From Samuell Benta’s award winning All About the Mckenzies to digital TV’s Venus vs Mars, the last two to three years has beensomewhat of a creative explosion on the web for Afri-Carib British talent.
The web series, at present, embodies the new frontier and weapon of choice for Afri-Carib British artists committed to quality drama, comedy and prospective television content.
It is a space where often marginalised representations, ideas and stories are now frequently being brought to life, bringing joy to hundreds of thousands if not millions of viewers; and in some cases ‘crowdfunders’.
The power of internet broadcasting aside from reaching a vast international audience, enables a form of self-empowerment for amateurs, semi-professionals or otherwise frozen out professional actors, writers and directors.
We all love Kerry Washington in Scandal, but when was the last time you saw a Afri-Carib British female in a lead role for a UK serial drama?
Idris Elba continues to be brilliant as flawed police detective Luther – but why is it seemingly offensive or ‘risky’ to feature an entire black British cast on a UK television screen?
The long-standing indifference toward black programming by the UK’s mainstream giants has undoubtedly contributed heavily to this surge in internet broadcast and self-financed production.
Regrettably, you need to cast your mind back to 2003’s The Crouches for the last black British sitcom. Scripted by Ian Pattison and aired on BBC One, the show was unceremoniously panned and derided for its weak gags, hackneyed stereotypes and unimaginative storylines.
The web series is a phenomenon that speaks volumes about the attitude of a new generation of talent, irrespective of race, who refuse to sit and wait for a door to be opened.
Baby Isako, the creator and writer of hit web series Venus vs. Mars told the Guardian last year; “Let’s do the series, make TV come to us and not the other way around”.
The pro-active spirit of emerging talent creating raw independent content on the web means we have entered an exciting period of UK media production.
Contrariwise, not everything on the web is great; much of the content is poorly scripted, edited and acted. There are countless examples of rushed web shows with intolerable sound quality and horrible camera shots. The ‘underdog spirit’ and novelty of some of the shows that appear on the web means it is sometimes difficult to be too critical, especially if it features friends or family. However, from a business and professional point of view, many web series projects are customarily low on budget and sadly, low on quality too.
The relatively high fail rate of many web series projects indicates it is very important to highlight and celebrate the emerging success stories so far…
All About the McKenzies
The conception of rising media star Samuell Benta, this series is about three generations of a family, the McKenzies – featuring a witty grandad, an anxious father and a teenage son aspiring to any and everything ‘cool’.
It also stars Benta as a single father who wants to spend more time with his daughter. In April 2012, Benta attended a web festival in America where the show landed an award for best ensemble cast in a comedy – the sole British winner.
Benta soon received interest from some important entertainment companies concerning moving the project forward. “There’s interest now – people want meetings – so clearly I’ve got something. But I’m a first-time producer, and it’s got to the stage where I need to educate myself on the business side of things.”
Last week at the Cineworld Cinema in Ilford, the 26 year old actor hosted a spectacular seminar entitled ‘Introduction to the UK Urban Webfest’.
The event was targeted at young media practitioners, university graduates and potential film school entrants and largely in response to the sudden rise of black British web content.
Benta vocalised sound professional advice about how to construct and launch small budget entertainment projects and provided answers to the many questions relating to production, copyright law and finance. He also emphasised the challenges, harsh realities and pitfalls of online content projects.
So what does the future hold for his series? “The original idea was not for the web. My intention is still for it to be a TV series.”
Brothers with No Game
It began as the brilliantly written and hilariously accurate no-nonsense dating blog by men for men. So when the anonymously written male diary entries evolved into a hit web series, Peckham rejoiced again!
Brothers with no Game, the web series, launched last June addressing themes of love, dating, relationships and sex from a distinctly young black urban male perspective. Despite the temptation to create mythical urban superheroes; Theo, Dorian, Junior & Marcus are frequently drawn to reflect the unglamorous and awkward reality of the average guy seeking an above average romance.
The quality of the show’s production improves with every episode and every extra penny spent is moving the project along nicely. Perhaps the biggest compliment one could pay to the show creators is that the series already feels like it was made to blossom as a television show.
The series spectacularly picked up 6 Awards at the Los Angeles Web Festival in March; winning Outstanding Directing, Outstanding Editing, Outstanding Ensemble cast, Dani Moseley and Zalika Miller as Outstanding Guest Actresses and Outstanding Producing.
Indeed, the casting so far has been spot on – Mark Avery, Zephryn Taitte and Isaac Sosanya work very well in their respective roles; appearing to have known each other for years.
The female cast members are equally outstanding and multi-faceted. Dani Moseley as the intense yet sympathetic Simone has a powerful screen presence and ‘Lisa’ played by Natalie Duvall, always keeps you guessing, is she a calculating femme fatale? The entire gang return in less than a month for Season 2!
Venus vs. Mars
Created and written by Baby Isako and starring Letitia Hector as Venus, this romantic comedy-drama series follows one young woman’s quest to find true love.
Venus is adept at solving problems at work with very little fuss. However, her love life is shown to be a comically complex battlefield. Family and friends rally around, though their own relationships are far from perfect – leaving viewers guessing how many episodes it will take for our female protagonist to understand Mars and bag her prince charming.
Venus vs. Mars encapsulates a timely slice of black British female programming that is extremely rare in the mainstream and on UK television in general. The black female lead character has historically been a problem for UK television screenwriters, who often resort to negative or boring stereotypes such as the drug dealer’s girlfriend or aspiring singer.
Letitia Hector is the beautiful and vivacious lead actress tasked with carrying the acting weight of the project. The success of this web series can be measured via screenings on The Community Channel (Sky channel 539), Virgin Media (channel 233) and Freeview (channel 87).
Filming for season 2 is currently ongoing.