Still Depending On The Wallets Of White Strangers…
So… awhile ago, Sergio posted an entry on Gary and Sarah Magness, the wealthy couple who put up the $10 million budget for Precious, but who reportedly felt like they’d been essentially ignored, in favor of Tyler Perry and Oprah, who are listed as executive producers of the film, even though they had absolutely nothing to do with the financing nor the production of it.
As Sergio pointed out, it’s obvious what Lionsgate’s strategy is here, by making Perry and Oprah the faces of the film; with the reach and influence both have, not only in the black community, but also amongst whites (in Oprah’s case), tickets sales should be brisk – at least, that’s the hope. Although, nothing is guaranteed. Remember Oprah’s depression over the financial failure that was 1998′s Beloved – despite a major advertising campaign, including two episodes of her talk show dedicated solely to the film, and moderate to good critical reviews, Beloved opened to poor box-office results, ultimately becoming a money-losing venture, to the reported tune of approximately $30 million!
Let’s hope history does not in fact repeat itself when Precious debuts next month.
But, back to Gary and Sarah Magness…
I’d been very curious about this mysterious couple who gave Lee Daniels $10 million for what probably looked like a risky bet at the time, but I never bothered to research them… until now. Specifically, I wondered whether they were black or white, while secretly hoping that they were black, if only to feel hopeful that there are indeed wealthy elite black people in this country who do see some need in helping fund independent black cinema, given Hollywood’s indifference. And I was somewhat disappointed to find out that they’re a white couple.
Let me make it clear that I’m glad that they took a risk when others were afraid to do so, and I’m sure many are thankful that the money was invested in the project.
Now, as Sergio’s post from a few weeks ago stated, they’ve been largely ignored by the media during Precious’s near-historic run since its Sundance win in January, even though they are, we could say, in fact directly responsible for the film’s existence! Tyler Perry and Oprah, who are listed as exec producers, had nothing to do with the financing nor the production of the film, and I can’t help but be a little perturbed by that. Yes, we could argue that it will likely be to the film’s eventual benefit that they did come aboard when they did, to help widen the film’s reach. However, I have to wonder where they were when Lee Daniels was searching for money to get the film made? Both have stated that they’d read the book before the film was produced, so they were familiar with the material. Did Daniels approach either of them during his hunt for financing? Were they aware that Daniels was trying to get the book adapted, but was having difficulty finding the money? And if so, why didn’t either of them consider jumping onboard then?
Now, they both look somewhat like heroes, while the real heroes who coughed up the $10 million to fund the film, have been largely ignored, with very few people aware of who they are, and what their story is. In fact, I’ve read postings on other sites which collectively indicate that there’s this misinformed belief that Oprah and Tyler Perry funded the project, when they obviously did not. And I think that’s unfair to the Magnesses, whose names do appear in the film’s credits, but who really should be given a platform of their own for being the engine behind this little film that’s apparently taking the world by storm. I’d actually like to see an interview in which they talk about how the entire deal came about; how they met Daniels; how he convinced them to take the risk, etc… I think that would make for a compelling story, but no one seems really interested in covering that. If anything, I think it would be informative, and instructive to other indie filmmakers hustling to raise funds for their projects.
My point to all this is, as I’ve talked about previously on this blog, the people with the money (and who are willing to and know how to spend it) are the ones with the power to get projects off the ground, and in theatres. The rest of us have to depend on the largesse of those people, putting us at a serious, obvious disadvantage. There are black people in the industry (and not in the industry) with the money (lots and lots of it), and thus the influence and power to get films financed, produced and distributed. Why does Lee Daniels have to go to a white couple to get what really is a paltry sum of money (compared to the industry average) to finance Precious, a “black film?” Why does Spike Lee have to go to Europe to find the money he needs to make Miracle At St Anna, a “black film?” Just as Peter Jackson did with Neill Blomkamp and his District 9, Tyler Perry had the opportunity to help cultivate a young talent in Nzingha Stewart and her For Colored Girls… adaptation, but he instead took over the project, making it his own.
And the list goes on… so much that it’s actually become something of a joke amongst indie black filmmaker circles I travel in – essentially, if you’re looking for money to get your film made, seek the white man, because you’ll likely have more success convincing him to take a chance on you than you would your brotha or sistah… and I think that’s rather sad!
What’s going on here? Or am I just seeing things that really aren’t there? This likely reads like a variation of one of my many previous posts on similar matters… regardless, enlighten me, if you can.
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