Black Diary: A Personal Review (2023)

Black Diary: A Personal Review (1)

Let me start with the obvious: images in the American media, not just images of black people, but all images, are heavily influenced by the political conditions of the time. Furthermore, black images have not been and are not controlled by black producers and therefore these images were created to serve the psychic purposes of those who control them. Because Europeans originally brought Africans here as slaves to perform services and jobs and nothing else, depictions of these slaves were used to rationalize and reinforce their intended place in society. Thus, racial stereotypes became a symbol of the mental restructuring of the African presence in America.

My own beginnings in the cinema as a member of the production teamblack diarypublic service television series in 1968 I owe as much to the social conditions of the time as to my own energy. In those days, there was an active general malaise among the African-American population due to discrimination and second-class treatment. The civil rights movement, based on the principles of nonviolence and appealing to the broader society for justice, began to take hold as protesters and activists became frustrated by violent resistance and government inaction. Furthermore, energy and frustration at the slow pace of fundamental change shifted from the rural cities of the South to the inner cities of the large urban centers of the North. Thus, in cities with large black populations such as Detroit, Newark, and the Watts area of ​​Los Angeles, planned and spontaneous riots broke out, usually triggered by a symbolic incident but also provoked by a long list of unfair conditions.

In addition to discrimination, blacks resented the lack of participation and recognized contributions to American society. A particular complaint was the lack of presence in the electronic media and the negative bias that occurred when we were represented. Therefore, programs, funds, and agencies were made available to give the media access to black images so that black issues could be addressed. It should be noted that these changes, celebrated by African Americans for their belief in the power of the media, were not made out of charity, benevolence, or goodwill, but were instead the result of pressure from the revolutionary potential of the black protest movement. pressure from people on the street, disrupting the normal course of business and, one way or another, partly with bricks, partly with pens, demanding a share in social processes as they perceived them.

Black Diary: A Personal Review (2)

Under these conditions it was soblack diaryThe series were created as part of tax-subsidized public television. Alvin Perlmutter, a white producer for National Educational Television (the public television system before public broadcasting), came up with the idea for the series in April 1968 after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a response both to the report of the Kerner Commission on Race Relations in the United States, which urged the media to "broaden and intensify coverage of the black community", and to the growing climate of self-determination in black communities across the country. Perlmutter and producer/writer Lou Potter were tasked with developing a format and finding a team.

After extensive meetings with leaders and ordinary people in black communities across the country, a program for a public relations magazine was agreed upon. A team of NET employees and others were then hired specifically for diarywas mounted. I was a graduate student at Columbia University at the time, but was recently suspended for my part in the 1968 Columbia University student takeover. Fresh off the barricades and a night in the prison, I was interviewed and hired by NET as an associate producer. At this point, a fundamental contradiction emerged that re-traumatized this effort. NET's PR department touted the series in its press releases as shows "by, for and about black people," but despite the fact that two black hosts were on camera: independent filmmaker William Greaves and former Chicago radio reporter Lou House (who later took his name from an African name "slave", Wali Sadiq) – the team eventually consisted of 12 black people out of a 20-person team. More importantly, Perlmutter, who was white, became the executive producer with editorial control of the series.

The series went into active production in May and premiered in June 1968, to critical acclaim and unprecedented audience response (for public television). Segments from the first show consisted of an interview with Huey Newton in the Oakland jail about the future of the Black Panthers, a report on the Washington, D.C. poor people's campaign, a satirical sketch about the use of black people in advertising , an essay on Black College Graduates' Visions of the Future, a profile of a Harlem-based African-style clothing manufacturer, a portrait of a black horseman, and coverage of a Coretta King speech at Harvard University.

Despite the series' immediate success with audiences, several questions remained to be answered: Who was the primary audience? Did this decision affect the content of the program and how? The use of predominantly white film crews contradicted the stated diary? Gradually, attribution issues and editorial opinions became points of discussion among employees. For example, when a breakdown was made of the percentage of shows produced by whites versus shows produced by blacks, it was found that the former far outnumbered the latter. Disagreements also arose over editorial policy. When a white producer wrote the intro to a message claiming that the black community supported Israel and denied Arab protests over land grabbing, an argument broke out in the studio during the recording, which only died down after the rewrite of the voice-over.

The issue came to a head when 11 black members of the production team demanded that the white executive producer be replaced with a black executive producer, citing the ET press diaryit was produced "by, for, and about blacks." .

In an article published in Variety, NET management stated that it intends to "promote within the unit and increase the unit's black composition as soon as team members are ready to advance." Media columnists wrote extensively about the strike, and within a week, NET accepted the demands. Greaves, the show's host, became the new executive producer. Perlmutter became a non-editorial consultant. Potter was given the new editor-in-chief position and the option to work on other NET projects, and most other white producers were dropped to return to other NET engagements (Phil Burton remained the only white producer and did several excellent works).

Several changes occurred after this traumatic experience. the spirit ofblack diaryThe team additionally engaged with “the people,” but due to the widespread struggle for control of the program, we also gained support from national black community leaders. We also gained a sizeable white audience who wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Interestingly, the general white response was not as antagonistic as we had hoped, largely because we did not use our airtime to denounce white racism (which existed), but rather to document, investigate, and articulate the political, economic, and cultural issues facing whites. africans. Americans With only one hour a monthblack diaryProgramming to rival the endless hours of "white newspapers," we thought we shouldn't waste time complaining about whites because our mission was to bring valuable information and analysis to blacks. Another major change after the strike was the promotion of editor Madeline Anderson to producer, the team's first black producer. Although there was a white female producer and black women served as production assistants, editors, and researchers, NET never had a black female producer.

In our editorial meetings, Executive Producer Greaves established editorial guidelines that served to differentiate and unify our diary, he explained, you must: 1. define the black reality of any potential film situation, 2. identify the causes of any problems in that situation, and 3. document attempts to resolve those problems, whether successful or not. In this way, Greaves believed, any short documentary would be a teaching tool about how black people could work to solve common problems. Films about important personalities in culture, politics and education must document their existence in a society whose history has often excluded them. Greaves knew what we, the younger crew, didn't: this filming opportunity wouldn't last, but the movies would.

Due to the unique national position ofblack diaryOn the media scene we carried out various projects between 1968 and 1971 to increase the participation of the so-called "minorities" (what we call the Third World).

Our own series producers also relied on predominantly white crews because there were very few freelance technicians in the third world, because it was hard to find work regularly and therefore gain experience and skills. EITHERblack diaryTaller de Cine was created to fill this void. Word soon spread that a 10-week crash course in the fundamentals of filmmaking was being offered and that talented graduates could get jobs as cameramen. The instructors were black and white technicians who volunteered their time to teach the new recruits. This created a group of Third World technicians who not only started workingblack diaryDocumentaries, but armed with sample reels, they began working on other productions as well. Eventually, Peggy Pinn, the crew's production coordinator, resigned, raised money for the crew and crew, and ran the Film Workshop for five years to train hundreds of Third World technicians, many of whom still work at the film and television industry.

Film critic and historian Clyde Taylor has written extensively on contemporary independent cinema and its diaryin the editorial tone and documentary imagery used to define black themes. To date, television has rarely shown material from the point of view of a black participant. A white commentator has always interpreted for the public "what these people want", whether through narration or an appearance on camera. This was standard procedure for television news. In itblack diaryWe have insisted that the characters in our films speak for themselves as much as possible and that when narration is used, the narrator adopts a defensive tone. There was also a strong cultural identification with Africa, which was part of the movement's affirmation of its African roots and cultural values: the show's hosts often wore African clothing, and African percussion was used as introductory music.

At that time, again due to the political climate, a constituency was created for this new black programming, or as it became known as "minority programming." As we have seen, the purpose of "minority programming" in the public affairs sector of television news was clear: to give so-called "minorities" the opportunity to speak on issues they considered important. In addition toblack Diary,there was a series called Soul!, an entertainment show that provided a forum for artists who had been largely ignored by mainstream television. It's hard to imagine in this Bill Cosby era, but there was a time when you could stare and not see blackface on a TV show. then cameblack diaryand an explosion of local public affairs shows aimed at so-called "minority" audiences.

Both of these innovative programs played a necessary role quite effectively, but they were created in response to a recognized need: they served audiences that had never been properly and directly addressed before. The programs and their imitations could be described as "the first generation of minority programs." If there was a mistake in that first try, it was a narrowing of the gaze, which was unavoidable at the time. For example, by targeting blacks only through blacks, a large segment of the audience was excluded, but more importantly, the role of so-called "minorities" within the general fabric of society was ignored and American culture.

The second generation of "minority" programming—based on the premise that our culture needed to be affirmed in the first place—attempted to correct some of these unavoidable limitations. An example of this corrective programming was a PBS show called Interface, which showed the interaction of different cultures in the United States in addressing everyday problems. Developed by black producer/writer Ardie Ivie and hosted by Bthe diary is missingGraduated from Tony Batten, Interface focused on interactions between ethnic groups, but was also limited to one specific aspect of life in the United States, namely cultural interaction (in the anthropological sense). At the same time, another programblack perspective in the news, took a "hard news" approach and opened its guest list to all races, with the understanding that anyone in this country can be affected by a mob of journalists of all races. However, the format of the messages prevented the viewer from gaining a multidimensional understanding of the issues raised. In short, we still talk to black people, but about black and non-black issues.

The next step to be taken would have been to characterize blacks as participants in American society speaking on any issue, that is, a view and interpretation of issues based on so-called "minority" experience but related to issues, trends, and phenomena. . they are not necessarily concerned with "minority" life. This would take a closer look at not only institutions of particular interest to "minorities", but also those institutions that affect everyone, since one has to understand that everything in the US affects every person in the United States. USA somehow. . This phase never fully developed, however, largely due to the political resurgence of right-wing conservatives, the calculated attacks by the Nixon and Reagan administrations to stop and actually reverse the social gains people were fighting for, and , most importantly, the lack of black participation in decision-making within the political and economic process.

to the life ofblack diaryit was closely associated with the black movement that spawned it. When he cut money for social programs in the early 1970s,black diaryNET's production budget was cut from $100,000 to $50,000 per show by NET's management. To compensate, documentaries on the site were cut, more studio production was made, and summer reruns were introduced. Foundations, corporations, and community organizations were approached for production funding, but the changing political agenda affected their ability and/or willingness to contribute to a television series advocating for social change.

As the means of production dwindled, it became more difficult to maintain the high standards we started with, so little by little the team began to look for other avenues for their ideas and talents. Greaves, who had his own production company before joiningblack diaryemployee, fired. Other producers applied and got jobs in the network's news departments. I left the company in April 1971 to pursue more personal and stylized film projects. A few months later, Tony Brown became the new executive producer and began experimenting with formats that would attract financial subscription. After several format changes ranging from a game show to a Carson-type talk show to a variety entertainment show, Brown changed the name of the series to Tony Brown's Journal. He remains an executive producer/host to this day. As one of the six producers of the series, I spent almost three years traveling the United States making documentaries on various aspects and issues of black America. That's a lesson I've never forgotten: that my source as a filmmaker or artist comes from the audiences I hope to serve. Of course, my understanding of what that means has gotten more complicated over time.

The shift to the right and the deterioration of the economic system over the last decade and a half have affected black filmmakers more than white filmmakers. In the black independent production sector, an area that has always been difficult to sustain, alternative sources such as public television, foundation grants, and other specialized programming have diminished. In addition, the dominance of the right has narrowed the range of "producible themes" and acceptable images. This, in turn, has created a wave of escapist imagery and storytelling that distorts and/or reinterprets any creative element that could seriously challenge the worldview of those who control key resources. Despite these significant hurdles, hurdles that affect all independent producers, not just Black filmmakers, Black history in this country has shown that we have been strong in our cultural expression, and that is what film and film really are. television, after all. The social movement that gave rise toblack diaryThe series achieved some of its goals related to racial identity and recognition of the need for economic and political self-determination. In general, we no longer need to prove our value or validity on the big or small screen. Self-determination is an act of liberation and ultimately a healthy process. Every person should have the right and the opportunity to see himself reflected in the cultural expression and information about the current events of the country in which he lives. Mainstream TV has shown, at least so far, that it can't or won't, so it's up to us, the independents, to fill that void.

St. Clair Bourne is a 20-year veteran producer/director with over 30 films to his credit.

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