She Got Problems: Being Black, Female and a Film/TV Producer

For Alison McDonald, creating a path to breaking the glass ceiling in Hollywood as a Black producer who happens to be a woman, has not only been a long journey, but a rewarding one as well. Having written for hit television shows such as Nurse Jackie, Everybody Hates Chris and American Dad, McDonald is now embarking on her own webisode series, She Got Problems, set to portray her comical and at times taboo love life.

The series is especially timely in light of the fact that Hollywood is especially closed to Black female directors, writers and producers with only a few exceptions in the past few years. We know about the success of Shonda Rhimes and her ABC hit drama "Grey’s Anatomy," and of course, there is Mara Brock Akil, producer of soon-to-be-released film, Sparkle and BET’s “The Game," but the question is, who's next?

McDonald finds it imperative for web series like hers and Issa Rae's "Awkward Black Girl" (which won the 2012 Shorty Award for Best Web show), to finally gain some substantial recognition to help break the Hollywood glass ceiling that often feels like cement. Here, McDonald gives EBONY.com the low down about She Got Problems and why she feels Hollywood is afraid of Black women. 

EBONY: Why do you feel as though the film and TV industry is afraid to have a Black female protagonist?

ALISON MCDONALD: I wouldn't describe it as fear, necessarily.  I think it's probably a by-product of Hollywood's collective myopia.

​EBONY: Do you feel that media views Black women as less human or dynamic than white women, hence keeping us in a box, pushing us away from seeing a Black female protagonist portrayed on television and many times in film?

AM: Black women are invisible to Hollywood.  Every now and then there will be break-out performances, like Viola Davis's and Octavia Spencer's in The Help, or Taraji P. Henson's in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, whose sheer force demand recognition.  However, as you know, these are the rare exceptions.  Moreover, despite their sudden visibility, most of these women rarely have a worthy follow-up vehicle, and just recede back into semi obscurity.  It's a heartbreaking waste of talent.

I actually first saw Viola perform years ago in a Juilliard production of Caryl Churchill's play Cloud Nine.  At the time I was visiting my sister, who wasn't in the production, but was a schoolmate of Viola's.  I was transfixed by her performance; it was one of those "bearing witness to greatness" moments.  Years later, when I was in film school at Columbia, a fellow student was directing a script I'd written, and the lead called for an African-American actress.  He showed me tapes from auditions he'd held, and while all of the women were capable enough, none of them truly embodied the character.  I had the craziest whim, and called my sister to ask if she knew how to get in touch with Viola, just on the off chance that she wasn't currently performing in something (this was after Seven Guitars, but before her Tony win for King Hedley II)And by sheer luck, Viola agreed to act in my student film!  As grateful and over-the-moon as I was, I remembered thinking, why isn't she booked in back-to-back feature films or TV shows?     

[WATCH] She Got Problems

Producer and actress Alison McDonald gives us a peek into her hilarious and most vulnerable moments of her love life. 

​EBONY: When did you decide to push this web series?

AM: Believe it or not, She Got Problems is an idea I've been developing for the past six years -- and, appropriately enough, its original title was The Invisible Woman.  It was also originally going to be a feature-length film; it may yet become one...

​EBONY: I know that you play yourself in this web series.  But, what true events or experiences have inspired your character?

AM: The series is entirely inspired by actual events!  The monologue that bookends She Got Problems is ripped from the pages of my pitiful love life.  I actually dated that guy, and the event -- or non-event -- I describe actually happened!  Sadly, it wasn't the worst date I've ever had…

EBONY: How will we get the opportunity to see more of She Got Problems?  Are you working on developing more series?

​AM: I hope and pray that I'll be able to raise enough financing to create full-length episodes of She Got Problems.  The two trailers I've produced thus far have been entirely self-funded, and I simply can't sustain that -- I've plundered my savings!  The BBC six-episode season (or what HBO is doing with Eastbound and Down) is a great template for quality control, and particularly if, as a writer/creator, you want to maintain creative control.  I think most writers always have new ideas percolating -- they become a welcome detour whenever you hit a mental roadblock with your current project.  I'd really love to write a play, or dust off an old