have the most spending power out of any demographic. To alienate this consumer base with such harsh security tactics would put a retailer right out of business. And it has in many cases.

But if most of the shoplifters are middle-aged white women as the data states and white women are more likely to shoplift than any other ethnic group, shouldn’t there be more bag checks in the suburbs? Shouldn’t there be bag check booths at the doors of places like Wal-Mart and K-mart? Target? Macy*s? Sears? Saks Fifth Avenue? Wouldn’t this prevent the crime before it’s committed like it allegedly does in the inner-city?

No, retailers in the suburbs say security tactics like bag check booths wouldn’t be effective in reducing loss at large suburban malls where a majority of white female customers shop. Too many people running around to effectively police whose bag is whose, which could lead to lawsuits. Also, stuff like bag checks seriously disrupts the relaxing environment retailers need to make money. Uncomfortable people who are forced to check bags at the door tend not to spend money. Not to mention the terrorism risk post 9/11. What’s not to stop a bomber from leaving a bag at the bag check booth and detonating it when they left the store in a crowd?

Oh yeah, and White customers would be the first to protest and boycott a retailer who implemented these security tactics at their retailers as Un-American. Many White women would feel these types of practices infringe on their Constitutional Rights as American Citizens. Retailers so fear alienating white female customers they’re actually willing to eat the costs of most losses through their insurance rather than giving them a negative impression regarding their stores or their products. No White American wants to shops at a national retailer who utilizes fascist tactics in policing their place of business, but this type of oppression is okay in the communities of color.

But if most shoplifters are Middle-aged White women shouldn’t sales people follow middle-aged White women around the store the way sales people follow black people around the store because they’re most likely to steal?

No, that would be considered harassment by the customers. Again, retailers do not want to make a customer uncomfortable because it means they’re less likely to spend money with them. Also, giving a customer a bad experience leads to word of mouth that can kill a retailer’s reputation. Not to mention it’s grounds for a lawsuit. According to the law, a retailer’s staff has to actually see the person take the merchandise and leave the store for them to be considered a shoplifter. But tell that to retailers in communities of color.

In addition to shoplifting, other crimes against retailers like credit card fraud, and the passing of counterfeit cash are usually perpetrated by white people than people of color. But if White people commit these crimes more than Black people, Shouldn’t retailers ask them for ID when they use a debit card or Credit card? Shouldn’t they ask them for a $15 minimum purchase? And on college campuses with white students are notoriously known to make “P-notes” with laser printers and flatbed scanners. Shouldn’t retailers check their $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills for legitimacy?

No, because that would be bad for business. And when it comes to credit cards it’s also against the law. That’s right in many states it’s against the law to impose minimums on credit card purchases. It’s also against the law to ask people for identification when they use their credit cards. And it’s not too favorable long-term for a business to scrutinize a white customer’s dollars to check for their legitimacy. Again It’s Un-American to think a good White American would be capable of counterfeiting U.S. currency!

But some paranoid retailers in communities of color think everyone who lives there are out to scam them.

And another fun tidbit? A whopping 41 percent of theft of theft at retailers is actually done by employees! And most of that theft is done before the merchandise even hits the sales floor! That’s right, most employees steal stuff right off the delivery truck because they’re familiar with the shipment schedules and know what merchandise is being delivered to the store. Others slip items out with the trash, and some less savvy employees steal merchandise right off the sales floor!

But in the inner-city it’s customers of color that are seen as criminals first and customers second.

Customers in the inner-city actually count for very little theft at retailers. And when that handful of brothers and sisters do commit these crimes, bag checks are totally ineffective in securing merchandise. A bag check won’t stop shoplifter who uses tactics like smash and Grab, (When a shoplifter smashes a counter and grabs merchandise) Grab and Dash (when a shoplifter takes a bundle of merchandise off a table and dashes out of the store into a nearby car), Crotch walking (when a woman in a long dress puts an object between her thighs and walks out), folded up newspapers (when a shoplifter hides merchandise between the pages of the newspaper), Umbrellas (when a shoplifter hides merchandise in an umbrella) or staged arguments used to divert employees attention while shoplifters who use a combination of these tactics.

Nor are bag checks effective against baby strollers, which are often allowed to pass these retail checkpoints. While everyone in the store is looking at lil’ Precious, Mom is hiding merchandise under the blankets the toys, and even the baby!

Dye packs? Shoplifters freeze the garments, wrap duct tape around the pin and break them with a hammer. And those wonderful magnetic alarms that make all that noise at the door? They don’t go off when a person is wearing a shirt or jacket lined with plain old tin foil.

So does this mean that retailers should do nothing to secure their merchandise? No, it doesn’t. But when retailers use tactics that utilize racial profiling to secure their businesses it actually makes them less safe. While they’re spending most of their time looking at customers of color, employees and white women are walking away with their profits. A comprehensive retail security plan doesn’t look at the color of the customer but the actions that define their character.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Check My Bag? No, I think I'll Check My Senses And Shop Someplace Else

Shopping in the South Bronx I’ve run into this sign a lot in my life:


Usually I’d see it at local retailers in places like Third Avenue, Fordham Road and 170th Street in the Bronx when I was a kid. Store owners often claimed they checked bags as a “security” measure to prevent shoplifting.

Over the years I grew accustomed to it. When I was growing up in the late 1980’s early 1990’s I often saw these signs at the Jeans and Sneaker stores Like Dr. Jay’s and V.I.M. with all the trendy cool clothes everybody coveted in High School. As I grew older I noticed these signs and booths were emerging at the Supermarket, drugstores, and even 99cent stores. Basically in order to shop there, a customer had to give a clerk their bags from previous stores they shopped with and they’d hand them a card or something. When the customer finished shopping, they gave the clerk the card back and got their bags back. In most cases. About 85-90% of the time.

But if they lost the customer's bags…

They were only liable  for up to about $15. So if a customer had a $2000 laptop in there with their LIFE on it and a store employee gave it to some dude who said it was his bag...

Screw the customer who trusted the retailer to take reasonable care of their stuff. The store is only responsible for $15.

It always irked me how these retailers with the bag check policies implied customers who patronized their businesses were responsible for the loss of merchandise, however, if the retailer lost a customer’s bags they weren’t responsible for reimbursing the customer for the value of the contents of their bags. Nice double standard there. Isn’t this supposed to work both ways? Wouldn’t a retailer reimbursing a customer for their $2000 laptop teach the store to be more careful with a customer’s possessions?

What really aggravates me is how careless store clerks are with customer’s stuff after it's checked. In supermarkets I’ve watched clerks walk away from the customer’s bags leaving them unattended to go do other stuff. Sometimes clerks would be doing something on the other side of the store for fifteen minutes to a half-hour while customer’s bags are just THERE. For anyone to take. Sure, in some stores the customer’s stuff is behind a counter. But the person paid to hold the customer’s stuff ISN’T THERE WATCHING IT. With the customer’s bags TWO FEET FROM THE DOOR, and NO ONE SECURING IT, ANYONE CAN JUST TAKE A CUSTOMER’S BAGS AND WALK OUT.

But screw the customer. Even though the store’s employees and management are clearly negligent, the retailer is only responsible for $15.

What’s even more disturbing is what I’ve seen in some supermarkets lately. Customers’ bags are either left on top of the counter or just thrown onto a pile near the window with no one watching them. Some security there.

Yeah, checking bags is supposed to stop people from sneaking store merchandise in their bags, but WHO IS PROTECTING THE CUSTOMER’S BAGS FROM THEFT?

That’s the question I really want an answer to. Shouldn’t this work both ways? Shouldn’t the retailer be making thier best efforts to protect the customer’s stuff from theft? Why aren’t they held liable for not taking reasonable care of a customer’s stuff?

That's right if a customer walks into a store with a bag check policy with that $2000 laptop check it, in and the store's staff loses it, the store is only responsible for $15 because it’s implied that you read the sign (wherever it’s placed) and understood you entered into a contract with the retailer.

But the retailer only being responsible for $15 sounds like a cop-out to me. If these inner-city retailers are so afraid of theft, then why not hire a plain-clothed licensed security guard who has their 8-hour certificate to protect merchandise? Certified security guards make about the same wages as a store clerk. And wouldn’t a guard be more effective against preventing shoplifters from walking out with merchandise because they’re trained on what suspicious behaviors to look for?

That’s how Macy’s and the big supermarkets like PathMark police their shops. But local inner-city retailers think having some untrained kid checking bags and looking out for shoplifters is a good idea.

Having a clerk doing security in addition to stocking shelves and working deli counter never seemed like an effective way to prevent shoplifting to me. It always seemed like a BIG ASS lawsuit waiting to happen. So let’s say the clerk catches a shoplifter and injures them in preventing a theft. The store would be held liable for having staff using excessive force, and the employee would be held liable individually as well.

Why? Because neither is a licensed, trained and certified security guard.

And what if said clerk is injured or killed in confronting a shoplifter in securing merchandise? Who pays their medical bills? Funeral expenses? Pain and suffering? Local retailers may carry insurance on their merchandise, but many can barely afford to pay their bills at the end of the month. An employee getting injured or killed on the job would put a small retailer out of business.

Yeah, it’s noble that an employee would fight to defend the store and protect its merchandise. But certain policies implemented by local retailers to stop shoplifters like bag checks and clerks working security are penny wise and pound foolish. This is why the big chains like Target, Gap, and Sears make it company policy to tell store employees NOT to confront or engage shoplifters on the sales floor. In their eyes engaging shoplifters in-store is seen as an escalation  which can lead to more violence and injury of staff and customers especially if a thief is armed with a weapon. They’re willing to eat the loss of merchandise with their insurance rather than deal with the expense of a huge lawsuit if someone gets injured or killed on the premises. Sounds crazy, but it saves lives and money long-term.

Retailers call bag checks a security measure. Customers of color endure them as part of shopping in the Inner-City.

I call them racial profiling.

Seriously, why is it only in inner-city stores there are these bag check policies at the door? Why is it implied that people of color are going to shoplift before they enter the store? I know the inner-city is a dangerous place, but 99 percent of the people in the inner-city aren’t criminals. Most people are just out to shop; they shouldn’t have to endure a battery of security checks to get a gallon of milk.

Seriously, why is it when I shop in the ghetto are my $20, $50 and $100 bills scrutinized to ensure they aren’t counterfeit? Why is it when I want to use my credit card or debit card with a local retailer who isn’t a chain store, I have to show ID? Why does a person of color have to spend a minimum of $15 in an inner city retailer if they want to use a credit card? And why is there no cash refund and only an exchange in local inner-city stores?

I find it funny that when I travel into chain stores in my neighborhood, like Rite Aid, Target, and Path Mark, there are NO bag checks. In these stores my money isn’t scrutinized for authenticity when I use $20, $50, and $100 bills. I can use debit or credit card without being asked for ID. I can spend as little as a penny on a debit card or a credit card if I like. And I can return stuff for a full refund at almost any time within 90-180 days.

Moreover, when I shop at stores Below 96th Street in New York City like Whole Foods, Duane Reade, and Food Emporium, not only are there NO bag checks or other discriminatory retail policies, but customers are allowed to bring in stuff like strollers and bikes in while they shopped. Heck, I’ve seen them bring DOGS into retail businesses unchallenged!

But let a person of color do this North of 96th Street and retailers throw a hissy fit. Not only accusing them of stealing, but accusing them of disrupting their store!

I’ll note there were a few stores that initiated these crazy bag check policies and other restrictive rules below 96th Street in Manhattan. I’ll note that all of them quickly went out of business.

Why? RICH WHITE CUSTOMERS WON’T PUT UP WITH THAT SHIT. If a retailer implemented these policies such as bag checks in places like the Upper East Side, the ENTIRE NEIGHBORHOOD would stop shopping there. Moreover, other competing retailers would capitalize on their stupidity of retailers in these high-rent areas by posting signs stating they DIDN’T CHECK BAGS and take customers from them.

Now that I’ve grown up and become aware of racial profiling in retail I do my best to make it to avoid shopping with retailers who check bags and practice other policies that discriminate against customers of color. As much as I like to support local businesses in my neighborhood, I’m not going to tolerate being disrespected by merchants who do not value my business. I feel that if a retailer can’t trust me with their merchandise, then I can’t trust them with my money. As a paying customer I deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, not like a criminal casing the joint.

Check my bag? No, I’ll check my senses and find some other place to shop.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Progress Report

Things in Shawn’s writing world are hectic. After taking a little break to rest up this summer, I’m back at the keyboard.

Regarding previously published works:

All About Marilyn was on Amazon’s bestseller list for the second time in the Screenplay category a few weeks ago. The book looks like it could be overtaking Isis as my most successful title. Could it stay on Amazon’s bestseller list? I’m crossing my fingers and praying for a breakthrough.

On the promotion front, Marilyn’s press release has passed 920 plus hits. Looks like the press release will be headed towards 1000 hits soon!

Thanks to my promotional efforts, and the efforts of others out there, more people know about All About Marilyn than any of my other books. The word is getting out there!

The Cassandra Cookbook's  press release has passed 797hits and is headed towards 800 hits.

On the sales front, I’m gonna do a blog about Cassandra in the future. That poor book was on sale for $2.36 this summer on Amazon with no takers. When a great book with great reviews costs less than a pack of Oreos and no one wants it, it’s a failure. Chalking up Cassandra as a loss and moving on.

Isis still has a following, and is still well-received by readers.

I’m hard at work on the final production stages of Book #4, The Temptation of John Haynes. With the editing and page layouts finished (as best as I can), now I’m now onto the cover design stage. Cover design can be just as intense as writing; finding that one solitary image to tell a story is more challenging than typing up the words of the manuscript.

She's supposed to be going for that bow tie, but the hands I drew are crap. The face on John is OFF MODEL in this  one and That's  supposed to be a tux. 
I’m drawing pictures for the artist to work with for Temptation’s cover. Model sheets of characters, portraits, the whole nine. Studying the likeness of actors I based some of the characters on so I can draw them into the characters I imagined. Here’s a rough sketch for the concept of Temptation’s this cover:
This one captures more of what I want the cover to look like. Yeah, I know the hands are STILL crap. A lot wrong with this concept sketch, John is a little more on model, but E'steem's facial expression is supposed to be her going in for a kiss/bite. I'm trying to iron stuff out like composition and body placement. before contacting a professional artist to render the design for me!

These are more like doodles than a drawing, so bear with the crappiness of my art. Nothing is symmetrical; I’m trying to capture the spirit of the characters on the page. More crappy drawings to come!

I’m also pondering putting some type of design on the back behind the synopsis. I really liked how Marilyn’s back cover art worked out, and back covers are so underutilized in publishing. Books have to compete with DVDs and the Internet in retail spaces, so one of my goals is to design the back cover to be just as visually appealing as the front. Back covers are voids of empty space waiting for publishers to capitalize on!

Also checking out several artists and their work along with their rates. If I can get a good deal, I might ask the artist to pencil & ink some Isis stuff (I love that character) if I can afford it after paying for the cover. Always wanted to see what my characters would look like if they were rendered by a professional.

After the art is done, then I’ll secure the ISBN and fret and worry as I take that cool Photoshop stuff I teased last week and merge it with the JPEG of the artist’s cover when I get it in a couple of months. Fret and worry some more as I merge everything on a Lightning Source Template on the .EPS. (Encapsulated Post Script) Distill that .EPS with Acrobat Distiller and create the PDF (Portable Document Format) for the cover. Keep everything in the red and blue dotted lines of the template. Remember to delete the layer of dots of the template before submitting anything. Does any of that make sense? Anyway, I’m gonna drive myself crazy over the next couple of months. But it’s gonna be totally worth it for my growing audience of a dozen or so readers!

I’m doing my best to make sure the quality control on Temptation is better than on any of my previous books. I want to give readers the best quality reading experience possible.

On the promotion side, I’m working with scaled back plan. Way back than previous campaigns. Temptation is LONG (94,000 words) and close to 400 pages. So the printing costs are higher than on a smaller 220 page book like Marilyn.

To make this book’s initial print run cost out, I can only send out a handful of review copies. It may be as low as five or six this time as opposed to the dozen or so I sent out with The Cassandra Cookbook and All About Marilyn. In the past I’ve sent books out to book clubs for reviews and in a lot of cases (especially Marilyn’s) the book wasn’t read. I can’t afford to keep doing that. Books cost money, postage costs money, as does bus fare for trips to the post office. With me being out of work and Unemployment running out soon, I can’t afford to spend money like I did in previous promotional campaigns.

I also won’t be able to afford to offer free copies of Temptation to vendors. From now on, my promotion of titles will be mostly online with social media.

Long-term, my goal is to have Temptation released in early 2011, with Nikki’s series bible being released soon after. Did some research and I learned what I was writing is actually a TV series bible, something producers and screenwriters use to develop and design a Television series. It’s going to be a great companion piece to All About Marilyn, and a fun book for anyone who wants to learn something about writing TV scripts!

I’m still doing some page layout cleanups and ironing out some grammar issues on that book. But thankfully, the cover design is done for that one!

In other news:

Big news concerning this blog: Starting this week, it’ll update twice a week! I only posted a blog once a week so readers could catch up with their reading, but I’ve got so many great topics I want to write about material is backing up. Also want to see if more posts translates into more readers.

I’m thinking about having it update Thursday and Saturday Nights so readers can still catch up on stuff and give myself a window to work with. Still working out the content issues; Thursday’s blog would usually be something light while Saturday’s blog will remain something more substantive and political.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Book #4 Teaser

The progress on Book #4 has been slow and steady. Really Really slow, but steady. Five years going on six. With the page layouts finished, I’m doing cover design now. Working out the Photoshop layouts for a second rough cover:

(cover is not final!)

And I’m really pleased with how it looks. The graphics for the logo look like something professional this time. I’d say this one looks bookstore quality! 

I DO NOT want to illustrate this cover! While I’m working on some drawings for the artist to work from, I’m willing to accept my limitations. I think a professional can do better work than I can in this area.

Temptation will be available Sometime around Early 2011. Not giving anything away on the plot, but it’s a fantasy novel. Think Devil’s Advocate meets Ghostbusters with a sprinkle of Vampire in Brooklyn. You’re gonna love it!

Next week will be a progress report with some exciting news about this blog! 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Lab Cat Chronichles-Anything is Pawsible - A great book for kids 7-12!

By Savannah North

ISBN-13: 978-1602645202
Suggested Retail Price $9.95

James is a high school freshman in trouble again; only this time he has reached the limit. As luck would have it he was trying to help someone and happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just as he begins to avoid trouble, trouble has found him again in the shape of small, brightly colored laboratory experiments that have gone to the dogs - or rather, the cats.

When James tries to dodge the responsibilities of having to care for his new 'pets', he finds that the easy way isn't always the best way. Will he be able to escape from his past while making an easier life for himself? His decisions could send him down a road he doesn't want to travel. Will that path lead to a
'dead' end?

For me, Lab Cat Chronichles was a fun YA novel. Author Savannah North crafts a solid plot in an imaginative story with a great message about responsibility and growing up. I would definitely love to see a sequel to this book, or even a series. The cats are just so much fun to read about!

In between the pages are some great illustrations by North. I highly recommend this story, It’s an entertaining book that will put a smile on your face.

This is a great story for kids ages 7-12, So while you're shopping for books for the kids, Pick up Lab Cat Chronichles at Amazon today!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A trip down Memory Lane

Before I wrote:
All these great books are available at Amazon by clicking one of the links on the side.
All About Nikki will be coming sometime in 2011!

 I wrote:

Classic Mayor Fox Covers! What happens when your kids have too much time and too much imagination!

Way back in 1982-83, when I was a little cheese, living in a rundown one-bedroom apartment next to the Metro-North railroad tracks on Park Avenue in the burnt down Bronx, I became enamored with a Richard Scarry character called Mayor Fox. In between games of Tabletop Pac-man, the Atari 5200, Saturday Morning cartoons, trips to Alexander’s, McDonald’s, Pioneer Supermarket and the Pizza shop on Washington Avenue, I devoured all the Richard Scarry books my parents bought me. I also had most of the Puzzletown figurines. 

(c) TM 1976 Richard Scarry. Thank You for Inspiring me to create.

I also loved the comic books in my brother’s comic collection. Unable to draw the intricate art I saw in  his comics, I decided to use words to make the pictures in my Mayor Fox adventures. After I wrote my Mayor Fox stories, I took a little Elmer’s glue, some construction paper to design a cover and made these crude comic books featuring my favorite characters (and a couple of others co-opted from Disney movies, TV shows and other stuff). Oh and like any good comics , mine feature ads from sponsors:

Look kids
Crudely desinged back interior ads! I think the networks would pay me NOT to endorse their shows in my home-made magazines!

Snorks! Hey this was a favorite back in the day. On Saturday morning at 8::30 on Channel 4 back in 1983 or 1984.
Some of these home-made comic books like this issue were ahead of their time incorporating bonus material inside their pages:

Look kids, it's a poorly drawn Voltron Poster by an 11-year old that has nothing to do with the story. I just liked the show!
And on the back- A Garret A. Morgan CES 132 Memo!

Others like this later issue depicting the death of a major character were 72 pages long. The cover idea for this came from the Daily News front page featuring the rubout of Mob Boss Paul Castellano way Back in 1986:

The interior page of this issue with the official Mayor Fox seal! Check out my commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the Statue of Liberty at the top of the page!

I took my allowance and got a Record book from McCrorys on Third Avenue and made these:

The first books I ever wrote!

The wrecked accounting book ith the Heathcliff Stickers from 1983 is a compendium of the First Mayor Fox Stories I wrote when I was nine. The non-stickered book is a compendium of crap I put together with help from classmates in 1984 when I was in gixth grade.

No front matter here, we get right to the story!

Even though I’ve moved on to publishing real books, I still cherish my home-made comics and books. Sure they’re crude, poorly written, and filled with very silly stories that only make sense to me.
I hope by seeing these home-made comics all the readers of this blog will understand why it’s important to never give up on your dreams. I wanted to be a writer since I was nine years old and twenty-seven years later I’m living my dream. So keep persevering, one day your dreams will come true!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Could Shawn James Make A Better Movie Than Tyler Perry?

Okay, I got a lot of comments regarding my scathing review of Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married Too?. A couple of people replied that if I could do better, why don’t I try to make a movie and see if it would be better than Perry’s recent work. Reading those comments, I’m wondering: If provided with the same resources and a similar production budget, could I make a better movie than Tyler Perry?

Could I make a better movie than Tyler Perry? Could I even make a watchable movie? Who knows? Tyler Perry started in theater with no experience and just a dream. A couple years later he started making movies with no experience, and now he’s producing TV shows with no experience or training. How would my skills compare to his at filmmaking?

Sure I’ve got a little background knowledge. I’ve read Syd Field’s Screenplay and Robert McKee’s Story a couple of times. Sure I’ve studied and researched screenwriting online from guys like The Unkown Screenwriter. Sure I’ve got sixteen years of experience as a novelist and five as an amateur screenwriter. Sure I’ve got three self-published books under my belt. But when it comes to making a movie I’m still a guy with no film experience and a bunch of dreams.

Yeah, I’ve written a couple of scripts. I don’t know if they’d work onscreen. But I’d sure love to give making a movie a shot. I’d love to see how my style of storytelling translated to the screen. Anyone who has read my books knows my writing style is very visual; some have told me it works very well for movies. It’d be a challenge to see if something I wrote would translate from page to performance on film.

I don’t have a lot of technical knowledge about film. I don’t know how to work a movie camera how to establish shots, direct actors, or how to edit video. I have no idea on how to manage a production budget. But I know what I like. And I know what I like in a story. What I could do with $20 million dollar budget like the one spent to make Why Did I Get Married Too? Would I be capable of making an entertaining film? Would any film I made be better quality than Tyler Perry’s films?

I don’t know. But it’d be interesting to see if I could make a movie from one of my scripts. Any film I made using the same $20 million budget, talent pool of actors, and production staff probably couldn’t be any worse than what Tyler Perry is producing now. I’m pretty creative; with a $20 million budget I think I’d be able to make a decent quality version of The Cassandra Cookbook or All About Marilyn.

But would the audiences pay to see it? Or would they ignore it like other recent well-made Black films like Akeelah and the Bee, Black Dynamite, Pride, and The Great Debaters that weren't made by Tyler Perry?

That’s a question I can’t answer. Who knows what the future holds. But if offered the chance to make my own movie based on my own material, I’d go for it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

What's Going On With Black Cinema?

What’s going on with Black Cinema?

It’s a conundrum I’m trying to figure out. Why don’t brothers and sisters want to go out and see movies featuring people who look like them starring in lead roles? Is it because Black people don’t like themselves? Or is it because Black people don’t like the movies being offered?

I’m wondering what happened to turn African-Americans away from Black movies. From the late 1980’s to the early 2000s it was like a golden age for Black film. There was almost a new movie with a predominantly African-American cast playing every week. African-Americans then were eager to go to the movies to see future classics like Hollywood Shuffle, Do the Right Thing, House Party, Boomerang, Boyz N the Hood, What’s Love Got to Do with It?, Set It Off, Jason’s Lyric, Friday, Posse, and countless other films. Black films in this era were made with a higher level of quality than in the Blaxploitation period of the 1970’s. Filmmakers paid attention to their craft and critics noticed. Black stars were emerging left and right. Black performers were making inroads on Hollywood’s A-list. More and more Black performers and directors were getting nominated for Academy Awards and Black movies were making big money at the box-office.

Then Denzel Won an Oscar. And Halle won an Oscar. And all of a sudden after 2002 all the progress Black filmmakers were making in towards improving their craft just stopped. Now in 2010 as the institution of Black Cinema regresses to a state I haven’t seen since the 1970’s regarding quality I’m scratching my head wondering what happened to black cinema and what’s turning Black audiences away from it.

From what I’m hearing on the street and on the Message boards, blogs and other websites, most brothers and sisters feel that a “Black” movie now means a poor quality film not worth the price of admission. Many brothers and sisters say are tired of poorly written, poorly directed, poorly acted and poorly produced low-budget features full of stereotypes that take their dollars and don’t give them a quality entertainment experience in return. Moreover, many Black filmgoers say they’re frustrated about feeling obligated to support poorly made “black” films just because they’re made by African-American producers. African-American filmgoers feel like they’re being taken for granted by filmmakers who just want to make a fast buck off them and pay no attention to crafts such as screenwriting, acting, cinematography or editing in their projects.

In Hollywood, there’s also a negative perception regarding Black films; movies with two or more African-American performers in lead roles. Some A-list black male actors are so afraid of the “Black” label that they refuse to have an African-American female co-star, instead opting for Latina or Asian co-stars so their films won’t be seen as inferior quality and fail at the box-office. Others choose to star in mainstream films so they won’t be typecast as a “Black” performer.

Behind the camera there’s also anxiety about producing “Black” films. Studio executives are afraid of investing money in “Black” films because they do so poorly at the box office. Directors are afraid of a “Black” label on film because it can mean up to a 50% cut in their production budget compared to a white film. When completed “Black” films, receive limited theatrical distribution, release dates in cinematic slow periods such as August and February and a next to no studio support when it comes to promotion on TV and in print media. Due this vicious cycle, “Black” movies have been performing poorly at the box office in recent years. Worse, a negative stigma has been associated with Black films and films telling stories about the African-American experience.

The conundrum regarding the sad state of affairs in Black Cinema has become a chicken or the egg situation. Where does the problem start? The poor quality films or the lukewarm audience support?

Brothers and Sisters say they want better quality Black films. However, their actions at the box-office speak volumes about the current situation. When studios present acclaimed films featuring African-American actors in intelligent complex roles or well-developed storylines, these films are met with no support from African-American audiences at the box office. Meanwhile, a poorly made urban-themed film filled with exploitative racist stereotypes will open at $20 million. The way Brothers and Sisters spend their money at the movies is sending a direct message to studio executives. What’s that message? To produce more of the poor-quality films they complain about. Why? Movie studios like any good business only produce what makes money, and sadly what makes them money these days are those poorly made exploitative films so many African-Americans complain about.

For any filmmaker, screenwriter, or producer who wants to produce better quality African-American movies this conundrum makes their quest to produce a film an even more difficult struggle. It’s hard to get antsy studio executives eager to invest more money in better quality African-American movies like The Great Debaters, Akeelah and The Bee, or Black Dynamite when African-American audiences won’t get up off their butts and buy movie tickets for them. It becomes a challenge to get A-list black actors enthusiastic about starring in a project to target African-Americans when they fear the finished film will fail at the box-office and tarnish their reputations.

With the sad state of affairs regarding black films today I have to wonder: Do Black audiences find contemporary images of African-Americans onscreen appealing anymore? Is there a need for films that tell stories about the African American experience? Or is the concept of a “Black” film with a primarily African-American cast outdated? I mean seriously, what’s wrong with Black Cinema? Out of all the African-Americans in the entertainment industry, why can’t our talented brothers and sisters come together to produce an entertaining, well-made original contemporary film with a predominantly African-American cast these days? And why can’t these films find an audience at the box-office?

I know there has to be an answer to these questions. I know there has to break this vicious cycle. There has to be a way to get studios eager to make Black films again. There has to be a way to get African-American actors passionate about starring in African-American films again. There has to be a way to get African-American audiences excited about going to the movies again. It’s clear to me Black America loves Black Cinema, and African-American filmmakers have to find a way to make a better quality cinematic

So I ask again: What’s going on with Black Cinema?