AFROPOP TURNS 15 NEXT YEAR!

by Denise Greene

AfroPop: The Ultimate Cultural Experience is public television’s longest-running series exclusively devoted to showcasing content about the Black experience across the African diaspora. Launched in 2008, the award-winning series almost didn’t make it to 15. Not because there was a scarcity of quality films for each season. Or for lack of station interest — the carriage across stations was steady and decent. But, when I started in my current position four years ago, Leslie, BPM’s executive director, was carefully assessing the needs of our filmmakers against the backdrop of new pathways to our audience. We spent several meetings weighing our options. We dreamt of ways to redirect resources. But we couldn’t ignore the valuable airtime that AfroPoP offered our filmmakers. I distinctly remember even pulling WORLD Channel Executive Producer Chris Hastings, into a (pre-pandemic) Zoom meeting to weigh in on this tough decision.

From the start of the series, BPM partnered with WORLD and American Public Television (APT). AfroPoP was made to address a very real need for public television to include stories of the African diaspora. The series was not just a way to get more broadcast hours for Black content, it offered the American public a more expansive and nuanced view into the diversity of the global Black experience.

The series’ first decade offered a treasure trove of captivating films masterfully curated by Leslie, Kay Shaw, Angela Tucker, and Duana Butler. Rising stars like Nikki Beharie and Nicholas Ashe hosted some seasons before Leslie became the voice of the series, inviting audiences into the global experience.

Nikki Beharie, “AfroPoP” host, Season 9

AfroPoP quickly proved to be an invaluable platform for emerging filmmakers, many of whom are now major forces in the field — Jacqueline Olive (Black To Our Roots) Sabrina Schmidt Gordon (Mrs. Goundo’s Daughter), Nadia Hallgren (Sanza Hanza), Michèle Stephenson ( Haiti: One Day, One Destiny), Thomas Allen Harris (That’s My Face/E Minha Cara), Terrance Nance and Barron Clairborne (AfroPunk Presents: The Triptych), Blitz the Ambassador (Native Son), Raoul Peck (Fatal Assistance), Jessica Bashir (He Who Dances on Wood), Madeleine Hunt-Ehlrich (Spit on the Broom), Christine Turner (Betye Saar: Taking Care of Business) and many, many more.

Leslie, Chris and I ended our Zoom conversation committed to building upon the momentum of past seasons and plotting out new distribution pathways for the series to reach audiences.

AfroPop Season 15, will launch in January 2023 with the introduction of our new AfroPop Shorts series, featuring monthly releases on our digital platforms (YouTube and the BPM Website). Then in April, we’ll release the usual broadcast premiere. This release plan grants me and Carol Bash, BPM’s program coordinator, the exciting challenge of programming for a broadcast and digital audience using separate curatorial strategies for each platform. We are also thrilled to welcome back actor Yansa Fatima, who joined us in Season 14 as the new voice of the series.

Yansa Fatima, the voice of “AfroPoP”

Releasing AfroPoP Shorts in the digital space frees us to travel broadly between subjects (climate, mental health, family legacy, etc.) and styles (doc, narrative, animation, experimental, etc.). It also creates new opportunities for our engagement team to broaden BPM’s digital audience. Welcoming the perspectives and interests of younger audiences through virtual conversations with the filmmakers, creating more opportunities for audience interaction via social media, and building connections with our HBCU community are just a few of the strategies they’re pursuing.

Meanwhile, the broadcast episodes of Season 15 will center around the theme of Black creativity in the arts, which are enduring spaces of resistance, recovery and celebration befitting our milestone. Films about Black creatives in music, visual art, drama, and dance will create opportunities for season-long community building. I can’t wait to share the full season with you. Details will be announced later this fall.

On a separate topic, I am pleased to announce that BPM’s 2022 Open Call will begin accepting submissions on Thurs., Sept. 1. This year, we will support projects in two key ways: (1) production funding and (2) a workshopping opportunity with peers in the field. One feature-length project will receive up to $100,000. One shorts project will receive up to $50,000. In addition, five producing teams with feature-length projects will be accepted into BPM’s 360 Incubator+, a professional development program that culminates with PitchBlack, our signature pitching forum where fellows compete for up to $150,000 in production funding.

Go here for details about what we’re looking for in the Open Call and how you can submit. Feel free to share this post as you spread the word about these wonderful opportunities.

−Denise Greene is BPM’s director of programs

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Black Public Media

Black Public Media (BPM) develops, produces, funds, and distributes media content about the African American and global Black experience.