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June 4, 2015

When Ebony asked me to pen a regular column  Behind Black Hollywood,  I was elated. It was the chance to merge my job as an Entertainment Lawyer with my passion for writing, and if you know me, my love for chatting and asking questions.  But more than that, I was excited to be have the chance to highlight the movers, shakers, the doers; people who are behind the scenes, those who bring to life what we see, read or hear in the media. Each person profiled in this column are game changers and quietly (or not so quietly) shifting the landscape of our cultural psyche. 

In my inaugural Behind Black Hollywood column, I profiled Kenya Barris (below), the creator of Black-Ish. Kenya was my client in my former life, when I lived in Los Angeles, who, at the time, was the co-creator of Americas Next Top Model and a writer on several successful shows in Hollywood. What people may not know is that Kenya sold 19 pilots and filmed several series before creating Black-ish. As I like to say, "The Struggle Is Real!" But Kenya's is success story and one that gives back.

In my newest column, I am profiling Jeff Friday, a visionary and founder of the American Black Film Festival, the largest and most successful film fest catering to people of African descent. The festival, borne out of frustration at seeing our lack of our faces in film, is currently in its 19th year and takes place next week June 11-14, 2015 here in New York City. I am honored to serve on the host committee for ABFF and hope that you will join us. Please visit for more information.

As always, thank you for reading!

Peace and Blessings, 
Lisa B

[BEHIND BLACK HOLLYWOOD] Meet Black Film Festival Founder Jeff Friday

Friday's brainchild, the annual American Black Film Festival

(June 11-14), marks the most successful movie fest of color ever

American Black Film Festival Founder Jeff Friday

In the age of digital babysitting, where parents routinely use their iPads to keep their kids occupied, Jeff Friday’s mother was ahead of the curve. Barbara Scott was a single mother raising three kids in Newark, New Jersey, in the early 1970s. Trying to keep her kids off the streets, she had the brilliant idea of making her children watch TV while she attended graduate school at Columbia University and NYU.

The next day, Mrs. Scott would inquire of her kids: “Tell me what happened last night on Good Times and The Jeffersons.” Friday initially thought that this was because his mother (a teacher by day and a PhD candidate by night) wanted the skinny on the latest Black shows. But she later divulged her true motive: she was trying to keep him off the streets, and these television reports were her way of holding him accountable. Jeff Friday puts his love for the media quite simply. “My consumption for media began as a child as a baby sitting device from my mother,” he says.

In one conversation, Friday asked his mom why all of the so-called “Black shows” shared one underlying theme: “An economic struggle, some element of moving on up, just barely getting by.” Her answer profoundly affected him. “The people who are in these shows are not the same people that make these shows,” she’d said. “The people making them have a very limited perspective about the diversity of the Black experience.”

“Thirty-five years later,” Jeff says with a sigh, “we’re still having this same discussion: the lack of diversity on television [and films], and the fact that the studios are still in control.”

The 2014 Hollywood Writer’s Report published by the WGA West supports this contention. Dr. Darnell Hunt (the study’s author and, coincidentally, a friend of Friday’s) lamented the fact that there is no correlation between the diversity of the population and the bottom line in Hollywood.

“It seems that content creators, studios [and] networks don’t acknowledge the African-American and Hispanic audiences, how much [media] we consume and the fact we are still getting crumbs,” Friday says. “The brilliance of Hunt’s report, for me is that Hollywood is not green. If Hollywood were truly about the green, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Hollywood has a lot of institutional biases. They’re still largely in control of our stories, and a lot goes missing.”

Jeff Friday wants to change that. And his film festival, the American Black Film Festival (ABFF), currently in its 19th year, is his vehicle of change.

Read more at EBONY:

[Behind Black Hollywood] ‘Black-ish’ Creator Kenya Barris Talks TV Diversity

Fresh from being picked to bring ‘Good Times’ to Hollywood, the writer-producer discusses the future of Black TV with Lisa Bonner Esq.

Black-ish creator Kenya Barris

Just as it seems like “Black Hollywood” is finally getting its just due with a few notable TV shows about, by and for Black people, here comes a wrecking ball in the form of a study that reinforces something that we’ve pretty much known all along: that even in 2015 “there is still a major disconnect between the percentage of minority writers employed in television and film and the U.S. population.” The 2014 Hollywood Writer’s Report published by the WGA indicates a 7% decline in minority writers employed, down from 15.6% in 2012-’13 season to 13.7% for the 2013-’14 season.  

The study’s author—Dr. Darnell Hunt, director of the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA—is disturbed at how this trend impacts the overall stories we tell and how our voices are reflected in stories where we do have a seat at the proverbial writing table.

“The lack of diversity at the beginning of the hiring process almost assures a lack of diversity at the end of it,” Dr. Hunt told Deadline. He put the onus squarely on insiders to correct this deficit. “Showrunners, networks, studios, production companies all need to do a better part of diversifying their writing staffs [as] the market is not going to fix itself.” But minorities occupy only 5.5% of the TV executive producer (a.k.a. decision-making) population, so even if every minority reached back and did their part, we’d still have a disproportionate gap in representation. But you’ve got to start somewhere.

Kenya Barris is a member of that elite 5.5%. As the creator and executive producer of Black-ish, Barris is doing his part to see that minorities get their shot in the writers’ rooms, just as he got his. Barris climbed through the ranks of television over his 16-year career—graduating from Paramount’s writer’s program, then getting his break from his mentor, Felicia Henderson (as a writer’s assistant on Sister 2 Sister), then as a staff writer on various shows, and working his way up from there.

I first met Barris in 2003 when I represented him as the co-creator on America’s Next Top Model. Watching Kenya’s trajectory over the years (often with an eye towards the writer’s struggle in Hollywood) and seeing him finally get his own show on network TV (modeled after his own family no less), it only seemed fitting to interview him for this inaugural column about pulling back the curtain on Hollywood.

In short, he (unsurprisingly) echoed Dr. Hunt’s sentiments that mentoring “is invaluable.” I sat down with Kenya Barris at his offices on the Disney lot in Burbank, where we talked about mentoring, how Black-ish came about, and what he hopes his sitcom can do for the future of television.

EBONY: Tell me about the importance of mentoring in Hollywood. You mentioned Felicia Henderson was your mentor. She’s Black.

Kenya Barris: She gave me my first real, real break, which was on Soul Food. It is invaluable. Everyone who makes it [in Hollywood] has someone who takes them under their wing, especially as a Black writer. White writers do it too. You get into a crew, and that’s how you work your whole career. That crew hires you and it expands.

But the hard part about it now is that there are not a lot of Black shows. So it’s harder for Black writers to get into those circles, because they don’t have the friendship bonds and the friendship circles, and people aren’t necessarily comfortable. They don’t know us, so they’re not comfortable hiring us and being in a room full with people 14, 15 hours a day that they don’t know. A lot of times, they haven’t necessarily had Black friends. So it’s harder and harder for Black writers to get into the business. 

Read more at EBONY

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Girl on the Fly

Lisa Bonner is a New York based attorney and Travel and Op-Ed writer who has written for TheGrio,, and Yahoo! Travel. Follow her @lisabonner

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