Black Privilege The Sitcom By Ina Ruxandra
Writers of color affect how audiences perceive racial subjects, particularly those that analyze the nuances of cultural dynamics. Unfortunately, writers of color, specifically black writers, make up less than 5 percent of Hollywood writers, according to a study done by UCLA. The writers who are staffed are generally hired by black show runners, who make up about 5 percent of all show runners.
Fortunately, these statistics haven’t stopped rising star, Mark Harris. As a Chicago raised film maker, Harris knows the importance of making the best of his circumstances and chasing every opportunity with enthusiasm. He is not a Hollywood writer, but he is well on his way because he is a Chicago writer and everything that comes out of Chicago is fire.
Harris grew up in Englewood and now resides in Hyde Park, President Obama’s old stomping grounds. Before that, he went to school at a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin and studied theater, but that is not where he got his passion from. “I started out writing poetry,” Harris told me. I laughed, “Me too.” No one would associate poetry with screen writing, but I believe that the soul already knows that if theres a song inside or a story to be told, our mind will find a way to create that story in a way that will connect the target audience to the soulful words our hearts desire to show the world.
Thanks to my editor I got the opportunity to attend the premiere of Harris’s TV pilot Black Privilege last Wednesday at Studio Movie Grill movie theatre. I will never forget this premiere because I was driving on Lake Shore Drive from the yoga studio and had no idea that it was a red carpet event. Being the prepared actress that I am, I had enough wardrobe in my car to find something appropriate for a red carpet event, but it was really exciting to be ready on the fly. I say this only to relate to other film makers who have to think quickly and be ready for opportunities that might arise. Film makers and actors always have to be ready and able to show up, sometimes with almost no notice at all. The ability to do so differentiates those who work and those who do not work. At the end of the day, it is hard work, not just talent, that is recognized.
As far as Harris is concerned, he is a hard worker who can put together a pilot by being very calculated and organized because of his years of experience making movies and also because he has build good working relationships with crews and actors. Not only is Mark capable of creating a dynamic show, but he has the organizational skills and ability to gather resources in a moment’s notice. For his pilot, Black Privilege, Harris was able to reach out to fellow film maker and director of cinematography, Ricardo Islas and two lead actors Simeon Henderson and Dawn Halfkenny to put the show together on the fly. Harris and Islas have been working together since 2005 and collaborated on 7 films. Henderson has worked with Harris before and Halfpenny is an Atlanta based actress he has been meaning to work with for quite some time. The pilot for Black Privilege brought all this great talent together and other Chicago based actors and crew members. the beauty of the work itself can be seen in the final product, which only took three days to shoot. Generally, a TV show shoots about 10 minutes of footage a day and Harris was able to pull that off like a pro because after hustling for over 13 years in the business he is a pro.
What I first noticed about Harris’s work is that he knows his audience and writes primarily for black audiences. Today, black audiences are in need for strong black male and female writers and producers to step up and be a voice for black issues. This is not a race issue, but rather a social issue. Only a black man or woman growing up a certain kind of way can truly understand the nuances of black culture. As stated before, most Hollywood writers are not black and therefore cannot accurately identify or portray issues that affect black communities or appropriately write for black characters. Harris, as a black writer, is able to connect in a vital way and also use humor to address deeply rooted stereotypes.
It is imperative that black communities have dominant black male and female voices who can address cultural issues from the black perspective. No white writer can have the same effect on a black community because a white man can’t ride in on a white horse and be the savior because black community are desperately looking to their own shining stars for leadership. Gone are the days when the white perspective about black culture helps bring black communities together because the white perspective about black culture has traditionally torn black cultures apart. The rising Pheonix, however, is the thundering sound of a black voice that is ready to create bridges between different types of black cultures across different neighborhoods and communities. This rising Pheonix is Harris with his show Black Privilege, which intends to show the intricate differences between affluent blacks and impoverished blacks. It is the black version of the “Haves” and the “Have Nots.” Every culture has its version of rich and poor and every culture can relate to this show because it addresses socio-economic issues and issues about cultural stereotypes within one’s culture.
Harris intends to pitch the show to several networks and is really confident that Netflix will pick it up. From what I’ve seen, I have a great feeling about his pilot and I hope the best for him because he is one of Chicago’s own, a bright star that shines where other stars might steer clear from. As a writer myself, I admire his tenacity, his ability to bring Chicagoans together to collaborate as a community. I am not black, but I am a minority because my parents are immigrants and I have deep respect for people who chose to address social issues within their own communities. While some choose to run, to blend in, to fit in, to mesh with white culture, others stay and build ethnic communities from within so that together, all of us, all communities, can connect, can assimilate, can contribute to society as a whole, by becoming stronger individually.
Black Privilege is not just another black show, but a show that sheds some light on what it means to be black within a black community. As a show written, produced, and directed by black film makers, this episodic highlights black talent and gives an underserved and under represented community an opportunity to tell a story from within and from the perspective of one of its own. It is a show about family, life, understanding and also about hope and dreams. Keep an eye out for this show and other movies by Mark Harris. He is truly a gem who will only increase in value the move people learn to appreciate the fundamental social issues he attempts to present through his work.
The proof Harris is effective and well admired is in the attendance to his premiere for the pilot of Black Privilege. Both screenings last Wednesday were sold out and the guests I spoke to were excited to see more of his work.
All Images Appear Courtesy Of Kenny Humble,