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Ebony S. Muhammad (EM): In your opinion and work experience as a filmmaker, how has Black entertainment, specifically film and cinema, evolved over the last ten to twenty years?
Mark Harris (MH): First, allow me to thank you for this opportunity. To answer your question, the film business has evolved because, it’s much easier to produce films with today’s technology that many people ten years ago believed to be for low budget films only. So, today you see more and more studios shooting digitally. Ten or twenty years ago it was film which is very costly. Ten years ago, straight to DVD was considered a low budget thing. Now, you have platforms like Netflix, Urban Movie Channel, Amazon, Hulu streaming content and you’re seeing more A list talent getting into the game. So, this is a beautiful time to be in the film industry.
EM: How do you define progress in Black Entertainment?
MH: Amazing if you judge it based on the overall aspect of Black entertainment and not looking at it from the perspective of what we see coming out of Hollywood. We have a number of amazing Black filmmakers who are producing independent work that aren’t doing Hollywood films. So, the only thing that I believe is missing is Black people have to start placing value on Black content made outside of Hollywood’s system. We have the tendency to think someone has “made it” or “blew up” when that Black person has been given the stamp of approval from mainstream, and in a way this stems from a subconscious hatred of self and anything Black that’s not backed by mainstream.
EM: Do you consider it progress that more Black faces are on the big screen and on networks such as Netflix and Hulu?
MH: No. It’s only progress when Black people have total control over our images and how they’re given to the world. It’s only progress when Black people own channels, production companies, distribution companies, finance companies, marketing companies, etc . Everything else is only window dressing, because believe it or not, when many Black people get into certain “powerful” positions, instead of looking at other Black people as their allies, many Black people deem us as their competition. This is the main reason we have no control over our images that are displayed all over the world.
EM: Can you give examples of how both actors and audience members may miss subtle drawbacks and insults dealt from events such as award shows that fail to recognize Black talent or if they do it’s in a light of negative stereotypes?
MH: Honestly, I don’t think much of award shows that fail to recognizes Black people. I think that is a good thing to be honest with you. Why do I say that? Black people must see value in self, must love self, must appreciate self and support self. So, hopefully by them not recognizing Black people this could force us to own and control our award shows and not be so concerned with looking for others to show us appreciation.
EM: How can we, as a whole, regain control of our image and depiction that quite honestly feeds the impressions of others around the world of who we are?
MH: It’s simple, our unity. Black people who are in positions have to pool our resources and start to finance our own images and stories. I do not blame Hollywood when they put up the money for a story about Black history and they implant these White saviors, because they want to make sure their people are properly represented. We have enough resources to create our own stories, we just have to overcome our fears of worrying about if others see our unity as a threat to them. We must overcome our fears in order to control our own images.
EM: What are some of the sidebar conversations like between you and other filmmakers and actors relating to these issues?
MH: None. Many people are trying to break into Hollywood, not create their own Hollywood.
EM: We have seen the merge of music artists into film and cinema. What has that experience been like for you, and how much of an impact does that make in a film project?
MH: It hasn’t affected my career in anyway. But, rap artists have their own audience, and if they’re audience is in the millions and they have millions of followers on their social media, this helps with marketing a film. Hollywood looks at this as being smart for business and it is.
EM: The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan says that we don’t have a lot of time to come together in unity to do for ourselves and our people in the way of having our own.
We see popular shows like Underground that illustrate some of the horrors and truths of slavery and struggle for freedom in a very modern and creative way that’s entertaining and educational, be cancelled after only two seasons. Yet, Black “reality” shows that are degrading and provocative and lacking substance run for ten or more seasons. What can we do in the meantime of building our own network to combat this?
MH: As long as we fear that others fear our unity is a threat to them, there’s nothing we can do. But, our unity and overcoming our fears gets these things overnight.
EM: What have been some great victories in Black film that many may not know about?
MH: Anytime a Black filmmaker makes a film is a victory. Many people may look at victories as winning Oscars, Golden Globe, etc. The victory is we get to tell our stories every single day.
EM: Is there anything else you would like to add?
MH: I just want to thank you for this opportunity and truly appreciate all that you do and continue on your journey. Thanks you.
EM: All praise is due to Allah! Thank you for striving to be an example within your respective field! May Allah continue to bless you.
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