by Donna Lecky
Films are works of art that provide entertainment and historical value and have evolved and expanded due to the contribution of African Americans. The history of film is deeply rooted in the origin of modern-day culture and dates back to the early 1900s. Today, film is known for its ability to inspire individuals, expand viewers’ knowledge of the world and aid in economic growth. The characters, storylines, and lessons often reflect the actual lives of their viewers.
African Americans have made significant contributions to the advancement of the film industry. Oscar Micheaux, born on January 2, 1884, was an author, film director and independent producer of more than 44 films. He is regarded as the first major African American feature filmmaker, a prominent producer of race films and described as the most successful African American filmmaker of the first half of the 21st Century. Mr. Micheaux passed in March 1951.
In 1939, Hattie McDaniel, was the first African American to win an Oscar Winner for Gone With the Wind. While Ms. McDaniel attended the ceremony, she was not seated alongside her castmates, she was seated at a small table at the back of the Cocoanut Grove ballroom where the ceremony was held. From early actresses like Hattie McDaniel African Americans have used film to take a stand against racial disparities they have faced, tell stories, and generate a range of emotions. Black film has been used to focus on historic social and political movements, create more diverse and inclusive environments, and combat negative racist stereotypes.
According to this McKinsey study, published in March 2021, Black professionals are substantially underrepresented in film and TV, and the relatively few that do find success must bear the lion’s share of responsibility for creating opportunities for other Black actors. Barriers to inclusion run deep and wide, extending from the most junior positions to the most senior. Racial disparity within the film industry is pervasive and more must be done in terms of inclusion and equity.
While the epicenter of films produced by African Americans like Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, or Jordan Peele’s Get Out, has been California, Michael Jai White has taken a different approach to filmmaking by expanding his reach outside of California to Connecticut. Connecticut, home to Mr. White an American actor, director and martial artist who was the first African American to portray a major comic book superhero in a major motion picture in the 1997 film Spawn and home to Yale University one of the top MFA programs in the world that has produced alumni such as Angela Bassett, Courtney Vance, Sanaa Latham and Lupita Nyong’o, just to name of few.
There has been an increasing amount of attention and popularity centered around African American as main roles in various films and successful directors. White has made an extreme contribution to the film industry by creating Jaigantic Studios, LLC where his vision is to “build an industry that provides real opportunity for the countless underserved who have the talent, ambition and character to rise up and become the next heroes and voices of their generation.” With that vision, he has created a sustainable, future-forward, employee-owned Film and Television Hub that stimulates local and regional economies by creating thousands of high-paying union and non-union careers, on-the-job apprentice programs and emerging media and technology training.
With an intentional focus to foster diverse talent in underserved and underrepresented communities, White is challenging the status quo by taking action. His core team of industry veterans represents over 300 years of experience in entertainment and a collective filmography of over 500 film and television titles which has generated billions of dollars in revenue. By his actions, White is reshaping the narrative as outlined in the Mckinsey Study and is positioned to do so. The creation of Jaigantic, is the creation of exponential opportunities that may not otherwise have been realized.