I'm a little pissed this morning. Spike Lee's Kickstarter campaign for his newest film has raised the ire of many. Spike's offered motivation has been two-fold. He wants to do a smaller, personal project is one. The second, is that he wants to cast young new talent in this new project.
Spike did just that. He announced yesterday that he had casted as his female lead Zaraah Abrahams, a young actor with an extensive resume. Between 2003 and 2010 alone she was in three UK shows, appearing in over 250 episodes combined. She hasn't yet made the leap to film and has no major stateside presence from what I can see.
Sticking to his word, he's casting a talent, a black female talent, say it again, a BLACK FEMALE talent, who he wants to bring to the fore. At 26, she has none of the heat or credits that would place her high on the lists that make financiers open up their wallets, or get distributors salivating. Assessing Abrahams Spike said, "I know Young Talent. These are Individuals who have that special something, a true gift from God and they only need the platform, the vehicle to “SHOW DA WORLD” what they got."
This morning I did a keyword search through Google, Twitter and Whotalking.com. Is there much support so far? Not really. Mostly just announcements with a yay thrown in somewhere. Is there much dissection about what this could mean for actors? What experimenting with this funding model could do specifically for actors of color and women who are marginalized? Nah? The announcement seems to have come in with a whimper among the filmmaking community.
Maybe I'm ahead of the curve and the passionate pieces reinforcing how vital the financial freedom to do this kind of casting will come. Expanding a bit on what I mean, here's what I posted as a response on Shadow and Act's own announcement about the casting earlier today.
I believe we're underplaying how much Spike is being true to his word. Spike said he wanted to cast up and comers and unknowns, the type of actors who aren't being considered. Well, before this announcement, how many of us had ever heard of Zaraah Abrahams outside of the UK? Even with her extensive resume, her credits are overwhelmingly in TV, not in film. As far as the current financing market would be concerned, Abrahams wouldn't be a strong draw, and her foreign presales numbers would be non-existent compared to other names Spike could have cast if he wanted to go more traditional funding routes. Names such as Zoe Saldana would be the first ones dangled in one front of Spike by financiers.
If we want to see the Spike's of the world cast more actors like Abrahams, who clearly have been working consistently, with a longer resume than even some of their white counterparts--on either side of the pond--crowdfunding will be ONE-not the only, but ONE--of those avenues.
We have to keep in mind that the same pressure on Spike to cast a Zoe, so he can get the upfront funding, so he can better ensure that the film will generate distributor interest before it's even played a festival, so the film will have a higher profile to get into larger festivals, extends to all levels of filmmaking. There are low-budget filmmakers who currently can't even get a programmer to look at their films by some New York arthouses and microcinemas because they have no names in their cast. Don't be fooled into thinking that Spike's barriers aren't our barriers as well.
If we're going to create new channels for filmmakers to find financing, distribution, exhibition and marketing, we have to expand how we view the entire system. Filmmaking does not exist in a vaccum. Budget and clout are tools that allow filmmakers to get around many obstacles with greater ease, that doesn't mean those obstacles didn't exist. They don't go way because you have a million twitter followers, or because you've directed 30 features. We can ignore those obstacles and concerns, and continue to be reactive, or we can get proactive and look to Spike's campaign, asking how can we identify and play a role in helping more Zaraah Abrahams continue to progress as actors.
Or we could sit idle. Write more millionaires supporting millionaires, gentrification of crowdfunding rants, and equally useless why aren't there more black actors like Jennifer Lawrence posts. Your choice.