February 20, 2014

By: Edward Rice, III

Sentinel Contributing Writer

 

Reimaging the established business functions of a worldwide entertainment conglomerate is a huge undertaking to say the least. When, FOX Executive Nicole Bernard was identified for such a task, she was initially cautious and for good reason.

“FOX Audience Strategy was launched three years ago. I was asked to take on this role and in doing so I coined the term that named the department ‘audience strategy’,” recalls the Senior Vice President of Audience Strategy. “The thinking behind the department was the chairman’s need, his recognition that the domestic demographics in this country were changing so dramatically and his thoughts were ‘how can we create content for and distribute content to audiences we don’t know?’ The demographics are shifting so drastically that if we don’t find the most strategic and engaging way to not only find out who they are and engage them around our brand then our businesses will be in trouble. It’s really about business growth.”

The result is an innovative approach to a required business initiative that will perhaps reshape the way the industry looks at inclusion.

“We set about thinking about a business operating unit that would align from a business perspective core community values with our business interests. That was very important to me because originally what I thought was being offered to me was a traditional diversity job and I was not interested in that,” said the DC native.

To clarify, Nicole explained that while she continues to believe in the ideal and the platform of diversity, she simply was not impressed with the mechanisms and the initiatives that in her opinion seemed to fall flat.

“I just thought the approach had become antiquated, outgrown. It became more of a “tail wagging the dog” situation where now the viewer, consumers, the masses, the marketplace are this and the only place it looks different are businesses,” claims Bernard.

According to the Howard University graduate and mother of twins, the ultimate goal is to engage broader audiences because that is the business equivalent to growth.

“You want more people watching, buying, and downloading what it is you’re creating. No matter what vernacular is used to describe them and that’s this very big pool, which is people” she stated. “So the question is how do we create opportunities to engage people across our businesses in ways that truly serve as resources for those businesses? As I thought about it this was going to be the bases of what we’re charged with.”

Proposing diversity as a tool to expand the current audience appeared to be a savvy business strategy but as the Fox executive soon discovered the concept was more difficult for some to grasp than expected.

 “I had friends and colleagues who work in more traditional diversity and inclusion departments say to me, ‘Nicole don’t you think this is going to be confusing?’ And this came at the height of my comfort level letting me know I was on the right track of moving away from this idea not just in name alone but theory,” she insisted. “I said in return, ‘What’s so confusing about audience strategy to you? Why would you think it’s confusing? And the response I received was how will people know where to go when there’s a problem? And I said therein lies the issue. If you view diversity as a repository for problems that’s why people’s eyes glaze over and all the initiatives feel like lip service; because in essence you’re teeing up your business to be a repository for problems. As opposed to how I look at it, it’s a platform for opportunity. Diversity by its true definition simply means more. An array of…isn’t that what we’re here to do, galvanize more? We want business growth. That’s what it’s all about.” She continued, “That’s when it became clear to me that audience strategy would act as a resource—a repository for opportunity, a resource for all of our businesses.”

 

NEXT STEPS: The Real Value Add

 

“Our division works across all the entertainment properties,” Bernard explained. “So my role grew to creating a department that would service all of the FOX entertainment businesses, which include all of the broadcast, cable, sports, digital, tv and film entities.”

With limited staff and budget at her disposal, providing such a specific service to such a broad cross section of businesses was going to be a challenge. Thus, one of her very first tasks was determining the need.

“I went in and interviewed all the chairmen and we spoke about the shifting demographics in America,” said Bernard. “I would hear a lot for example, ‘We saw the 2010 census and what do you think we should be doing to galvanize Hispanics around box office or how do we drive more Hispanic viewership to our programming at the network…how do we engage them?’ The first thing I said is to stop having an us vs. them conversation and realize that this IS your general market now,” she said passionately.  “Hearing these conversations informed us on what the need was; a resource is only a resource to the extent that it’s servicing a need. What we realized is that we have to start with a perception shift. Work on shifting perceptions within the four corners of the studio about what true and authentic engagement is—not the patronizing outreach, which is a one sided communication where its, ‘look at us you underserved people and we’re here to help you’ but in fact we need you because without you, we don’t exist.”

What ensued according to Nicole, became a conversation about engagement. “When we thought about it we broke it down into needs and recognized that perception shifts lead the charge there. If we change the way people think about things (even though a lot of times they don’t realize they think about it in this way) that they stop seeing diverse as remedial or “green” or a nicety or a social conversation that we must do and have and turn it into an opportunity to engage with more people who are not so different, they’re just people,” she said.  “Now it’s a business conversation, now you’re looking at the bottom line because you’re broadening your audience, which means more. You increase your viewership, you increase your consumers, you increase your ad revenues, and it increases your bottom line. This is not a social conversation.”

“We decided we would bring to the studio in general or to specific businesses, really innovative strategic partners who could service, let’s say the film business with really dynamic opportunities to market to bigger audiences that nobody had thought about before,” she claimed. “Not because they’re not bright, they’re really good at what they do but because we’re simply used to doing business in a certain way; erroneously continuing to define general market and mass market as more homogenous than it really was. We wanted to create intimate environments for business conversations that would spark ideas and spark business connectivity to diverse vendors who could change business. What then happened was a very natural shift in assumptions.”

One such dynamic opportunity was the partnership between FOX and Bakewell Media, via The Taste of Soul. While FOX has maintained a consistent presence at The Taste of Soul over the years, Bernard saw the event as a chance to further strengthen FOX’s connection to the African-American community.

“It was all about being forward thinking and bringing forward thinking opportunities either individually or collectively to the African-American community,” Bernard revealed.  “There was a joint dedication to that and both FOX and Bakewell Media I believe have existing brands that on their own do that but together the potential could be really great.”

Taste of Soul was the impetus of what will hopefully evolve into a long and fruitful collaboration. For Bernard, gone are the old days of sponsorship of just writing a check to say you were there. Her concern was how to turn sponsorship into authentic engagement that drives business back to business so those sponsorships, those businesses, those engagements are truly valuable. Her first step in ensuring that FOX’s involvement in the Taste of Soul was valuable this year was getting behind Starquest, The Taste of Soul talent competition. “That was a no-brainer,” she exclaimed. “From American Idol to X-Factor, FOX is the home of the big talent competitions so this made absolute sense. Initially, they were just asking for talent but I felt we could do better than that then I came across this and couldn’t believe we hadn’t thought of it before, it was so obvious.”

As the Audience Strategy continues to broaden the reach of FOX across all its entertainment properties, partnerships like this prove valuable to local and national markets.

“It’s not just about Taste Of Soul but what it represents. It demonstrates a critical value that African Americans bring to LA and the richness of LA,” Bernard says.  “It demonstrates a brand marketing business value around a very dynamic wealthy constituency and we share a same thinking that while there are elements of that engagement that might be local, there’s such an easy concept of business integration that would bring an immediate value add for our sponsorship dollars.” The national platform, states Bernard very bluntly, “That is our brand and the talent that amplify that and connect them to the FOX brand and programming that made the marriage make sense. Its thinking about how we work together to amplify the Taste of Soul brand.”

What Ms. Bernard is alluding to are the plans currently underway as a direct result of the joint venture, to take the Taste of Soul on the road. The goal of the project is to develop a grassroots campaign, which means creating local content for and engagement with African American audiences across the country. This level of exposure not only puts Taste of Soul on a national fast track with FOX audiences but it also connects FOX nationally with a recognizable African American brand, that says FOX is about us and engages us.

“The bottom line of all this is the recognition of the tremendous value, that we have always had,” says Bernard in between bites of trail mix. “That the value be recognized in mass, that it not be questioned any more, that it is plain spoken. I’d love for the collective to see this partnership as a roadmap to acting in concert either around this initiative or others because it means business for us all. It’s the value proposition. When we recognize the value in our community, then it’s like a domino effect. Everybody recognizes it.”

 

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

February 20, 2014

By Terri Schlichenmeyer


Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

 

For as long as you can remember, there’s always been someone in your corner.

A sibling watched out for you on the playground. A teacher took you aside for extra tutoring. A neighbor watched your home, so you’d be safe. Someone mentored you, someone fed you, someone put you on the right path.

For most kids, though, the first advocate was a parent. And in the new book “I’ll Take You There” by Greg Kot, you’ll see how one father’s push left a mark on his family and on music.

Born on the “cold Mississippi Delta” in 1915, Roebuck Staples knew enough to stay away from white folks. He also understood that his father’s sharecropping life wasn’t his own future. No, Roebuck was obsessed with the guitar at a time when guitarists could make good money so, at age 21, he moved to Chicago where he took a series of jobs to care for the family he’d had by then.

Before long, there were four children to feed: a boy and three girls (later, a fourth). There wasn’t much money to go around, so the children sometimes spent school years with their grandmother in Mississippi – but when the family was together, Roebuck (now called Pops) taught his children to sing.

Singing was something the Staples kids did often. Their neighborhood friends included Lou Rawls, Johnnie Taylor, and Sam Cooke; Muddy Waters, Nat “King” Cole, and Duke Ellington also performed in the area, although Pops insisted that his family stick to gospel songs. By the late 1940s, churches on Chicago’s South Side were delighted to host the Staple Singers, headed up by 8-year-old Mavis.

By 1953, Pops had recorded his family’s performance and was shopping for record labels. When Mavis graduated from high school in 1957, the family began touring. By the early 1960s, they’d performed many times in the South.

But the South wasn’t like it was when Pops left it during the Depression years, and neither was music. Folk songs “merged” with the civil rights movement by 1963. Pops Staple, impressed with Dr. King’s work, started writing and performing songs to reflect society then.

And thus, says Kot, “The Staple Singers were unabashedly freedom fighters.”

Though it focused a little too much on dates and discography, I was overall impressed here. “I’ll Take You There” is a darn good story.

Whisking readers over a span of nearly 100 years, author Greg Kot presents a roller-coaster ride of the highs and lows of one of gospel and soul’s most iconic families. What I loved the best about it was seeing other singers and another time through the eyes of Mavis Staples, who is Kot’s main interviewee. That brought me back to my parents’ living room, a scratchy LP, and things I’d almost forgotten.

This is a great look at history, both musically and culturally, and though the dates-and-discography part can overwhelm, I think it’s worth reading. If you’re particularly a fan of soul, R&B, or gospel, “I’ll Take You There” is a book you’ll want to corner.

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

February 20, 2014

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — Lupita Nyong’o is preparing herself for normalcy. After the frenzy that's followed her gripping performance in “12 Years a Slave,” she wants to be ready for life back home in New York.

“I try to keep my regimen — rest, water, eat well, workout — so that when this is all over, I don’t experience a total hangover,” she says, taking a bite of scrambled eggs in a recent interview at a Beverly Hills cafe.

She hasn’t yet accepted that her life may never be the same. “I have a very ostrich mentality,” she says. “I feel like I have my head in the sand so no one can see me.”

Before playing slave Patsey in Steve McQueen’s brutal tale of a free black man kidnapped into slavery in the 19th century South, Nyong’o was virtually unknown. Now, as a supporting actress Oscar nominee, she's become a breakout star.

When she received the call from McQueen saying she had landed the role, “I was so elated,” she recalls. “But then I immediately panicked. I was so scared.”

No wonder; this would be her first major role after attending the Yale School of Drama. Yet shooting the film gave her the confidence she needed coming out of school. “It was an amazing feeling,” she says.

Now, with all eyes on what she’ll do next, the actress refuses to stress about securing another role that’s equally as celebrated.

“The bar has been set very high externally and internally,” she says. “But I don’t want to feed into that pressure of expectation. This film was so fulfilling and artistic. I’ve tasted that and I obviously want to experience that kind of creative fulfillment again, but I also know that I can’t replicate that. I want a varied acting experience and that may include some failure and that’s healthy.”

Actually, Nyong’o’s next film is already in the can and ready for release on Feb. 28: She plays a flight attendant opposite Liam Neeson in the action-thriller “Non-Stop.” “It was what I needed to do,” she says. “It was the perfect antidote to ‘12 Years a Slave.’ It was a different genre with different demands. It was very technical and fun.”

Growing up in Kenya, Nyong’o says her parents encouraged her and her five siblings to “find out what we were called on this earth to do and then do it to excellence.”

Before former Kenya president Daniel Arap Moi allowed multi-party politics in 1991, Nyong’o’s father, Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, was an advocate for democratic reform, opposing Kenya’s autocratic regime. Then a political science teacher, Nyong’o’s father relocated his family to Mexico City for their safety. It was there that Nyong’o was born, yet her family returned to Kenya before she was a year old.

Nyong’o says her parents have been supportive of her Hollywood success but have also taken the excitement in stride. “It’s nice to have parents like that because they’re thrilled,” she says. “But they’re not shaken by it.”

(Nyong’o’s father is now a Kisumu County senator and her mother, Dorothy Nyong’o, is the managing director of the Africa Cancer Foundation.)

With the Academy Awards less than two weeks away, the 30-year-old actress says she wants to continue to savor every moment, even the overwhelming ones.

“The Hollywood Film Awards were really stressful,” she remembers of the October ceremony, where she shared the spotlight with the likes of Julia Roberts and Matthew McConaughey. “It was the biggest press line I'd ever seen. It was difficult to orient myself, but there are familiar faces now, so it becomes less daunting.”

Not only blessed with significant acting ability, Nyong’o’s striking beauty and bold fashion choices have made her one of the most talked-about celebs on the red carpet.

From the turquoise Gucci column gown she wore to the Screen Actors Guild Awards to the emerald green Christian Dior dress she chose for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards last weekend, she’s what “12 Years a Slave” screenwriter John Ridley calls “undeniably poised and graceful.”

Never the girl who thumbed through Vogue (now she appears in the magazine as the face of fashion house Miu Miu), Nyong’o began buying fashion magazines in preparation for all of the formal events she expected to attend following the success of “12 Years.”

“I was like, ‘OK, I have to research,’” she recalls with a giggle. But letting herself “dress large” has been scary, she admits. Referencing the scarlet Ralph Lauren dress she wore to the Golden Globes, she adds, “It had a cape! That was exhilarating.”

Despite her tendency to make fashion statements in stunning ensembles, she doesn’t feel pressure to always deliver a talked-about look. And the same goes for her feelings about Oscar night.

“I feel privileged that people are looking up to me and perhaps a dream will be born because of my presence,” she says. “But my responsibility is to just keep on pursuing my dreams and goals and the admiration will take care of itself.”

Notes Whoopi Goldberg, who Nyong’o cites as an inspiration after watching her in “The Color Purple” as a child: “Hollywood is a very strange place. Lupita has to be really glad people want her autograph and know that she has the right to say ‘Not right now.’ But no one can limit her conversation to race because she’s better than that. She’s a great visual for why dreaming is OK.

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

February 20, 2014

 

ARIES

Allow yourself to live your dream this week.  Don’t second guess your instincts or desires and you will find you are already the person who you always knew you could be.  Be courageous as you set forth to fulfill your goals. If doubt knocks, lock the doors and windows of your heart. Soul Affirmation: I make sure people understand that I am on their side this week.

 

TAURUS

Trust your special knowledge of yourself and the universe and use that knowledge as a guide this week.  Not everyone will trust in you know to be true.  Do not let their lack of faith shake your belief in yourself.  Knowledge of external processes is not nearly so important as knowledge of yourself this week. Soul Affirmation: Doing good this week is the key to feeling good.

 

GEMINI

It’s not always what you know, or even who you know that paves the road to success.  Sometimes it’s just being in the right place at the right time that counts.  Be prepared to answer when opportunity knocks this week. Accept your good fortune graciously,  and share it with others. Soul Affirmation: I go within myself to find a place of calm where I can rest.

 

CANCER

In our society looks sometimes matter more than they should, but that is not to say looks don’t matter at all.  Presentation is important, keep that in mind as you walk through life. This week take a few extra moments to make sure that your physical self is as attractive as it can be. You will see a bigger than usual change not only in the way others feel about you but in the way you feel about yourself. Soul Affirmation: When things get strange I find peace in the ordinary.

 

LEO

A family treat is in store for you if you play your cards right. Family members are ready to praise you for your accomplishments if you approach them with modesty. Give yourself time for romantic encounters. The romantic vibe is high. Soul Affirmation: I keep my true purpose ever before my eyes.

 

VIRGO

Ask the friend who comes calling to tell you about the moneymaking idea that is on his or her mind. The two of you would be good together. Have a private chat with a family member. Make keeping secrets your specialty. Events bring stress but you’re cool. Soul Affirmation: I find joy in the simple pleasures of the week.

 

LIBRA

Responsibilities at home keep you from traveling. It’s all for the best. Outside ambitions can wait. Keep your spirit light! Look for love in the right places. Possibilities for love increase at home.  The tendency to overreact at school or work is strong. Guard against it. Soul Affirmation: My creative ideas are my greatest treasures.

 

SCORPIO

Flexibility and cooperation are the words for this week. Driving a hard bargain will create an impossible barrier. It’s a great week for fun! Give in to it. Flow. Give in to the party mood but don’t forget school or work. Remembering to forgive and forget is especially important this week. Soul Affirmation: Moving slowly might be the fastest way for me to get there.

 

SAGITTARIUS

There is a lot on your plate. Be methodical about taking care of it. Get kids involved in something fun and educational. It’s a good time for it. Save time for romance. Visit a favorite restaurant. Appetites must be fed in a healthy way. Soul Affirmation: I seek the lighthearted flavor of love.

 

CAPRICORN

Make some plans regarding long-range financial security. Your present frame of mind is good for that. Someone you flirted with wants to be your companion. Give the universe a chance to bring love into your life by being a welcoming soul. Soul Affirmation: I give and the universe gives back to me.

 

AQUARIUS

A practical solution is at hand to one of your inventions. Give yourself some space to allow the answer to come to you. Any repetitive task, such as weeding the garden or washing the dishes or car, will be conducive to your receiving the solution. Soul Affirmation: Things are working together for my good.

 

PISCES

You may feel an internal pressure towards responsibility this week. Go with the flow and this week will be like a gift. Judging others will bring harsh judgments on you. Let your words assist others in becoming more self-responsible. You are a good teacher of right actions. Soul Affirmation: I slow down and find the success that has been following me.

 

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

February 13, 2014

By Maleena Lawrence

LAWT Contributing Writer

 

The natural libations of the falling rain made way for an intimate Opening Night at the 22nd Annual Pan African Film Festival (PAFF). The Red Carpet was sheltered outside Rave Cinemas as honored guests happily made their way inside for the screening of the opening night film, “Of Good Report”, a South African film directed by Jahmil X.T. Qubeka about a shy and mysterious high school teacher named Parker who arrives at his new assignment in a rural school. He falls obsessively for a gorgeous young girl who he did not know was a student at his school. This tail of forbidden fruit has anxiously made its way to the Pan African Film Festival after being banned in its native country. Following the premier, the promise of debate sparked the theater by viewers who agreed the film was either to explicit to watch or it tapped on a deep rooted taboo that tends to be kept secret cross communities worldwide. Either way, the director remained open in addressing feedback and held his own in defending his film, “Of Good Report”.

In addition to the controversial screening, PAFF’s official night included award-winning actor/ director Charles Dutton who received this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the festival’s annual Night of Tribute awards ceremony. Mr. Dutton stated, “This is a fantastic night and I am honored to be here at opening night since every year that I am invited I am unable to attend because of work. So, this year is very special to me and I appreciate receiving my Lifetime Achievement Award from PAFF.” Dutton received congratulations from fellow actress Loretta Devine, actor Rocky Carroll who shared the screen with Dutton in the early 1990’s television series, Roc and Isaiah Washington, who co-stars in the critically acclaimed psychological thriller BLUE CAPRICE with Tequan Richmond which is must see feature at this year’s festival. 

This year the Pan African Film Festival is debuting 172 films made in the U.S. and throughout the Diaspora. To support Black independent filmmakers and the arts movement make your way over to RAVE Cinemas Baldwin Hills 15 at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza by February 16, 2014 to catch a Pan African Film and share your feedback with us on Twitter, @thelasentinel.

To check festival listings go to http://www.paff.org/filmfest/.

Parent Category: Lifestyle
Category: Arts & Culture

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