of network diversity,” Polk says, “but somehow we still end up with these casts that are all White.”
Rather than waiting for networks to make a move, however, underground filmmakers, writers and producers, who are independently funding their own projects, are taking matters into their own hands and relying more on an online presence to tap into what they believe is a strong, loyal audience longing for mediums that best reflect who they are.
Roger Omeus, Jr., an independent filmmaker in New York City, says Polk’s Noah’s Arc and 2001 film Punks inspired him to create an online series called Finding Me. Originally a film Omeus distributed on dvd, Finding Me explores similar themes found in Noah’s Arc. There are no over-the-top images of effeminate men wearing makeup, but rather everyday men struggling with conventional issues in the gay black community like hyper-masculinity and coming out of the closet. Like Tha Life Atlanta and another Internet series called Freefall, Omeus’ project has acquired thousands of hits online.
Omeus says he, too, tried to pitch his series to LOGO, as well as BET, but his attempts were met with no reply. Instead, he continues to feed his avid fanbase with mini online episodes. But while web series do quite well by the numbers, there’s one fatal flaw: it’s extraordinarily expensive. Though viewers love the finished product and often demand more, Omeus says, they fail to fully comprehend the amount of time and money that goes into keeping such a creative machine alive.
For one, he says, a series like Finding Me can cost as much as $100,000 per season - and that’s on the low end of the spectrum. And when you’re self-funding your own project with a cast of actors, you’re often cramming in 12-hour days on the weekend in order to complete filming. Omeus says he’s even tried online fundraising, but was unsuccessful at securing any significant capital.
“A lot of us are doing it for nothing,” he says.
Omeus says he’s hoping to someday tap into an online business model that would better serve his efforts. Still, he admits his line of work is more than about the monetary reward.
“I’m doing this for the 19-year-old version of myself looking for something out there, “ he says. “I’m doing this for the 30 and 40-somethings who are still saying I don’t see my story being told.”
As for Tha Life Atlanta, Smith says he’s preparing to present another reel to LOGO in the near future. If the third time is not a charm, however, he says he’ll continue to knock on the doors of networks until someone takes notice. But in the meantime, however, he’ll continue to broadcast the show online.
“There are some days you feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. The masses do not necessarily always understand so they reject it,” Smith says.
“If you look at television now, almost every major show, whether reality or scripted, has some type of gay character now...I just don’t want us to miss the revolution.”
Gerren Keith Gaynor is a freelance writer in New York City and a graduate of Morehouse College and Columbia University Journalism School. Read more of his work on his website, MrGerrenalist.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MrGerrenalist.