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Black clout in Hollywood.

In 1919, Oscar Micheaux became the first African American to write, direct, and produce a feature length film, The Homesteader. This silent movie grossed $5,000 and was deemed a commercial success. The son of former slaves, the pioneering filmmaker delved into such controversial topics as racism, interracial romance, and corrupt clergymen--decades before the civil rights movement. Producing more than 40 "race movies," as films with black casts were called at the time, the visionary is considered one of the most prolific independent film producers ever, black or white.

Micheaux was one of a handful of black producers in the film industry during the early 20th century. Today African Americans are involved in virtually every aspect of filmmaking. In front of the camera are some of the hottest names in Hollywood: Will Smith, Forest Whitaker, Eddie Murphy, Beyonce Knowles, and Jennifer Hudson--all of whom at press time were up for Golden Globe Awards and had a good shot at receiving Oscar nominations.

But true power in Hollywood goes beyond bravura performances. Although African Americans collectively have a way to go in reaching the pinnacle of power in film and television, a growing number have gained clout within the industry. Some have become senior executives at studios and networks, developing films and TV shows and controlling mammoth production and marketing budgets. Many are entertainment attorneys and agents with A-list clients who cut lucrative deals. And others are household names like Smith, Denzel Washington, and Halle Berry, who through their artistic ability and box-office draw can influence the green-lighting of major cinematic projects.

As Hollywood celebrates excellence on the silver screen during the 79th Annual Academy Awards, we have also placed a spotlight on the best and brightest in the entertainment industry. Led by News Editor Nicole Marie Richardson, our editorial team spent several months developing our definitive list of the top blacks in Hollywood, identifying the leading power brokers of the entertainment world. Of course, our roster includes superstars who have made movies that grossed billions in box-office receipts and used their celebrity to develop production companies. You'll also find, however, African Americans who have broken new ground in the once-exclusive arenas of film distribution and exhibition such as Jeff Friday, founder of the American Black Film Festival; Jeff Clanagan, creator of Codeblack Entertainment; Henry McGee, president of HBO Home Video; and Magic Johnson, the former basketball phenom who owns multiplex theaters in New York, California, Ohio, and other states. And we reveal an elite group of black honchos--including Reginald Hudlin, president of Entertainment for BET; Christina Norman, president of MTV: Music Television; and Tracey Edmonds, president and COO of Our Stories Films, one of the few African Americans to head a film studio--who can green-light new shows and films, an unprecedented exercise of power that eluded blacks just a few years ago.

BLACK ENTERPRISE is exploring the issue of black clout in Hollywood at a time when those in the industry must contend with a dizzying array of new developments, most notably, the changing economic landscape and digital distribution of content. But one constant holds true since the days of Micheaux: whether in front of the camera or behind the scenes, African Americans must continue to play an active role in shaping our images and expanding the pipeline of black talent. By showing the world that blacks are not monolithic and by telling our multifaceted story, those who have made our list will influence the business, social, and political agendas for decades to come.
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Title Annotation:About This Issue
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Mar 1, 2007
Words:584
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