Friday, September 7, 2012

Skye's Column "Conventional Wisdom", Fayetteville Observer

  The Fayetteville Observer
"Conventional Wisdom"
Skye Dent

Published: 12:10 AM, Thu Sep 06, 2012

Having watched most of the Republican National Convention on TV, I pretty much felt I was getting everything important without having to be there.

Yes, the commentators annoyed me by continuously pushing for feedback from an opposing side on everything. By now, you would have thought on-air journalists would know that context matters more to Americans than controversy.

But I forgive TV journalists for baring their teeth. Every other series normally airing during prime time features sharp-toothed vampires.

So, where comes the sun, now that it's the Democrats' turn? For me, it was a three-hour drive to Charlotte. I wanted to watch the convention in the privacy of my own home. But when you have ink in your blood and rare national events like the conventions or the SuperBowl are in your home state, you gotta go.

That's where the dreaded "C" word comes in. No, I refuse to diss Clint. He's one of my favorite filmmakers.
He's shot films in my Boston hometown. And the last time I saw him, he spent about 15 minutes talking with me about one of my two favorite novelists, Dennis Lehane. He's allowed a senior moment.

We're talking about Compromise. In my case, that meant driving to Charlotte for some pre-DNC meetings inside and hanging outside at the protest with my homeboys - police officers and journalists.

The protest was a bust. Twenty times as many spectators as protesters.

But conventions always hold wonderful surprises. Mine came because I couldn't take the heat. I went into the Caviar Nightclub for some air conditioning and stumbled upon famed musician Gerald Albright rehearsing.

Finally, my stupid iPhone came in handy. I got permission to shoot some footage while he played and even obtained a semi-commitment to score my short film.

My second planned event was equally rewarding. I was one of a fortunate 50 invited to The Charlotte Observer for a brunch hosted by UNC's School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Hodding Carter, a political commentator and President Carter's State Department spokesman, spoke with the folksy wit of Grandpa Walton and the relentless intelligence of Star Trek's Data.

His key point? The South is going through a fundamental change. The economically vital South is not static in its population base and thus has vast streams of people not tied to the past. "It was not a small thing that three Southern states voted for Obama," Carter said, "but revolutionary."

Peter Coclanis, an economic historian and the director of the Global Research Institute, was more pessimistic. He softened the blow with an intro joke, describing an economic historian as one "who loves numbers, but lacks sufficient charm, grace and wit to become an accountant." .

His main point was that the forces that created the Sunbelt South economy between the 1940s and 1980s had been largely spent.  The decline of light industry in the 90s and the new millennium shoved many once prosperous places in NC into forlorn, if, not hopeless basket cases “beset by every imaginable social pathology”

Kareem Crayton was next, a law professor whose research focuses on voter ID laws and voting rights. If one makes this a racially divided election, he said, the Democrats will always lose. The decreased availability of early voting will have a negative impact, he said, especially in the South, which used this tool effectively to get the vote out.

Jacqueline Hall, founder of the Southern Oral History Project, reminded us that the civil rights movement was about economic issues, not just legal segregation. And while many of the overt segregation issues were resolved, the economic discrepancies remained. "The distinction between the good civil rights that succeeded and the bad war on poverty that failed is often misunderstood."

Deliberate propaganda, she said, has stirred up and renewed feelings of resentment and stereotypes, redefining concepts such as affirmative action as "a wedge issue created to bring white workers into the Republican Party by creating the belief that it was a zero sum game."

This made me sit up. I had heard some professors describe Caucasian students as being part of the new minority that deserved greater financial aid. Was that a real or wedge issue?

Gene Nichol, a civil rights, constitutional and poverty law attorney, sure did know his numbers.

"Today we have more poor people and more politicians untroubled by it," he said. Over 15 percent of us live in poverty, some 47 million, and the highest raw numbers in our nation's history. Thirty percent of Latinos live in poverty. Over 25 percent of our kids. Forty percent of our children of color.

"We have more poor people in the South and less commitment to doing something about it," he concluded.

Being one of the newly unemployed, I started to wonder which figure I might soon be a part of.
Jesse White, former co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, wrapped up the session by pointing out what he called the fallacy of globalization. "Over the last 30 years, globalization has ripped the covers off the bed of Southern society.

"By investing well in post secondary education but poorly in K-12, we've created a bifurcated society in which jobs have disappeared, leaving the bottom third of our population high and dry," he said.

These were all subjects and ideas that are being discussed at the convention, just not in front of the cameras. But the numbers were not just numbers. They reflected an equally diminishing lack of humanity deliberately being ignored by our politicians and the populace.

I put on my headphones as I left the seminar, hoping my impromptu taping of Gerald Albright might lift my spirits. But, for the first time in my life, I felt my hopes for the future... also diminishing.

(Skye Dent is a TV and film writer, educator, journalist and a member of the Fayetteville Observer's Community Advisory Board.)

Fayetteville Observer: Conventional Wisdom

Skye's Fayetteville Observer "Conventional Wisdom" Column

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Grateful Group of Writers Gives Thanks to Bill and Camille Cosby

For Immediate Release  September 2, 2012

Los Angeles - The sudden ending to what’s affectionately known throughout the entertainment community as The Cosby Writing Program has resulted in an outpouring of gratitude tinged with despair for the loss of a program that, during its 18-year-history, trained and placed hundreds of writers of color behind the cameras of some of America’s most well-known and respected television series.

Weary of seeing so many negative images of minorities in film and television, Bill and Camille Cosby established the program in 1993, explained program executive director Doreene Hamilton.

“It was a unique program in that it contains equal parts of writing instruction as well as historical knowledge of the role of blacks in the development of America,” Hamilton said.

Although the entertainment community knows the program as The Cosby Writers Program, its official name is The Guy A. Hanks and Marvin Miller Screenwriting Program. The Cosbys chose that name to honor Camille’s father, Guy Hanks, and Bill’s longtime friend and prolific producer, Marvin H.Miller.

“To lose the fellowship is a tremendous blow” said Richard Wesley, the chair of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts graduate screenwriting program as well as the writer of the hit films Let’s Do It Again and Uptown Saturday Night that starred both Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier.

“Just knowing that the program was in existence was a tremendous boost to every young aspiring filmmaker or TV writer who I came into contact with,” Wesley said.

“The Cosby Program was like a farm system for African American writers. Producers and executives would look to the program when looking for writers.” said David Wyatt, co-chair of the WGA west Black Writers Committee and a writer who worked on “Cosby”, “Eve”, “Sister, Sister” and many other series.

“Being part of the The Cosby Program was a blast -- undoubtedly one of my best professional experiences. It was great to be part of a coterie of writers not only connected by our history, but by our desire to make a difference.,” said Sylvia Franklin, a former staff writer on NBC’s “Medical Investigation”.

Peter Saji, a Cosby Writing Program alum who is a co-producer on the hit series Cougar Town, voiced concerns for the next generation of black writers.

"A lot of black people don't have the connections to secure writers' assistant jobs, and the Cosby Program was a great way for them to break into the industry, “ Saji said. “The biggest disappointment for me is that now when aspiring writers of color ask me how to get started, I'm not sure what to tell them."

Wesley agreed, saying “The progress in Hollywood has not been sufficient that we can afford to lose an institution like the Cosby Fellowship.”

Even writers who were not a part of the program, based at the USC School of Cinema, credit it with their success.

“I don’t think I, a black science fiction TV writer, would have been as accepted in Hollywood if not for inroads made by Cosby program writers,” said Skye Dent, a former writer for Star Trek Voyager and The Burning Zone who has been teaching writing in the University of North Carolina system.

“This may be the end of this particular chapter,” said Franklin, “ but for all of us who were part of it, we've only begun to tell our stories."

The WGA-West and the WGA Committee of Black Writers (CBW) will hold a 7 p.m., September 24, 2012 celebration commemoration at the WGA building, 7,000 West Third Street, Los Angeles, CA 90048. Guests include Cosby Program alumni, CBW members, invited WGA members and entertainment industry leaders.

#  #  #

A Partial List of Cosby Program Alumni Credits


Janine Sherman Barrois: Criminal Minds
Meg De Loach: Reed Between the Lines; Family Matter, Creator of Eve;


Michael Ajakwe, Jr: Unsung, Love That Girl, Brothers Garcia, Sister, Sister, Martin, Entertainment Tonight, Talk Soup

Pat Charles: Bones; Sons of Anarchy

Ayanna Floyd: Private Practice

Peter Saji: Cougar Town

Anthony Sparks: Undercovers, Lincoln Heights, The District


Brandon Broussard: House of Payne

Talicia Raggs: NYC 22; Saving Grace

Valencia Parker: Reed Between the Lines; My Wife and Kids

Elyce Strong: Lincoln Heights

Judy Dent: Love That Girl; Eve

Bonita Alfred: Girlfriends

Sonya Steel: ER

Lakeshia Walker: Dirty Sexy Money

Greg Storm: Night Stalker

Lamar Sally: Rodney, Deal with HBO

Terri Brown: House of Payne; The Parkers, Built to Last

Chuck Cummings: Homeboys in Outer Space

Theo Tavers: House of Lies

Clayvon Harris: Farscape; For Your Love; Star Trek – Voyager; Soul Food; Living Single

Sylvia Franklin: Medical Investigations


Dee Rees: Pariah

Sherry Compton Carjacked

Lichelli Lazar-Lea: The Truth About Angels

Zelie Dember-Slack: The Sweetest Heir

Hanelle Culpepper (Director) Murder on the 13th Floor, Deadly Sibling Rivalry


Kemp Powers

Peter Saji

CJ Johnson

Faythallegra Coleman

Kirkland Morris

Ron Covington & Tonis Thomas

Lorey Hayes: “Haiti’s Children Of God,” “Massinissa and the Tragedy of the House of Thunder” “Power Play”

Levy Lee Simon: Kennedy Center/ACTF Lorraine Hansberry Award 1999 – “The Bow-Wow Club,” Audelco Award-1997 “The Guest at Central Park”

Kimba Henderson: “The Reckoning”

Chuck Cummings: “Reflection Day”

Michael Ajakwe, Jr: “Happy Anniversary Punk”, “Company Policy”

Angela Smith: Divorce Court – Supervising Producer Kai Bowe: Americas Next Top Model – Story Editor

Tiffany Williams: Whale Wars – Associate Producer Kristen Carter: I Used To Be Fat – Writer

Shawnelle Gibbs: Top Chef; Project Runway – Story ProducerShawnee Gibbs: Starting Over – Associate Producer

Shirley Neal: Park Hill Entertainment: Prince Behind the Symbol; Isaiah Washington’s Passport to Sierra Leone; The Down Low Exposed. Africa Channel.

Michael Ajakwe, Jr: 1st annual Los Angeles Web Series Festival

Sonya Steel: “Celeste Bright”

Paul Mays & Terrance Hill: “RX” Kristen Carter: “Sellout”

Theo Tavers: “Knife Party at Niko’s”


Tiffany Williams: Creative Executive – Tony Krantz/Flame Ventures

Jacqueline Lyanga: Director of the American Film Institute, Film Festival

Peter Murray: Licensing Coordinator

Shirley Neal: Executive VP of Programming and Production – Africa Channel

Kai Bowe: Development Executive – Africa Channel

Jocelyn Coleman: VP of Creative Affairs and PR Specialist – Tri Destined Studios

Daniella Masterson: Public Relations Specialist – Masterson PR