On August 25th HBO will air The Black List, Vol. 1,
ostensibly the first in a series of documentary films featuring
segments of interviews with noteworthy African Americans. The film
(part of a larger project including a touring photography exhibition
and a book of portraits and interviews), conceived of and executed by
photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and critic Elvis Mitchell, highlights the stories of prominent figures like author Toni Morrison, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and reigning lord of squeaky-wheels Al Sharpton. Refreshingly, it also showcases some unexpected people like guitarist Slash, curator and museum director Thelma Golden and basketball player/coach Dawn Staley.
Although the premise of The Black List is a nice one–to profile a cross-section of influential African Americans–and appears to be well excecuted,
there is a surprising lack of diverse perspectives from the music
industry. Given the obvious attention to finding some interesting and
unheard voices, like that of playwright Suzanne-Lori Parks, it seems so predictable and lazy to have Sean “Diddy” Combs and Russell Simmons be half of the woefully underrepresented music contingency (the remaining fourth being Steve Stoute, sometimes manager of Nas and founder of Translation Advertising, who is not in the film). Really? How many times do we have to hear Diddy recount his association with Biggie?
When was the last time the Hip Hop Summit was relevant or necessary?
Sure their influence has been tremendous, but it has also been
documented numerous times. While the inclusion of Slash is great, what
about other musicians, songwriters or singers? And, again, where are the women?
Clearly The Black List isn’t meant to be definitively reflective
of Black music (or Black anything, really), and the open-endedness of
the project does leave plenty of room for more diverse profiling in the
future. However, if the first installment is an indication of future
interviewees it may be safe to not get your hopes up for a profile of
someone like Steve McKeever or Me’Shell NdegeOcello
(or many of the people featured on SoulBounce). While the effort can be
applauded, the outcome does no great service to applaud true
progressiveness in the music industry.
Instead of waiting for The Black List to launch its companion website, tell us who in the music industry is on your black list right here, right now.