Friday, October 12, 2012

Middle of Nowhere

If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they are yours. But how long do you wait?  In her newest work, "Middle of Nowhere", film publicist turned award winning director, Ava DuVernay, explores this question through a loving young couple sentenced to eight years separation.

Devoting Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) is married to Derek (Omari Hardwick). Like Erykah Badu's "Otherside of The Game," Derek had a complex occupation that earned him eight years in prison. But despite the near decade sentence, Ruby is hopeful he'll get out in five with good behavior.  Derek's outlook isn't so optimistic and tries to convince her not to wait for him and go on with her life.

Five years is a LONG time to wait. Things change, people change, and life for Derek on the inside isn't as calm as he claims it to be during Ruby's faithful visits.  When she learns of his activities in prison during a probation hearing, Ruby comes to realize her waiting may be in vain and she must decide what's right for her future. This includes exploring a new relationship full of potential.

But trying to hold on to what was while also looking toward what could be, may keep her stuck as the title suggest, in the middle of nowhere. What was once complex is now more complicated. So what will Ruby, whose already sacrificed so much of her life, ultimately choose to do?

With a great cast of new talent like Edwina Findley ("The Wire") as Ruby's loving sister, and some veteran, including Lorraine Toussaint ("Saving Grace") as Ruby's strongly opinionated mother, "Middle of Nowhere" gives audiences a fictitious story that looks and feels so real-- personal even--it could've said in the opening credits "Based on a True Story."

It moves almost like a documentary as we watch Ruby interact with the small group of people in her life. Scenes are not rushed through. Well used camera close-ups pull us into the varied emotions of the characters, especially Ruby and Derek.

One particular scene where Ruby humbly asks her mother for money is expertly done with little dialogue, but great focus on their faces.  Just the looks between them well demonstrate their strained relationship.

Overall the poignant "Middle of Nowhere" terrifically represents the untold story of those women and mothers "holding it down" as we say for their loved ones on "lock down." It's the kind of emotional character driven film rare in black cinema.  Not stereotypical,  nor "hood," but a well acted and thought out timeless work that will touch various audiences regardless of race.


Thursday, October 04, 2012

Iyanla: Fix My Life, Sweetie Pies Give Oprah's OWN Ratings Boost

High drama, family secrets, in-your-face accusations, conflict, humor, palpable emotion, and quotable soundbites all sound like the makings of what we call in the biz, "good television." Audiences LOVE to watch other people's dramas play out on screen, that explains why the premiere episode of OWN's "Iyanla: Fix My Life" was the network's #1 series debut EVER in its time slot, and why it ranked #2 in all of cable in it's time period for the 25-54 demographic according to Nielsen ratings.

This recipe for "good television" is also the reason why the return of OWN's "Welcome To Sweetie Pie's" earned the series placing in the top 5 shows in its time period among ad-supported cable networks for the same demographic.

Add to that the fact that Usher's interview on "Oprah's Next Chapter" ranked #3 in its time period amongst women 25-54 and 18-49 among all ad-supported cable and #1 "in the time period across all broadcast and cable in key African-American demos," according to a recent press release.

So what's all this really mean?  It means Oprah's OWN ain't as failing as some people would have you to think. In fact, it's not failing at all!  In fact, Saturday and Sunday nights it ranks in the top 5 of ad-supported cable networks.

And what's been the key to these impressive increases in  OWN's TV ratings? The addition of more African-American programming and thus more African-American viewers, especially females. Just as VH-1, WE TV,  and even TBS have found major success in appealing to African-American viewers, Oprah's OWN is now beginning to see and feel just how effective its new programming strategy focus has been.

Now for your rolling your eyes talking, "Oh, NOW she wanna do some stuff for black people now that she NEEDS us," I say this: "SHUT UP!"

We, as a black tv viewing audience, didn't complain back in the late 80's/early 90's when FOX used black programming to entice us to watch the then new network and then changed its focus when it got enough money to appeal to white teens.

We were quiet too when UPN turned CW network did the same almost a decade ago. And now we don't complain enough that VH-1 uses the same tactic to entice the black viewing audience with often ridiculously pseudo reality tv shows to boost its bottom line. That's what REALLY "behind the music"!
Every TV programmer and analyst knows statistically the black audience consumes more than its share of television programming. We're so hungry to see what we HOPE is a reflection how we see ourselves we settle with being fed any "flavor of love." So in this BUSINESS of show, appealing to Black and now, Hispanic, audiences is wise and strategic especially when you need to strengthen your overall viewership.

But don't get it twisted! It's not just black audiences watching "Sweetie Pie's" and "Iyanla: Fix My Life."  The beauty of the Oprah Winfrey brand generally is that it appeals to mainstream, aka white audiences, AND others too. And that ain't gonna change, nor should it. BUT,  I dare say in appealing to her various audiences we can trust Oprah and OWN NOT to give us programming that dumbs down black culture to boost ratings, but instead gives us good alternatives to the mess we're fed on other networks.

So I'm eager to run on along with O and OWN and see what the end will be because O has the resources and forethought to provide shows that entertain as well as enlighten that star black talent.   Between her, Iyanla, Tyler,  Bishop T.D. Jakes, and others she's off to a good start.

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