WHO CAN TELL THE STORY?
There is a minimum of fifty-three Afro-American newspapers and online news sites in the United States today. The newspapers are spread across 25 states; the online news sites have the ability to reach any interested readers anywhere in the world. A search online lists 31 top ranked magazines published by and for Afro - Americans. The National Association of Black Journalists, the African-American Film Critics Association and the Foundation for the Augmentation of African Americans in Film (FAAAF) are three among a number of national organizations of black media artists and reps dedicated to expanding the public’s knowledge of and appreciation for the continuing efforts of an ever-expanding number of black artists whose works have helped to shape and redefine arts and culture in the United States, from Broadway to Hollywood to museums, performance spaces and salons.
All of this comes to mind in the wake of a continuing lack of presence of black critics, reviewers and journalists who are invited, not just to opening nights or the occasional interview after the hit status of a particular artist or show has been established, but to come in for the exclusive interview or the backstage party – those places where their presence can make a real difference in the ability of the black press to inform a black audience that does not always read the arts and entertainment sections of The New York Times or watch Entertainment Tonight on television.
In recent years, there has been a visible, concerted effort by major New York based regional theaters such as Playwrights Horizons and The Signature Theater to include more plays by black playwrights, from Branden Jacobs Jenkins to Susan-Lori Parks to Katori Hall, and on Broadway, revivals of the work of Lorraine Hansberry and August Wilson have received a great deal of attention. And who can ignore the impact of, Jeremy O. Harris’ SLAVE PLAY, now running? But, all too often, it seems, the PR departments at these theater companies give the black media short shrift. To be sure there are exceptions: a black journalist affiliated with a mainstream newspaper or television outlet. However, there are other black journalists who never seem to be accorded the same attention or deference. It’s not simply that they matter less; it’s as though they don’t matter at all. And that is the problem. Mainstream companies cannot and will not ever successfully penetrate the multi-billion dollar Afro-American market unless and until they make full utilization of the black press, including them into consideration when it comes to advertising in the black press, arranging interviews with the Afro-American writers, actors, directors and designers who work in these shows.
Diversity is not simply about adding a play by a writer of color to the season’s roster of plays, or by bringing in a black director to lead the cast. Diversity is across the board – who is helping to work your box office, your marketing and your media outreach. When the black press is ignored, left out or shunted aside – whether by willful ignorance or lazy research – everyone suffers; the show, the producers and the public. The market the black press represents and reaches every day is less informed and, therefore, unable to support to the fullest artists who should be uplifted. There is energy that could be infused into audiences each night that is not there.
Black playwrights and performers on Broadway should not have to cajole the (often white) PR people handling their shows to arrange interviews with journalists from the black press or to reach out to black media outlets to get them to arrange interviews or even receive press tickets. The solution is to include black journalists in every media event. Yes, it is that simple. A person who has the education, the experience, the background, the professional credentials to do their jobs, should not have to find themselves on the outside looking in because someone in public relations has made an arbitrary decision not to include them. The black theater-going audience is large, spread out across nearly every region of the country; it is for certain African Americans are major source of revenue in the New York metropolitan area; this has been proven consistently ever since Pearl Bailey replaced Carol Channing as the lead in, Hello, Dolly back in 1968.
Give black journalists the opportunities to do their jobs. There is no reason not to.