As Black History Month ends and Women’s History Month begins, Comcast has retooled a portion of its On Demand library to celebrate both. The cable company launched an interview series called Black Women Behind the Scenes, a collection of interviews that highlight black women working behind the cameras.
These interviews are part of “Black History: Always On,” a new permanent library that features narrative films and documentaries that focus on the black experience (think Lee Daniels’ The Butler, the soccer doc Pele, and the Nelson Mandela biography Nelson).
Oyegun was born in the United States, moved to Nigeria, where her parents are from, and came to Philadelphia when she was 12. She says it was through watching shows like Living Single, Friends, and daytime soap operas that she began to adopt an American accent. In the 2000s, she noticed the sudden cancellation of staple black-led shows without warning, as though networks didn’t know the audience they were losing by ending these shows.
Black storytellers, Oyegun says, are “coming into the building with entrepreneurship because we have to prove that we are bankable.”
A lot of the women featured in both of the interview series and who have content in the collection proved their bankability without the help of big-name film distributors or media companies (like Comcast).
Issa Rae, who created Awkward Black Girl on YouTube in 2011, developed a following large enough to attract HBO’s attention. Her show Insecure had its first season last year, with a second on the way. You can watch a behind-the-scenes featurette on Insecure on the platform.
Oscar-nominated director DuVernay released her first films independently and launched ARRAY, a film distribution company dedicated to the “amplification of independent films by people of color and women globally.” You can see her Oscar-nominated Selma, which she directed and cowrote.
Philadelphia’s Quinta Brunson is also in the interview series. She developed a following by posting hilarious videos on Instagram that went viral. She became a star and producer of BuzzFeed videos, and her series Broke (which began on BuzzFeed) was picked up by YouTube Red last year. The women built an audience online or independently and told stories their way. And now Comcast is knocking on these creators’ doors.
“There’s so many women who have been doing this for decades and laid the groundwork for us to come in,” said Oyegun. “We are a sisterhood that is supportive of one of another, we collaborate, and we want to watch each other rise.”
Another way these creators have exhibited their work outside traditional means of distribution is via film festivals, and Comcast has partnered with the American Black Film Festival and the Philadelphia BlackStar Film Festival to screen works from independent filmmakers through its Streampix add-on service.
“It’s wonderful to have so many visible directors and actors of color, but we need more folks of color and from marginalized communities in seats of power and access to capital,” said Maori Holmes, founder of the BlackStar Film Festival. “One of the reasons we do these festivals is because a lot of these films don’t get seen again because they’re short. This is an opportunity to really share their work nationally.”
In an era when so many people are making their own work, Comcast wants to curate the viewing experience, according to Keesha Boyd, executive director of multicultural products and consumer services at Comcast. “There’s so much content,” Boyd said. "Absent curation, you might find yourself getting lost.”
Whether Comcast’s new library is a temporary wave or a sign of a permanent shift, black creators are making their way to the forefront. Oyegun encourages all the aspiring screenwriters, directors, and producers to follow their own authentic voice and to fight for it.
“If it’s not out there already,” said Oyegun. “Make it.”