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5 Questions with Jeff Friday on Making October 'Black Movie Month'

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Jeff Friday
When it comes to quality Black films, like so many of us, American Black Film Festival founder Jeff Friday, is left wondering, “Where is this generation’s “Soul Food” or “Do The Right Thing?”

“Over the past two years we had only six films total that were either made by or starred an African-American in Hollywood,” he says.

But instead of complaining Friday, also CEO of Film LIfe, decided to start a campaign to raise awareness about Black films and recognize October as Black Movie Month.

ESSENCE.com spoke with Friday about BMM, and the state of Black moviemaking.

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ESSENCE.com: Why did you feel a need to start a Black Movie Month?
FRIDAY: I've been following the business for the past 20 years or so, and I had the researchers in my office put together a chart of Black films over the last 25 years. What we figured out is that 25 years ago takes us right back to the Spike Lee era, when he released "She's Gotta Have It.” That was kind of the beginning of what we called the Black film movement. Fast forward to the 90s, and you had a bunch of African-American themed films, "The Best Man,” "Soul Food,” "Boyz in the Hood,” "New Jack City,” etc. There were about 14 or 15 a year.

Now, the paradigm in Hollywood has changed dramatically, and what that means to niche films, not only Black films, is that directors are now making sequels, and prequels, and movies based on big national concepts. Over the past two years we had only six films total that were either made by or starred an African American in Hollywood. So really, Black movie month was about making some noise and raising awareness, not about complaining or pointing at studios.

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ESSENCE.com: What are your thoughts on the state of Black movie making?
FRIDAY: I think the biggest issue for me personally is that Black culture is disappearing from movies. Film is one of the most influential mediums we have. There's a reason we get 300 people together in a room in front of a big screen -- that experience has an immeasurable impact on our psyche. I think it's important for us and people around the world to see Black people in a variety of ways on film. What I'm scared of is that we'll be depicted in a very limited way and eventually end up not being depicted at all. We're happy to be at the point where Black men and women can be in the box office, but those are not always Black films. Bottom line is I don't want our culture to disappear in motion pictures.

ESSENCE.com: Who do you hope to reach with this initiative?
FRIDAY: Well this is a consumer initiative. This is for every person who reads ESSENCE Magazine or ESSENCE.com. This is about raising awareness for people because the power of this movement is in the numbers. This isn't about celebrities going ballistic and saying,'Support Black Movie Month.’ This isn't even about supplying one commercial entity, it's about moving the whole industry forward, because every time you buy "Love Jones" a Black person gets paid. So it's really about economic solidarity.

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ESSENCE.com: So what is the goal for Black Movie Month?
FRIDAY: It's for people of color to first recognize how important it is for our culture to exist on film.

ESSENCE.com: Where can people go to support Black Music Month?
FRIDAY: We actually spelled it out on our site, blackmoviemonth.com. There are six calls to action: Go See a Movie, Buy a Ticket, Buy a DVD, Engage in Dialogue, and Stay Informed. If you look at the site the Stay Informed tab has books and articles that people have written about Black culture. Every person just do one of those things in support of Black movies. And one of the things we stress is support. Make a movie, maybe you've always had a film you wanted to do that you haven't gotten around too yet. We want every person to do one thing, that's the Black Movie Month challenge.

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