When thinking of the African-American entertainment audience, the tragic Greek figure Narcissus comes to mind. A beautiful, majestic and mighty character with an innate desire to consume his own image so voraciously that it leads to his own demise. Many would put African-American images projected in some forms of rap, reality shows, and most recently Tyler Perry's films in this category. Some industry observers say this current crop of content is the fault of the artists and audiences. I do not.
Despite the unprecedented digital innovation in the distribution of content, the current state of African-American media can be traced to the fact that our industry still views this audience in vaudevillian-era terms. At the moment, the entertainment industry is less about creativity and more about winning the consumer dollars in southwest Atlanta and other urban areas. While it's nice to see the industry recognize the purchasing power of urban consumers, we can aim higher. And with the enormous capabilities of media to shape the trajectory of cultures all across the globe, we should shoot for the moon.
The current limited vision, low creative and financial expectations of media companies for African-American content has created an ecosystem based on scarcity where filmmakers and artists develop and pitch projects they think will sell as opposed to stories they believe should be told. If I had a dime for every time I heard a filmmaker pitch a film and use the buzz words: it can be made with a "low budget", we know the exact 600 screens to "target" in urban markets, and it will appeal to "the Tyler Perry audience", I'd be able to start my own Dreamworks.
What the industry needs is for some forward thinking media company to launch an Apollo Project for African-American content, starting with film. It will be a company that says to the creative community -- we have the ability to reach 4/5 of the world's population and then asks content creators "to tell me a story".
In 1960, when President Kennedy called on the technological community to shoot for the moon he foresaw what the image of that first moonwalk, nearly a decade later, could do to inspire and transform the destiny of a nation. In the media industry, when Rupert Murdoch launched Fox News without distribution, he knew there was an audience who wanted to see their cultural and political image reflected in the news media. Whatever one thinks of the politics, no one can argue with the power of a media company who is bold enough to set its course based on a mission to explore the possibilities.
The Apollo Project for African-American Media does not mean the end of "Madea's Big Happy Family", it means thinking broadly about creative possibilities and putting content families in the context of civilization and telling stories meant to be shared across the universe, known and unknown.
Will Griffin is Chairman and CEO of Hip Hop On Demand, the industry's only African-American owned Video-on-demand channel and is currently available in over 30 Million homes on Comcast, Cox and other cable systems.