By Charles Hallman
AfroPoP, the successful public television program that shows independent films and documentaries “on contemporary life, art and pop culture across the African Diaspora” is now in its sixth season.
“If you would have told me that we were going to have six seasons, I probably would’ve said, ‘I need to get through this first one, I can’t think that far ahead,” jokes Co-Executive Producer Leslie Fields-Cruz. She also is National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC) vice president of operations and director of programming. The NBPC was founded in 1979.
AfroPoP is produced by NBPC and co-presented by American Public Television (APT), and shown on the PBS World channel. Beginning in February, however APT will distribute AfroPoP to additional public television
As a result, TPT Life Channel 2.3 now airs the program on Saturday nights (check local listings for times).
The series has been hosted by Gabourey Sidibe (season five), Wyatt Cenac (season four), Anika Noni Rose (season two), and Idris Elba (season one) — Anthony Mackie is this season’s host. Season three was hosted by the producers of each film.
Fields-Cruz points out, “We really think about the Black actors that are in Hollywood that we know appreciate Black culture, and also have demonstrated the types of narrative work that speaks to the diversity of our experiences.
“We’ve been very fortunate, especially with Idris Elba, Gabby Sidibe and this year with Anthony Mackie,” she continues. “Each one of them were on our [wish list] and each one of them said yes, they love to do it.”
Despite its success, “Trying to explain to public television programmers why they should broadcast AfroPoP in their communities” at times is challenging, admits Fields-Cruz. “Sometimes that’s where work becomes a job and it’s frustrating because I find myself having to explain over and over, and over [the importance of her show]. If the mission for public television and its goal is to serve the diversity of the American public, those types of questions shouldn’t be asked.
“It’s not to say that we haven’t made steps or gains – we have,” she says. “But there’s still a long, long way to go.”
Among this season’s offerings on AfroPoP include Doin’ It In the Park [TPT Channel 2.3 is scheduled to show it Saturday Feb. 15th, 11 pm and repeated at 5 am Sunday Feb. 16th].
The “outdoor basketball” documentary and Boys of Summer [about young Caribbean baseball players] are two sports-related documentaries on this season’s schedule. Adds Leslie-Cruz, “Those are some of the decisions
that we make in terms of how does these films might connect with the general American audience as well as with the African American audience.
“We are always trying to find the right balance,” she admits. “We spend time out there over the course of the year, looking for programs that we feel might work for the series. We sit and we screen all the content, then we discuss how each of these films might work together across one season.
“I look at films like Upaj: Improvise [which was shown January 20], where you have an African American tap dancer who meets up with an Indian Kathak dancer, and work together to create a show that mixes the Kathak dance with the tap. Stories [like this] engage with new cultures that we don’t normally see here in the United States are really, really important.”
AfroPoP is needed, says Fields-Cruz. “I’m amazed that we’re here but also thankful because we hit upon something back with season one in 2008. There are so many stories that still need to be told. We keep doing it and audiences love it, and we’re really happy with that.”
There [is] Black programming available on regular and cable television, “but not necessarily Black-themed programming that might educate or address issues, or share artistic disciplines that people of African descent are involved in on an everyday basis,” Fields-Cruz points out. “I don’t necessarily think that commercial stations and commercial cable would actually run a series that focus solely on the Black experience. I haven’t seen it.
“This really is one of the only series out there that has independent documentaries made about the Black experience,” says Fields-Cruz of AfroPoP. “What I would like to see happen is that we need more people of African descent making positive films about each other, making positive television about our experiences. I also feel that we need to figure out a way to get the program content out there beyond just the broadcast. I think one of the ways we are doing it is by streaming [AfroPoP] on line so that people can access it.”
Finally, now AfroPoP has finally reached this area, Fields-Cruz strongly suggest viewers to contact TPT “and say ‘Hey, we want this program in our community.’ I really think the stations respond to their audience but first they have to hear from their audience. Pick up the phone or send them an email,” she says. “I think our mission and goal is to connect the content makers who are putting out the good stuff, the positive stories about the Black experience to the audiences that are craving for it.
“It definitely an ongoing mission and it is what we have been doing for 34 years and hopefully for another 35 more.”
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