RFFocus is celebrating our 21st year in the industry as an industry entrepreneur company by spotlighting minority entrepreneurs and decision-makers who are often shunned for those who work for a corporation. There is nothing wrong with working for a corporation as long as you are being respected and making the kind of money that you make, but we want to celebrate the often forgotten industry entrepreneurs who make amazing contributions to entertainment too.
Atlanta has the greatest amount of urban radio stations in the country and without question, certainly some of the most successful black industry entrepreneurs but few stations, outside of the Radio One stations, are black owned. Steve Hegwood left the corporate radio industry in awe when he purchased and started a station with a small signal named Streetz 94.5 (W233BF FM) and it became an instant viable and competitive station in the market. Even CBS-owned behemoth V103 was forced to take note. Hegwood, an experienced and respected radio programmer, knew there was a hole to fill with hardcore hip hop in the market. The corporate stations are all heavily researched and they are rarely going to take a chance on a new song or a local act until they get the thumbs up from corporate or a research company. Hegwood decided to do what they couldn’t do and because of that he was first on many hit songs in the market and the nation. He was able to take that small signal and sell ad space, hire a staff and even do concerts by using his industry leverage and brilliant entrepreneur skills to create his own entity instead of building someone else’s.
The Atlanta market has developed its own music and film industry for blacks and they have a slew of reality shows coming out of the market. For African Americans the housing and the cost of living is much more affordable than New York or Los Angeles. For example $300,00 will get you a nice house in Atlanta or nearby suburbs, it will get you, if lucky, a condo with high association fees in Los Angeles’ suburbs and a closet in NYC.
Mention Atlanta to many industry people in New York and LA and you usually will get a lot of eyes rolling up and claims that the market is overrated. They will make reference to, what they consider, degrading reality shows and a distaste for the hip hop that comes out of the market but truth be told, Atlanta is having the last laugh.
This past month Jada Pinkett eloquently called for a boycott of the Oscars while several black films, TV, music and radio stations dominated the Atlanta market. While New York and LA is still waiting for Hollywood to accept and embrace us the Atlanta entertainment community couldn’t care less. Instead of begging, and asking people to join hands, the Atlanta market is doing and Hollywood has no choice but to take notice, more often to proof than to requests. Our leverage, without question is given birth through ownership.
To show you how much the entertainment industry was in dire straights for black talent, two Chicago housewives, one a former actress, started their own agency The Gill Hayes Agency and within six months they were immediately successful. Why? Because there were no black owned Sag Aftra registered agencies and when the hit show Empire came out and was casting in Chicago, the white talent agencies were forced to load up their rosters with the black talent they usually ignored in the hopes of making money off of them but it was too late. Critisize the show or the creator if you want to but Lee Daniels is VERY outspoken about the racism in Hollywood and he is dedicated to having diversity on his movies and shows. He is now filming a spinoff of Empire in Atlanta called “Star” about a girl group and the shows cast include a transgender character and people from all races and walks of life, something Hollywood just doesn’t do.
Quite often black celebrities and musicians complain about the lack of opportunities and industry racism when they are in the twilight of their careers or when they can’t get footing in the industry. The ones who are in the midst of their success often play-along-to-get-along feeling good as long as they are working and afraid to use their leverage when they have the most of it. Ownership, e.g. Daniels, Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey, and Gill Hayes, allows you the voice that multimillionaire black celebrities often fail to use in leu of the next gig. In other words, as long as they are working, who cares about everybody else.
Taking a Chance to Make a Change
We rarely use our leverage or invest in ourselves then we react to situations that we could have been more proactive in by ownership or using our leverage. The end result is we don’t grow as a community. Nate Parker could have been just like any other black Hollywood actor reviewing script after script waiting for his next role but the 36-year-old actor who has literally only been credited as an actor since 2004, used his own money and raised 8.3 million dollars to film the new Birth of a Nation and the rights were sold for 17.5 million. He directed, produced and acted with a lead in the film and the opportunity catapulted him into a respected Hollywood filmmaker and director as it received standing ovations at Cannes.
Isaac Hayes III pointed out in a viral video that the solution to the diversity problem in Hollywood is to create a black industry in Atlanta. As a one time transplant myself, I recognized immediately Atlantans are very protective of their entertainment industry status. They are often not very inviting to outsiders as they want to keep it in the family. To an extent, I can’t blame them, they built it without the usual political BS that many on the east and the west have dealt with and I’m sure they had their fair share of rejection and criticism early on and this may be the reason many people from NY and LA don’t want to live there. Tyler Perry was brilliant to have his studios there as a way to not only own his films and production but hire black talent for the development and on-screen work. In addition he was able to get around the Hollywood studios and the usual Hollywood rules like unions, outrageously expensive permits to film and rosters with agencies with limited black talent.
Is the answer to move all black talent to Atlanta and create our own opportunities or should we keep things the way they are?