And this is me exhibiting no surprise:
By Tracy Oliver
Last night, a few of my castmates -Issa Rae (J), Sujata Day (CeCe), Madison T. Shockley III (Fred), and Tristen Winger (Darius) came to my apartment to shoot a scene for the next “Awkward Black Girl” episode. Hours after we wrapped the shoot, we stayed in my living room passionately discussing the future of “ABG” til 3am. The topic of discussion: Should “ABG” stay on the Web or go to television?
Six months ago, that answer was emphatically television. I distinctly remember sitting in coffee shops with Issa, strategizing ways to reach potential producers, executives, and networks that may be a good fit for “ABG.” We were even writing an extensive treatment for the series, visualizing how the characters and storylines could be adapted into a half-hour comedy.
I’ll admit it. The prospect of “ABG” on television is enticing. The thought of millions of people sitting around their flat screens watching a weekly version of the show is pretty exciting. The thought of an African-American female lead with dark skin and a short fro starring in a mainstream comedy is downright revolutionary.
On television, “ABG” could be what “The Cosby Show” was back in the day — a universal show breaking in several actors of color in front of the screen and writers and directors of color behind the scenes. In a perfect world, it could change the perceptions of African-American women at large and fill a void that’s absent in mainstream media.
The only problem is, we don’t live in a perfect world.
Television today often doesn’t reflect the beauty in diversity, in front or behind the camera. The numbers of writers and directors of color working in television are dismal. The numbers of femalewriters and directors of color are even worse. According to a recent DGA study, white males directed 77% of all television episodes for the 2010-2011 season, while women of color directed just 1%.
When looking at these statistics, the reality of selling “ABG” to a network lends itself to many questions. Who will become the showrunner(s) and will they understand our vision? How many writers of color will be staffed? Will we able to maintain our current cast? How much creative control will we have over the content?
To answer these questions, Issa and I sat down with a television executive from a prominent network. In short, his response confirmed our worst fears. He felt that in order for “ABG” to become more mainstream, the entire cast would need to be replaced. His suggestion for the lead character, J, was a long haired, fair-skinned actress who looked more like a model from a rap music video than an awkward black girl.
Needless to say, the meeting was frustrating. But also very eye opening. This executive’s thoughts on making “ABG” more mainstream stripped the show of what made it a hit in the first place — its relatability. The truth is, he didn’t get our show. He didn’t get our vision. And worse, he didn’t get our audience.
Our audience is the reason “ABG” is where it is today. They support our vision, and the Web allows us a unique opportunity to stay true to it. Though we haven’t yet found a way to monetize the series as we would in television, the trade off is being able to have full creative license over the content, which is ultimately why we’re excited to do what we’re doing and why our fans are excited to watch.
Tracy Oliver is a writer/producer/actor whose work can be currently seen in the hit Web series, “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” also known as “ABG.” “ABG” has been featured on several sites and publications, including Vibe magazine, Clutch magazine, CNN, The Root, Shadow & Act, AOL, and the Huffington Post. You can find “ABG” episodes and information HERE.