Black creatives explore new technologies to amplify storytelling

Over 100 Black creatives and tastemakers recently attended an invitation-only, first-ever Black Media Story Summit in New York City.

Black Public Media (BPM) hosted the summit at Google’s New York City offices on April 6. The event brought together Black filmmakers, producers, writers and directors, along with social justice activists, media and entertainment executives, funders, investors, and distributors to discuss ways to get Black content into the distribution pipeline.

Attendees of the BPM Summit received hands-on experience with new technologies Photos by James Brooks

The summit was part of BPM’s new initiative WOKE! Broadening Access to Black Public Media, which is designed to connect creatives working with new technologies to funding and resources, and help promote diversity in media.

Funders for the one-day historic event include the MacArthur Foundation, Google, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, along with the Wyncote Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

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“We’re not just creating content on ‘poverty porn’ or ‘disaster porn’— documentaries on Black people, but in relationship only to riots or the Civil Rights Movement.”

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Among many notables in attendance were TV One host Roland Martin, Lisa Cortes (Precious, Monster’s Ball), Yance Ford (Strong Island), Thomas Allen Harris (Through a Lens Darkly), Shola Lynch (Free Angela & All Political Prisoners), Richard Parsons (Imagination Capital), and Shukree Hassan Tilghman (This Is Us).

The event’s discussion topics included mass incarceration, community safety and policing, technology, diversity, environment, Black women’s health, Black mental health, LGBTQ rights, and immigration.

Storytelling “is the X-factor in the social movement,” said former White House speechwriter Jesse Moore, who once served as a primary liaison to the entertainment community for the Obama administration. “It’s more than entertainment, or at least it is for people like us,” he said in his keynote address.

Alexis Aggrey
Alexis Aggrey Credit: Photo by Breht Gardner

“It was a great opportunity…[to show how] we can create content that pushes social change forward, and amplifying activism around a number of areas,” BPM Director of Marketing and Engagement Alexis Aggrey said in a recent MSR phone interview.

“We are trying to build partnerships into emerging technology,” such as Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), Aggrey noted. Attendees were able to experience VR and AR first-hand during the event.

“We had a lot of different types of voices,” continued Aggrey. “We really wanted it to be an opportunity for people to be excited to be in the room with people they could corroborate with.”

The blockbuster success of Black Panther was also a hot topic at the event, recalled Aggrey. “I think the excitement of Black Panther dispelled a lot of myths. For years, [Black] filmmakers were told our stories wouldn’t do well [domestically] and wouldn’t do well overseas. The success of Black Panther dispelled that very quickly.”

BPM’s overall mission is to help develop, produce and distribute “innovative media” about the Black experience, as well as invest in Black filmmakers, producers and directors.

“There are Black and Brown [creatives] who are in these mediums telling stories,” Aggrey said. “They are telling documentary stories [and] not just making video games.”

Photos by James Brooks

“I would say most of the work Black Public Media focuses on…documentary content,” Aggrey continued. “We are…in that regard still working toward creating a broader awareness of” African American and African diaspora-related stories: “[We’re] not just creating content on ‘poverty porn’ or ‘disaster porn’— documentaries on Black people, but in relationship [only] to riots or [the] Civil Rights Movement.

“Let’s talk about more mainstream real voices of Black stories and diaspora stories that don’t require an angle of desperation, and bring the characters that we see into the content that we are seeing in public television.”

Discussions, highlights, and presentations from BPM Summit will culminate in a “white paper” this summer. “It was a real giant step forward,” Aggrey concluded.