‘Black Panther’ unlikely to change Hollywood’s lie that black movies can’t make money Hollywood’s biases have proven themselves stronger than its commitment to the bottom line

Any hopes that Black Panther’s box office conquest will spur Hollywood to greenlight heavily-financed movies featuring Pan-African stories and performed by predominantly black casts must be muted. Racial discrimination is not a product of logic, but rather its antithesis.

Marvel Studios’ latest movie, based on the comic company’s first black superhero, is generating earth-shattering sums of money, amassing $235 million over the first four days of its release in the U.S. and Canada alone. Directed by a black man, 31-year-old Ryan Coogler, with nearly an all-black cast and powered by a $200 million budget, the film is filling Disney’s corporate coffers and delighting its largely white executive decision makers. With films featuring black casts rarely enjoying big budgets, Black Panther will show the financial rewards that Hollywood can reap with black movies rooted in uniquely black experiences.

Many hope the economic triumph of Black Panther will persuade studios to bankroll similar movies with nine-figure budgets. This hope is buoyed by simple logic: Once scenario A proves itself, others, likewise seeking economic success, will copycat. Black Panther’s achievement, therefore, should coax others to understand the financial wisdom in backing black blockbusters. Proof of concept opens opportunity to others, so the theory goes.

An unavoidable truth, however, must temper this expectation: Hollywood’s ongoing discrimination against black movies isn’t supported by logic and evidence, so why believe illogical people will amend their behavior based on evidence that they were wrong all along?

Movie studios would insist that the leading reason for not investing big bucks in predominantly black films is that international markets won’t support them. Comedian Bill Maher, in that vein, said of Asian moviegoers, “They don’t want to see black people generally in their movies. The Hollywood executives are, like, ‘We’re not racist, we just have to pretend to be racists because we’re capitalists. We want to sell our movies in China [and] they don’t like Kevin Hart.’” With Hollywood increasingly reliant upon international dollars to turn profits, overseas perceptions matter greatly.

This is where the illogicalness of racial discrimination pierces through and why we mustn’t expect Black Panther’s success to lessen discrimination’s prevalence in Hollywood: The idea that “black films” don’t make coins internationally has long been proven demonstrably false.

Go back 30 years to Coming to America, a comedy starring Eddie Murphy, released in 1988, which made $160.6 million internationally. Or look at the two Bad Boys action movies, led by actors Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, the original released in 1995 and the sequel in 2003. Together the films earned $210.3 million in foreign countries. The black superhero movie Blade, with Wesley Snipes playing a vampire as the lead, made $61 million internationally 20 years ago. The Fast and Furious franchise practically prints money in China, starring mixed-race Vin Diesel and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and black actors Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson. And even the indie film Moonlight, with an all-black cast with no movie stars and a production budget of around $4 million, did $37 million internationally.

When a black movie rakes in the cash overseas, however, Hollywood insiders toss out an endless array of excuses as to why this or that black success story cannot be used to kill the assumption that black movies represent bad overseas investments.

Appealing movies with black casts can make money in foreign markets. The proof surrounds us. Just like movies featuring white leads, black movies need to be well-executed and appealing. If so, people across the globe will pay money to see them.

But why, then, does Hollywood swim against the current of evidence? Why do movie studios need proof of the concept when the concept has already been proven? The answers stare us in the face: These arguments about why black movies aren’t being greenlit are not being made in good faith; the strength of Hollywood’s biases against black movies are stronger than the commitment to the bottom line; sometimes logic is not enough to persuade people to behave in a racially fair way, particularly when discrimination pervades the entire industry.

Jeff Clanagan, president of Lionsgate’s Codeblack films, told the Los Angeles Times, “Every time there’s a success, it gets swept under the rug. … It’s almost like there’s an asterisk on it. They chalk it off as an anomaly.”

We should brace for something similar regarding Black Panther. Hollywood bigwigs will laud the movie as so unique that its appeal cannot be applied to the next black project in the pipeline waiting to be greenlit. Sure, we will get Black Panther sequels. But other movies rooted in blackness produced because of Black Panther’s success? History teaches us we should temper our expectations.

For now, a Hollywood that acknowledges the potential of black films is as fictional as Wakanda.

Slam dunk: LeBron James to produce reboot of the classic ‘House Party’ Stephen Glover and Jamal Olori — ‘Atlanta’ screenwriters — will write

LeBron James has a lot on his mind — free agency, NBA All-Star Weekend, and the second half of the NBA season — but there’s more. He and his SpringHill Entertainment partner, Maverick Carter, are producing a new House Party. The plan is to not just revive but to reinvent the franchise that starred Martin Lawrence, Kid ’n Play, Tisha Campbell and Full Force. It launched in 1990, and sequels followed in 1991 and 1994. Stephen Glover and Jamal Olori, Atlanta‘ screenwriters, will write it. “This is definitely not a reboot. It’s an entirely new look for a classic movie,” James told The Hollywood Reporter in an exclusive. More to come.

Russell Simmons revolutionized the culture, but now it doesn’t matter Recent sexual assault charges reveal the damage that can be done to women under the cover of fame

To date, more than 10 women have accused Russell Simmons of sexual misconduct. The accusations range from harassment to rape. Simmons says, “I vehemently deny all these allegations.

The accusers include model Keri Claussen Khalighi. She says she begged for help as Simmons coerced her to have oral sex. Musician Sherri Hines accuses the author and Def Jam Recordings founder of throwing her on a couch and raping her. Tina Baker, a lawyer, says that Simmons, who managed her career at the time, invited her to his apartment, where he held her down and raped her. Screenwriter Jenny Lumet says that Simmons coerced her into sex after having his driver take them to Simmons’ place without her consent. Drew Dixon, a former Def Jam A&R executive and daughter of former D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon, accused Simmons of sexual abuse and also says former Epic Records chairman L.A. Reid sexually harassed her. (Reid stepped down from his position at Epic in May amid sexual misconduct allegations.)

The allegations against Simmons span from 1983 to 2016. “These horrific accusations have shocked me to my core,” he wrote to The New York Times, “and all of my relations have been consensual.”

Since the initial allegations were made public at the end of November, Simmons has stepped down from all of his companies. HBO comedy series has removed him from All Def Comedy. The New York Police Department is now opening an investigation, as seven of the alleged incidents occurred in New York City.

The question shouldn’t be what would the world look like without the art these men provide.

Any stories about Simmons up to two weeks ago would have had a totally different first paragraph. Before the allegations of sexual misconduct and assault, Simmons’ story would have started with his immeasurable contributions to black culture and, by proxy, American culture. With Def Jam, Simmons helped take hip-hop from street corners to Wall Street. His visionary approach to the music business is largely responsible for making rap music the pop culture juggernaut it is today.

Beyond that, his Def Comedy Jam launched the careers of comedians such as Martin Lawrence, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, who are of course now household names. The debacle of his RushCard debit card, in which thousands of customers were locked out of their accounts over a weekend and unable to access funds, was a stain on his otherwise good reputation. All of these accomplishments, and more, used to be Simmons’ resounding legacy.

Used to be, because none of that matters anymore. While the fruits of Simmons’ cultural labor are spread across global pop culture to this day and beyond, none of those contributions would be equal to the cost from the painful toll he’s accused of inflicting on women over the course of the past three decades. The road to greatness isn’t worth a damn if that road is paved with pain and violence toward women.

So we’re left with the idea that one of the main architects of the current musical landscape — in September, Nielsen reported that the combined genre of hip-hop and rhythm and blues is No. 1, for the first time, in overall consumption — has allegedly victimized women along the way. These women were managers, artists, journalists, all who — who knows, but — could perhaps have made even larger impact on the culture.

Simmons has always been a role model for what creativity, business acumen and hard work can do, how one person’s brilliance can transform the world. Now, he may be another example of the damage that can be done to women under the cover of fame.

There will be a push — as always, and especially when black female victims are involved — to litigate just how much sexual assault is acceptable in relation to a particular artist’s contribution to popular culture. R. Kelly defenders love bringing up that his music is just too iconic to discard. Bill Cosby defenders protest that their love for The Cosby Show is just too much to sacrifice, no matter his charges. The same goes for less-discussed accused transgressors: We revere Martin despite the allegations that the titular star sexually harassed Tisha Campbell. What about Dr. Dre? Floyd Mayweather? Mike Tyson?

Where is the line, and what will be left if every man who abuses a woman is exiled from his respective level of achievement? The fact is, art will survive. Brilliance is an infinitely replenishable resource that women who are free from the anxiety and trauma of violence are more than capable of providing. The question shouldn’t be what would the world look like without the art these men provide. The question should be how much better would the world be if everyone were free to create in a world where sexual assault and violence didn’t exist. Isn’t that more valuable than a few great albums and TV shows?

Daily Dose: 10/27/17 Kellogg’s Corn Pops facing heat for cereal box

All right, y’all, almost to the weekend. I was on Around the Horn on Thursday, breaking records, and Friday afternoon I’ll be on Outside The Lines at 1 p.m. on ESPN. After that, I’ll bring things home on #TheRightTime on ESPN Radio.

Let’s quickly review the American judicial system. When police officers shoot and kill innocent black people, not only do they often get to walk free, but their acts are deleted from their records, allowing them to never face consequences for their recklessness. Now, shifting gears to those who ARE put in jail, their existence is privatized and then celebrated by the president of the United States of America. Literally. Not to mention, some of the officers are plainly stealing from people who are victims of natural disasters. Awesome.

The fate of the Bad Boys franchise is tricky. For years, we’ve been told a third installment of the classic Martin Lawrence and Will Smith movie is forthcoming, with various reboots and relaunches having petered out for various reasons. If you recall, in the second film, Gabrielle Union’s character shows up as Lawrence’s kid sister, who ends up in a romantic relationship with Smith. Now, it appears that Union might be getting her own spin-off, via a TV show, which is actually a way better idea than a third movie, to be honest.

Hip-hop in schools is nothing new. Teachers these days are using the culture in many different ways to educate and enlighten the children of America, but some efforts are better than others. It’s one thing for a couple of songs to help kids learn the Pythagorean theorem, it’s another to have your entire school repped by one of the more vicious raps you’ve ever heard in your life. And this video titled Excellence First is NOTHING BUT FIRE, KIDDOS. Straight bars. Check it out.

I don’t eat Kellogg’s Corn Pops. Ever since I was a child, they never held my interest and just seemed mad boring as a food source in a field crowded with so many more sugar-loaded options. Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, the list goes on. But in all honesty, I was more of a Chex and Crispix guy. Anyway, a new controversy is afoot for Pops because of a cereal box cover. There’s a belief that this is racist, even if not by design — which is, of course, always how it happens.

Free Food

Coffee Break: The fascination with The Notorious B.I.G.’s life will probably not end as long as I’m alive, but the stories that keep coming out of his life are fascinating and sometimes scary. Like this tale about him pulling a gun on Lil’ Kim over the fact that she couldn’t do a verse, after he allegedly slept with her sister.

Snack Time: It looks like the Brooklyn Nets are for sale, again. This time, Joseph Tsai, who runs Alibaba, is now taking over a good part of the team. Minority ownership!

Dessert: We’re wishing Gordon Hayward well, and this video of his daughters doing their best to help is adorbs.

Martin Lawrence’s ‘Martin,’ 20 years later The sitcom’s legacy is as hilarious as it is complicated

The finale of Martin aired in May 1997 as its five-season run limped to the finish line. Its demise was affected by a set of circumstances — allegations of sexual harassment, an emergency cruise storyline, a restraining order — that included Tisha Campbell walking off the Detroit set in November 1996. Core fans often omit mentioning the final season in discussions of the show, even decades later. The pain and discontent of the fifth season goes hand in hand with why Martin held such a prominent place in African-American culture during the 1990s to begin with.


Martin premiered on Fox in August 1992. Its main premise: the daily exploits of its five main characters, Martin (Martin Lawrence); his girlfriend, Gina (Campbell); her best friend, Pam (Tichina Arnold); and Martin’s two best friends, Thomas Ford (Tommy) and Carl Anthony Payne II (Cole). Its two principals, Lawrence and Campbell, had a long-established rapport.

“Martin, I’ve known him for years,” Campbell said on a December 1993 episode of Regis & Kathie Lee. “He would always say, ‘You gon’ play my girlfriend.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, sure. Right, Martin.’ But he made [good on] his promise.”

Both graduated from the school of Spike Lee classics — Campbell co-starred in 1988’s School Daze, and Lawrence appeared alongside his mentor and legendary comedian Robin Harris a year later in Do The Right Thing. Campbell and Lawrence even shared the same screen in Reggie Hudlin’s 1990 masterpiece House Party: Lawrence as Bilal, the DJ with the bad breath, and Campbell as Sidney, Christopher “Kid” Reid’s love interest. They also both appeared in Hudlin’s Boomerang in 1992. The energy of the late ’80s and early ’90s, in terms of what Hudlin and Lee were producing, directly translated into stars of those movies becoming stars of film and network television. Fox capitalized on the emergence of young black talent.

Before Fox News became the conservative conglomerate it is today, its programming model operated (and still operates) on a different wavelength. The network found success and relevancy in the swelling influence of the hip-hop generation. James Murdoch helped launch the highly respected hip-hop label Rawkus Records before selling it to his father, Rupert Murdoch — an associate of President Donald Trump’s, and the most powerful man at 21st Century Fox and News Corp. — in 1996. Shows such as In Living Color, Living Single, New York Undercover and Martin were instrumental in making Fox the massive fourth network in the ’90s.

Fox saw the allure of Lawrence — the heir apparent to Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy. He was an energetic and explicit comedian with big-screen experience whose routine worked just as well in intimate settings, as shown by his stint as host of HBO’s popular and influential Def Comedy Jam. Lawrence, though, questioned the network’s commitment to providing opportunities to entertainers of color. “Fox should reflect the diversity of black life instead of putting out the same show with different titles,” he said. “I’ve never met Rupert Murdoch or Lucie Salhany [Fox’s chairman]. I bet Tom and Roseanne Arnold know the heads of the company they work for.”

“It was a show that came wholly from the African-American experience that was a hit. It proved that unadulterated blackness could be mainstream.”

Martin premiered when African-American life and culture was under the microscope: It was a post-Rodney King and L.A. riots America. The show’s crux was hip, youthful blackness: Martin and Gina, the former a radio DJ at Detroit’s fictional WZUP and the latter an advertising account executive. “Its biggest legacy is the fact that it was a show that came wholly from the African-American experience that was a hit,” said former music and entertainment journalist Cheo Hodari Coker. He’s now the showrunner for Netflix’s Luke Cage. “It proved that unadulterated blackness could be mainstream.”

The show was a success from its start, averaging north of 11 million viewers in its first season. The New York Times praised the show’s quirkiness and its willingness to embrace social issues in episodes such as season one’s Dead Men Don’t Flush, which featured a dead white man — in this case, a plumber — being found dead in a black man’s apartment. After calling 911, the show’s fab five are forced to pass a qualifying quiz to prove they’re white. “Nothing makes my day more right,” Martin jokes, “than waking up white.” The charade nearly worked, too, as the crew correctly guessed white people’s favorite pie (apple) and named two Barry Manilow songs (“Copacabana (At the Copa)” and “Mandy”). The masquerade flatlines, however, when Cole incorrectly (and hilariously) answers “hot sauce” when responding to what white people put on sandwiches. Martin, John J. O’Connor wrote in November 1992, could “still blossom into something considerably more than a conventional sitcom.” And that “whatever happens, Martin Lawrence is obviously going places.”

Martin earned a following of diehard critics and fans alike. Some painted Lawrence’s pop culture dynamo as buffoonish — Bill Cosby slammed his stint as Def Comedy Jam host as a “minstrel show.” In a numbing sense of prophecy, Lawrence shot back at Cosby, saying, “For all his clean, wholesome, Jell-O pudding, I-ain’t-never-done-no-wrong image, they still didn’t let his a– buy NBC, now, did they?” The Los Angeles Times slammed the 1993 season two episode Whoop There It Ain’t for perpetuating stereotypes of black male sexuality. Newsweek deemed Lawrence’s character a “sex-obsessed homeboy shucking his way to nowhere.”

Yet many more saw the brainchild of creators Lawrence, John Bowman and Topper Carew as over-the-top comical. Episodes such as Hollywood Swinging (which featured Tommy Davidson as “Varnell Hill”), or Feast or Famine (a battle-of-the-sexes Thanksgiving episode) were not only hilarious but also made Martin, Gina, Tommy, Pam and Cole representatives of young black companionship and friendship in the ’90s. And Martin and Gina were the cool and relatable couple. “Having a steady relationship, getting with the right woman, is something I’ll always believe in,” he told VIBE in April 1994. “The one thing I’m most proud of with Martin is that it shows a black man loving and respecting his black woman.”

The many scenes and catchphrases considered classic are diverse, though many are from seasons two and three, the series’ apex. Suspicious Minds revolves around the mystery of Martin’s missing CD player, which causes him to channel his inner Nino Brown to interrogate his friends in hilarious, but ultimately unsuccessful, fashion. Season two standout Guard Your Grill finds Martin challenging professional boxer Tommy “Hitman” Hearns to a fight for Gina’s love. Many call out The Romantic Weekend from season three, more popularly known as Chilligan’s Island — the couples retreat episode that Martin finds on the back of a cereal box. The episode birthed the classic phrase “That ain’t no damn puppy!”

On-camera, in-character power struggles define the show’s legacy as well. Martin vs. Pam became a battle of wits. Martin vs. Ms. Geri was a recurring heavyweight clash. And Gina vs. Mama Payne became the in-law relationship from hell. At Martin’s height, cameos — by Snoop Dogg, Christopher “Kid” Reid, Salt-N-Pepa, former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham, Jodeci (who had no clue Martin would interrupt their performance), Biggie Smalls, Sherman Hemsley, OutKast, Tommy Davidson, David Alan Grier and more — were a regular fixture. Yet, while the show percolated on the strength of guest stars and the chemistry of its main characters, Martin was, in many ways, a one-man band. Lawrence played nine characters: Jerome, Dragonfly Jones, Roscoe, Bob From Marketing, Elroy Preston, Otis the security guard, Sheneneh, King Beef and Mama Payne.

By nearly any metric, whether cultural impact or relevance, Martin’s first four seasons rank as some of the finest television comedy ever produced. Its stature is eye to eye with shows such as The Jeffersons, Fresh Prince, The Cosby Show or A Different World. By the start of its fifth season, however, the empire was crumbling. Allegations of sexual harassment from Campbell made headlines in November 1996. Her lawsuit, in which she named Lawrence, stated that Campbell (herself a sexual assault survivor) had grown increasingly uncomfortable on set.

The lawsuit stated that Lawrence’s advances had increased as the seasons progressed. There were rumors that the tension ramped up especially when Campbell became engaged to fellow actor Duane Martin. It all started coming out: from fits of rage in which he threatened to fire the cast during season two to the charge that Lawrence would grope and simulate sexual acts before crew members when they weren’t rehearsing or filming to Campbell pleading with the show’s writers to cease writing bedroom scenes by season five. Campbell alleged that HBO executives Chris Albrecht and Christopher Schwartz and HBO Independent Productions had long-standing knowledge of the abuse, yet neglected to take action.

Lawrence denied all claims. “Martin has long been Tisha’s champion and protector,” his January 1997 statement read, “and is thus deeply hurt by these allegations.” But the public fracture of his and Campbell’s actual and scripted relationship was part of a string of bizarre situations for Lawrence, one of America’s top comic actors who was flourishing in the wake of Bad Boys and A Thin Line Between Love and Hate.

In August 1996, he was arrested for carrying a loaded handgun in a suitcase at Hollywood Burbank Airport. Months before, he was detained by police for wandering into traffic and screaming curses in a Sherman Oaks, California, neighborhood. While no charges were filed in either case, the energy around Lawrence was overshadowing his talent. Fox Entertainment President Peter Roth attempted to quell the swelling controversy around the network’s star. “The show is called Martin, and he has proved he is capable of handling the show. Whatever is happening off the set is not affecting the show.” But it did, of course, affect the show. How could it not?

Martin thrived on the intimacy of his and Campbell’s on-camera relationship, and even more so the unbreakable bond between its main five characters. Martin could no longer deliver on its promise. Martin was no longer entertaining to watch. Campbell functioned as Lawrence’s rock — no matter the antics of the character of “Martin,” “Gina” was there to reel him in. While Campbell helped fill living rooms with laughter — like when her head was stuck in between the Nefertiti 2000 headboard in season four’s Headin’ For Trouble — stress ate at her so much she reportedly had to be hospitalized. Campbell did eventually return to the close out the series — with very specific stipulations. Most notably, she and Lawrence were to never appear in the same scene together.

Tommy Ford’s death in 2016 was a reminder that while the show is eternal, physical energies are not. Today, Lawrence, Campbell and the rest of the cast speak glowingly of one another and of their creation’s staying power. New and young fans canonize Martin. Even basketball star LeBron James, who was 12 when it went off the air, occasionally features clips of the show on his popular Instagram Stories and dropped $5,000 on a “Jerome”-themed Halloween costume. Big Sean saluted the sitcom via the video for his 2015 hit “Play No Games.” And Chance the Rapper, born eight months after Martin’s series premiere, used his career-defining verse on Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam” to feature a brief but direct homage to the show: Treat the demons just like Pam/ I mean I f— with your friends, but damn, Gina.

What Martin did was remain true to itself in an era when black creativity served as a necessary lifeline for black America: its music, its movies, its television programs and its literature. And it did so in Detroit, a city critical to the African-American experience. The unfiltered honesty of its jokes, its dilemmas — and its shortcomings — are its flawed and labyrinthine bookmarks. It’s impossible to discuss the show without its awful ending. It’s impossible to not discuss Martin’s countless memories and laughs.

What Martin accomplished was no different from what In Living Single or The Fresh Prince of Bel Air accomplished — it just pushed the line further. It irked some and won the allegiance of others. “Martin really was one of the first mainstreamings of hip-hop culture and black culture, which really is the rage now because of Atlanta, because of Queen Sugar and because of Power,” said Coker. “It proved there was a place for it, and the place was in the mainstream, not in the margins.”