Recently, Netflix’s Strong Black Leads spun off a podcast series called Strong Black Legends, hosted by writer Tracy Clayton, spotlighting Hollywood legends of color. This is an extension of Strong Black Leads, an important effort by Netflix to talk authentically with and about black audiences.
Netflix is never one to back away from a controversy, as seen with its support of the Dear White People series, so its Strong Black Leads effort is a guarantee that black voices, black stories and black images will be shared through a black lens. It is a promise to be unapologetically black no matter how that makes other people feel. An acknowledgment that we have been cast to the side and stuck in a mold that does not accurately portray the diversity of our culture. The initial ad for this effort broke eight months ago, but Netflix has continued the work and commitment to showcase black creators.
As arguably one of the most diverse platforms, Netflix led with 47 black creators in its initial ad. Since then, it has signed on Shonda Rhimes to develop eight series and signed on Black-ish creator Kenya Barris for a production deal.
Outside of money, one of the biggest hindrances in being a black creator is the lack of mentorship, kinship and available platforms to be your unique self. As Netflix takes a stand to showcase the intersectionality of race, they’re not only providing the representation we’ve been waiting for but are also providing the blueprint for other platforms to exemplify the celebration of race without it feeling like another PR diversity conversation.
This effort comes at a great time. We need excitement around black entertainment properties and to end the commentary that people don’t show up to the box office for black films, so they won’t get the same sort of marketing budgets.
The time has come to see new casts and a resurgence of actors, writers and directors enter the industry. And it’s started a great shift in our cultural climate, where we are starting to see a demand for more diversity in black entertainment, a direct response to the polarity of American culture. This is our version of the Harlem Renaissance, and we are alive to see it. The successes of Black Panther, Get Out, Insecure and Girls Trip proves that we are showing up and supporting black stories. With the dominance of black Twitter changing advertising, the possibility of capitalizing on black entertainment monetarily is creating opportunities for fresh stories to be told.
Here is what media properties need to do next to continue this progress.
Work with a diverse team of creators
The first step, which sounds the most obvious, is to work with a diverse team and empower them to speak their truths. When you’re choosing an advertising partner to work with, ask about the team working on the project and be sure that you have multiple viewpoints reflected. Actors often create riders outlining the people they want to work with on a project, and the same should take place for the teams that are marketing them.
Keep the campaign authentic without watering it down
Oftentimes, marketing can come off as a caricature of culture when marketers try too hard to be what they think black means. The point is that there is no one way to be black. In order to avoid misrepresentation, be sure to showcase all types of personalities and characters, and don’t be bland. Marketing teams can often consist of just one person of color, resulting in that person feeling burdened and outvoted. In the end, this is what leads to cultural mishaps.
Utilize social listening
People will tell you what they are interested in, so take the time to listen and not only digest what it means but also reflect the unique perspectives in your work. The next best creator does not always have the resume that you expect. Let the quality of their work and the audience that they have captured guide your decision-making process.
Ensure cultural competency
It is a term often used in the medical field, but generally it’s also one that is useful in all walks of life. The idea is grounded in the fact that you need to develop a plan for people that keeps in mind who they are, where they are in life and the culture they are immersed in on a regular basis. The person saying something is just as important as what they are saying. Understanding what is offensive and why starts with understanding the psychology and historical implications of the content you are creating.
Make the proper investments
Invest the right amount of time, the right amount of money and the correct network to get the project where it needs to be. If you cannot find a diverse group of creatives, your process is flawed. Take a step back and look at the process of your company and why you are not connected to black creatives. There are companies that seem to feel they can’t find qualified talent, and I challenge those companies to change their perspectives and networking processes. Other companies can’t seem to keep black creatives, and I challenge them to look at their culture, the opportunities they provide and the diversity of their leadership.
The cultural awakening in entertainment is more than just a moment; it’s a shift in American culture. For years, academics have linked what Americans see on their screens to how they perceive the people they encounter. Netflix and other major players in entertainment are widening that narrative and opening the door, and black creators are doing their part in reshaping history.