Tuning in to the World in Full Color

When Black Public Media (BPM) was founded in 1979 as the National Black Programming Consortium, Black stories and storytellers had little to no access, visibility or image equity behind the camera or on-screen. The films that organizations like ours support don’t often win Oscars or earn 1.24 billion dollars worldwide. People who revel in Hollywood’s growing diversity don’t know that we’ve served a pivotal role in moving the needle towards equity and inclusion in the media industry, or that African American women have led our four-decade fight to advance media representation of Black men and women. (Mable Haddock was at the helm from 1979 to 2005; Jacquie Jones until 2014; and I’ve been executive director since 2014. That’s some serious #BlackGirlMagic!)

But over the years, our work to fund and support Black films and Black filmmakers has led to a number of incredible strides for advancing the case of equity and inclusion in the industry.

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If you only know “A Raisin In The Sun,” then you don’t know Lorraine Hansberry!! Congratulations to Tracy Heather Strain on the beautifully crafted #LorraineHansberryDoc, Sighted Eyes, about the extraordinary life of this artist, activist, rebel and visionary! Save your spot for the upcoming sneak preview hosted by Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival & Lecture Series and Marcia Pendelton will moderate the discussion with the director, Saturday, October 21, 2017, 7:37pm @ the Magic Johnson theater's 125th Street in Harlem. The National Black Programming Consortium, @firelight_media, BDC-Black Documentary Collective and Walk Tall Girl Productions are community partners for the screening. GET TIX: $20 ($15 for seniors, students and children with valid I.D.) www.reelsisters.org. #InspiringWomanPBS. @pbs, @amberimage, @laffitaffi2288, @pbsamericanmasters, @thirteenwnet.

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We had a stake in award-winning films like I Am Not Your Negro, Shirley Chisholm: Unbought & Unbossed, The Murder of Emmett Till and Daughters of the Dust. We provided professional development support and guidance in the early careers of Julie Dash, Shola Lynch, Michèle Stephenson, Stanley Nelson, Shukree Tilghman and Angela Tucker.

BPM has borne witness to credible changes in the industry, and our ongoing commitment to distribute authentic Black stories to the American public has had an impact. And in spite of the current political administration’s regressive policies that attack the rights of women, people of color and LGBT communities, Americans have demonstrated—in numbers too great to ignore, online and in the streets—that they value diversity and demand inclusivity.

Including diverse voices in the mainstream narrative leads to a broader understanding of who we are—not only as Americans, but as members of a global society. That’s why BPM recently launched the third round of its 360 Incubator+, a program designed to identify and pipeline quality Black content.

Our largest class of Fellows ever, forming ten production teams and all paired with mentors, are participating in the program this year. Their broadcast, web and virtual reality projects span conversations about social justice issues, Black art and history and science fiction. The Fellows are currently working to hone their projects in preparation for pitchBLACK, an interactive pitching forum on April 12 in New York City where they will present to a diverse audience of funders, distributors and industry leaders; up to three of their projects will be awarded a licensing agreement worth between $50,000 and $150,000. (The two virtual reality teams will compete to win funding for community engagement campaigns for their films.)

Working for a non-profit media company centered on Black stories is my calling—even if the hours aren’t always great and the pay isn’t anywhere near what I’d make in corporate media (or if I were a man). But our mission is not mine alone. The public is hungry for films that explore the lives of people of color, real or imagined. They want films on social justice issues that come from a Black perspective. They need films that engage cross culturally, and not solely through a black/white dichotomy.

We see all of this reflected in the pool of current Oscar nominations, and of the nominees and winners over the last few years. When he made history in 2018 with his Academy Award win for Get Out, Jordan Peele described the work of his peers at this moment in our culture as a renaissance.

But my mission is to create a world where sharing the diversity of our experiences is less of a moment and more of a permanent expectation of inclusion—so the work isn’t done.


Leslie Fields-Cruz is the executive director of Black Public Media (BPM), the nation’s only nonprofit dedicated solely to media content about the black experience, and the executive producer of the award-winning series AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange. As head of BPM she works to helps grow its resources, serves on film and television funding juries and speaks on panels at conferences and festivals around the world.