#BLACKISKING: FINDING DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH
African Technology Foundation & the Kangala District, South Africa
Lights, Camera, Diaspora! has collaborated with African Technology Foundation (ATF). Stephen Ozoigbo founder, on various initiatives in the U.S., Nigeria and South Africa. Most recently ATF hosted the South African Local Government Leadership Association (SALGA) in San Francisco, during which I did a presentation to the group on LCD and how we could work together to develop skills in their various municipalities. One of the officials at that presentation was Municipal Manager Millicent Skosana, Nkangala District, Mpumalanga Province, South Africa. About two weeks after that I was in South Africa and connected with several of the SALGA officials on their home turf. Municipal Manager Skosana arranged for a car to pick me up and take me on the hour and a half drive to her district to meet with her staff and their media consultant, Limco Management and Consulting.
The meeting with Manager Skosana and her team was very productive and afterwords Mr. Matsinye, who runs Limco consulting and management, took me to the media training class that he operates. The district operates the media training program approximately nine months out of the year. The first half is in the classroom and the second half is spent working on professional production's around the country at the expense of the district. The really good part about that is that it does not cost the production anything to have the trainees work with them. After the meeting Mr. Matsinye took me to their facility. I met the young people, around 20 to 26 years old, in the classroom and I saw the studio that they use to dose of the training. We talked for 15 to 20 minutes about the industry in hollywood, South Africa, and my experience is across the continent. We also talked about how Lights, Camera, Diaspora! is set up to work with young people just like them to help develop skills. It was a really good first meeting but I'm sure some people thought "that's nice but he probably won't ever come back”. And honestly I wondered in the back of my head the same thing because opportunities are very few and far between to pull off our mission. Most people who care don't have money and most people have money don't care. Mr. Matsinye continued to hit me up and let me know that he had 10 trainees we still have not found placement on shows and would be grateful if I found it opportunity in South Africa. I went back home to LA the first week of October.
The Making of Black Is King
I have a reputation in America as As a 40-year professional working in the film industry someone who is well-versed in the African film and broadcast industry. Because of that one of my collaborators, Blitz Bazawule, called me in mid-October to work on a shoot in South Africa in November/December of 2019 for a big-name US artist. The situation was that we we did non-disclosures and couldn't even say who it was for. We went and did the job and, like I always do, I looked for opportunities to progress Lights, Camera, Diaspora!'s mission.
During pre-production I talked to the producer on the job about putting trainees on the job. It’s a very popular conversation in South Africa because of it’s apartheid history and the need to create opportunities for Blacks. She was down for the idea but there just wasn't enough budget to travel and house them in Kwa-Zulu Natal province where we were shooting the first three days. Those first days in Kwa-Zulu Natal were very tough and not everybody made it through. For a lot of different reasons some people left after day two. We got back to Johannesburg to continue shooting day for five and six, with a smaller crew. I took that opportunity to reach out to the production company and offer more support by bringing in trainees to help beef up the team. And quite honestly I thought that we would all benefit from some fresh energy! Akin Omotoso, the head of Rafifi Pictures, and a collaborator of mine for several years, was down with the idea immediately so I hit up Mr. Matsinye and he was able to make it happen with those trainees he had called me about back when I was in LA! The trainees came to our hotel and met myself and Blitz. Because of non-disclosures we couldn't tell them who the artist was that we were working for. They started the next day which was our first day in Johannesburg.
The Trainees Experience Working On Black Is KIng
It was really great to see them working hard and so excited and interested and curious. There were lots of great moments during the shoot. One young man, Ashley Mentor, was very confident and involved as a 1st AD, 2nd AD, and a grip. Porsche was put in production and really did well with that. She was all over the paperwork and assisting in organizing the show. We definitely needed the help in the grip department to move the camera, dollies and trussing. Some of the guys were helping me to lift our talent, Nandi Madida, a well known South African singer, on and off of a horse that was part of her scene. We had Millicent in make up, and if you check her Instagram you'll see why that was a perfect fit.
Ernest did lighting and Simphwe transferred to lighting on day 2 and 3. One of the highlights for me happened while walking back from lunch one day. Our cinematographer, Michael Fernandez, answered questions and explained his ideas to Simphiwe, camera trainee. This is a guy who the New York Times is raving about, and he’s exposing Simphiwe to his skill sets. Watching him share his knowledge with her was definitely a highlight. Another highlight was when Sibusiso was talking to one of the professional technicians about how to get in the business and they began exchanging numbers as our grip promised to help him get started working on professional shows in Johannesburg. This sort of stuff is exactly what Lights, Camera, Diaspora! is here to do. When I think about that job I really can't find a better example of connecting the African entertainment industry with the international industry, of connecting young people with opportunities, and of connecting Africa and the diaspora. I really have to be grateful for the opportunity that it has presented.
LCD! Word of Mouth
LCD is doing a social media campaign featuring the trainees discussing the value of their participation in the project. The things that they did and the things that they learned and how they might use them in their future careers. I'm already seeing other ways in which it is contributing to the future. One young lady in Limco's program, Monica, reached out to me on WhatsApp. She was not part of our 10 trainees but she had heard about what we were doing and wanted some help with her writing. She called me and said that her writing templates she felt were outdated and she wanted help trying to update her templates and her methods of writing. So of course I said yeah glad to help. So I called my friend Mark Seabrooks, a writer and executive producer in Hollywood, and asked him and he was more than happy to help. In fact that half hour and I'm about an hour later he was on the phone with with her discussing our formats and what she was trying to accomplish. It turns out that he wasn't really focused on the writing templates he spent time on what makes her tick as an artist what is your voice. At one point they got to discussing a project she had been hired to work on that was a version of a crime drama and Mark commented that he could literally see her eyes light up in her whole physical disposition shift because she had started discussing the the psychological aspects and human dynamics of the story. That was the thing that really made her excited! The call was about an hour and a half long and Mark offered himself to continue with her in the future advising and helping to shape to develop her writing style.
This project is quite literally the definition of LCDs work. We are combining some of the best talent across the US and across Africa and we're also doing skills development at the same time. It's both educational and hands-on, which of course is the best way to learn in the film industry. I cannot say enough about the opportunity to bring this sort resources to young people on the car today and in the diaspora for that matter. LCDs mission is to connect the US and the African industries behind the scenes and this project with Beyoncé and learners from Kangala district, and streaming on DISNEY +, is the very definition of accomplishing that. I'm certain that it will be a highlight on their resume for years to come. I'm also certain that it will be a useful contribution to their knowledge of the industry for years to come. I am certain that the learners will be celebrated in their communities when the videos come out, which is no small thing for a young person finding their way in life.