The era when urban films weren't widely celebrated after being regulated to "straight to DVD," streaming services, and television only are no more. Urban films have often found themselves under the critical microscope of the African American community due to budget production, stereotypical scenarios, and questionable acting from talent of lesser names or social media influencers.
However, urban films have found new homes to unfold creativity reflecting life with better acceptance and appreciation. These films continue to shape cultural beliefs and attitudes regarding race within the United States and internationally.
Creative handfuls, such as producer Dennis Reed II, are continuously finding themselves in the role of creator, producer, writer, and even the director. Creatives like him are also providing opportunities for emerging Black talent that may otherwise see fewer roles as opposed to more household names.
Reed's production company, DIIR, teamed up with Homstead Entertainment to release "First Lady 3." The film, which is already streaming on Tubi and IMDb TV, stars notable names such as Nicole "Hoopz" Alexander, Michael James Alexander, and Basketball Wives alum Jennifer Williams.
When it comes to any film, whether it be for television or the big screen, casting will always be a pivotal part of the success for the project. Since the rise of the social media era, films and shows have seen cameos, leading, and supporting roles all capitalizing on the popularity of Instagram influencers, reality television, and viral stars alike.
However, that doesn't always win well with veteran actors who have studied the craft in a more traditional route. Popular actress Nia Long took to The Breakfast Club and expressed her concerns regarding films with reality television stars taking roles from veteran thespians. "And they're not actors," she said. "They're trying to make them into actors...and I'm not a fan."
As for Reed, he sees differently from Long's critique and those that share her thoughts. "Sometimes, I've hired veteran actors where you think they will draw in a certain crowd, and they don't," he said. "Then you take on this person [Jennifer Williams] who has this huge following from a show, you cast her and then you earn an audience you didn't even know about."
Williams, whose fame grew from the VH1 reality show, echoed Reed's choices. "Obviously, people will pigeon hold you for what they know of you and won't always allow you to move on from it," she said. "But I take projects seriously because I like to do the work and I don't mind it."
While progress has been made with the inclusion of casts from "non-traditional" backgrounds or training, Reed believes it will only get better. "The machine is driven by money," he said. "So if these emerging stars can get the opportunity, imagine how better it will be for them when they add weight for honing their skills."
Williams concluded, "Even though I've known Dennis for a while and have a good relationship with him, he's helping to set a bar that Black films don't need to be about generalizations but just good work that's relatable."
With the popularity of streaming services and more recognizable faces of color on the small screen, the television ecosystem has augmented diversity, representation, and addictive storylines with complexities. This offering, in turn, has given a better lens for studios, networks, distributors, creatives, and underrepresented groups opportunities beyond.