"I still see before me a life of toil and trials..., but, justice must be done, the truth must be told...I will not be silent." -Frederick Douglass
For African Americas held in captivity as slaves in the "Land of the Free and Home of the Brave," the North Star pointed to a physical direction that lead to freedom. Breaking one's physical chains, while not an easy task, one's direction was clear. Not so clear was and is one's freedom point from the emotional, psychic, mental, spiritual effects leftover from centuries of degradation and inhumanity, the denial of person-hood.
Navigation: The act of charting the course of a ship or other vehicle, or of guiding or directing anything in a comparable way.
Compass: Range or scope, as of understanding, perception, or authority.
For "black" media types, like myself, the challenge has always been how do we "navigate" in the "white" dominated media-space? What is our compass? For many the answer is to create product by, for and about black folks. This was the mantra of the late 60's and early 70's in much of the Black Arts Movement coming on the heals of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements- "I'm black and I'm proud." This implies a sort of "self-segregation," so you get magazines, newspapers, radio & TV networks, films that take aim at and see their audience as only "black." Why?
When I was a member of the Black Music Association (BMA) back in the 80's, there was a campaign championed by then Executive Director, George Ware that stated simply, "Black Music is Green." Black Music, the music developed out of the "black experience" in America and the Diaspora is the basis for all popular music. The film 20 Feet from Stardom about "black" backup singers makes the point that folks from David Bowie, to The Rolling Stones, to Sting, Elton John, you name it all want that "black" je ne sais quois as part of their sound. When Colonel Parker wanted a male singer who sounded "black" and he went and discovered Elvis.
In music we readily accept that "soul music," R&B, Jazz, can be accessed by whomever regardless of color or culture. Somehow when it comes to movies, TV, books other forms of black expression there is this imagined "color line." There seems to be this notion that because it's a "black film," a "black network," a "black magazine," a "black ad or commercial," that presumes that the messages contained therein are "color-coded" and not universal in nature, so therefore somehow "separate and apart," limiting in appeal. A contributing factor to this is the idea of "niche" markets where advertisers, sponsors, investors are buying, paying for targeting discrete slices of the overall market. What happens in this situation is that many creators and producers marry programming to "color" as opposed to "culture," "tastes" and "interests."
The "white" networks and studios don't see themselves that way. What they produce is thought of as "universal" to be accessed by all. As a "black" creator regardless of what genre I choose to work my goal isn't to erect barriers, but to break them down. That is my compass, my North Star.
Walter Harris Gavin, is the author of The Autobiography of Obsidian Dumar, & the founder of Gavin Media NU World.