MABLE SPEAKS! Mable Haddock Weighs in on Schedule Changes to Independent Lens and POV at PBSWHY PRODUCERS OF COLOR SUPPORT THE CALL TO ACTION TO SUPPORT INDEPENDENT LENS AND POV, THE UNIQUE CHALLENGES FACED BY PRODUCERS OF COLOR, AND SOME RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ACTION.
A few weeks ago, several calls to action criticized Public Broadcasting Service's (PBS) decision to move Independent Lens—the Independent Television Service (ITVS) program which funds and broadcasts independent media—from its Tuesday slot, where it has resided for over a decade, to a Thursday slot where it competes with local programming and suffers from non-affinity lead-ins. This decision had a corrosive effect on independent public media. The reports of a 39% rating loss as a result were significant and surprising, as they came less than a year after the shakeup. This decision would have also affected POV's new season scheduled to begin in June 2012.
Due to pressure from independent filmmakers and others, PBS agreed to reconsider their decision. And kudos to them for doing so. The initial decision, while devastating to all independents, offered specific challenges to producers of color that we believe are worth considering moving forward. What are some of those challenges? Why do we at Firelight join other filmmakers in support of Independent Lens, POV, and, yes, PBS, when they get it right? Why did we criticize PBS in this instance?
1. ITVS and POV clearly state their intent to increase diversity in public television’s offerings. Both organizations have robust and successful outreach and community engagement initiatives, which are essential to helping producers target specific audiences for their work. Producers of color with small budgets have been able to work with ITVS and POV to design outreach campaigns to reach their communities and extend their message to a broader base. Admittedly, the number of programs aired on these series which included a producer of color is relatively small, representing less than 20% of the total number; even so, it’s more than the total sum of all the other series and specials on other PBS series and specials, which leads us to reason that:
2. Things Seem to Be Changing. In the past two years, eight new films and media projects from the Firelight Media Producers' Lab have been funded by ITVS, and one has been funded by POV. The real significance here is that the numbers seem to be slightly increasing for emerging producers of color who traditionally have an extremely difficult time finding funding support for their first national film. Additionally, the gestation period seems to be a little shorter (the average time for most producers of color to complete a first film for public television has been 5 to 7 years). This points to the potential of a more diverse pool of producer/directors for public television, and a more demographically reflective public television.
3. We Were There from the Beginning. Lest we forget, public television itself was founded in 1967 on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement. It embodied the hopes and dreams of disenfranchised Black and minority communities. Among other things, The Public Television Act envisioned public television as a voice for the underrepresented, specifically minorities and children, a forum for educational and public affairs initiatives, and a place to “address national concerns and solve local problems.” It also mentioned arts and culture, but clearly was not intended primarily for British soap imports and Antiques Roadshows…
In 1988, after years of struggle with CPB (the Corporation for Public Broadcasting) for support for diverse and independent voices, ITVS was mandated through congressional action and added as an amendment to the Public Television Act. Recognizing the unique challenges faced by producers of color, Congressmen Bill Richardson (NM), the late Mickey Leland (TX) and Congresswoman Cordiss Collins (IL), recommended the establishment of a minority review board to report to Congress on Public Television and Radio’s commitment to minorities. History reminds us that both Public Television and ITVS emerged from struggle, a struggle waged by communities of color, independent producers and activists, and that struggle remains as relevant today as it was in 1967 and 1988.
4. Recognition of Changing Demographics and New/Transmedia Infusion. Both ITVS and POV have made necessary adjustments in their content programming and new media platforms in recognition of the growing new demographics and the presence and contributions of these voices to the national dialogue. Both organizations work closely with the National Minority Consortia to reach out to new audiences, build younger audiences and in the case of ITVS, support global voices through supporting international projects and exporting domestic programs by independents, to a global audience.
Some final recommendations as we move forward:
Mable Haddock spearheads the Producers' Lab here at Firelight Media. She served as founding President and CEO of the National Black Program Consortium (NBPC) for 25 years.