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'More than gangsters'

BREAKING THE MOULD: The glamorous cast of the Brothers With No Game web series

NEW US research suggets extensive television watching can damage black children’s self-esteem – thanks to mainstream productions that rely on lazy sterotypes of black people.

With this in mind, Elizabeth Pears looks at the new wave of independent online web series’ that draw a more accurate picture of the black experience in Britain.

It started out as a laugh: four lifelong friends sitting around putting the world to rights and having a good old moan about the fairer sex.

Figuring out how to please women was a swim against the tide, but the spin-off blog Brothers With No Game, launched in 2010, fared significantly better, attracting 700,000 hits to date.

Their debut post, 5 Ways To Know You’re Playing The Heskey Role With Chicks, was shared nearly 8,000 times on Facebook and catapulted the budding writers to notoriety. It played on England footballer Emile Heskey’s reputation for being a consistent player who delivers the goods, but misses out on the glory.

Fresh Voice

Finally, cried their fans, here was a voice that reflected a generation of young black men in their 20s – who didn’t sell drugs and weren’t locked in a cycle of gang rivalries.

In fact, the dream team behind the personas of Justin Credible (JC), The Yak, Maverick and Don Kwelu, as they are known, work in marketing, accounting music and digital media.

Their fresh outlook caught the attention of producer Emil Collins of Socialize Media, to do a web series based on the characters inspired by elements of their own personalities.

The first episode was released on Monday (June 11).

“I can’t remember the last time I watched something featuring young black men that didn’t involve a crime. Probably The Crouches,” says JC, one of the show’s fours creators.

“Our web series is a comedy drama, punchy but with serious scenes as well. We took some of the things we blogged about, but exaggerated them.

“One of the storylines is a graduate who can’t get the job he wants to help support the lifestyle he wants to lead, and it affects his relationships with women and how he is perceived. We have many friends in that position.”

The 10-epsiode series – a self-funded project – is not alone in wanting to challenge the portrayals of black 20-somethings in the media by offering something more relevant.

It is one of many independent web series’ that include Sex and the City-style Breach, family sitcoms Meet the Adebanjos and All About The Mackenzies which have both enjoyed considerable success, as well as Venus vs Mars, which charts the title character’s quest for true love.

Platform

The shows have given an unprecedented platform to up-and-coming scriptwriters, actors, directors and producers who want to build a reputation for themselves.

Documentary-maker Simone Pennant, founder of the TV Collective, a company whose aim is to support diversity in broadcasting, called it an exciting time for black talent.

She said: “There’s a real frustration that stories you want to tell or see on mainstream TV are not being shown.

“The internet lends itself very nicely to niche programmes; you can find your audience quite quickly. For one moment, there is an even playing field in broadcasting and you can have your voice heard by a global audience.

“You no longer need to have that argument with broadcasters like Channel 4 or the BBC to try to convince them why they should be telling your story.”

Empower

Pennant added: “If broadcasters become interested that’s great, but once people figure out how to make a living out of it, they will be in a position to pick and choose who they want to work with.”

Baby Isako who wrote the original script for Venus vs Mars is a full-time teacher and playwright. Her debut offering, Love is a Losing Game, focused on six university students and sold out shows at London’s Mermaid Theatre.

The 25-year-old said: “One million people tuned in to watch Top Boy, and as great as it is to see Ashley Walters and other black actors showcase their talent, it is disappointing because we’ve seen this all before. I simply don’t relate to those characters. In Venus vs Mars all the characters are educated and have jobs – like most of the people I know.

“I can honestly say there is nothing on mainstream TV that represents me: a young black woman who is interested in fashion, enjoys socialising and has relationship issues. If you want to see that, you have to do it yourself.”

Isako teamed up with media partner Victor Adebodun, who founded his own production company PurpleGeko, and the pair dug into their own pockets to fund six episodes of Venus vs Mars. The pilot attracted 50,000 views.

Adebodun said: “It’s amazing what you can do with a little bit of drive and determination. That’s 50,000 people who have seen our work and know what we do.

“A successful series doesn’t have to revolve around a white family and their friends. We have something to offer too.”

Naturally, working with a shoestring budget means there is room for improvement, which armchair critics have been quick to point out. Not getting it perfect the first time is a small price to pay for the experience, says Adebodun.

He adds: “We are all new to this and have created something we are proud of. It’s a push in the right direction. If people support us, we can all get better and better. It is a very good thing.”

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