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YouTube diversifies with Shaq, Russell Simmons

October 08, 2012|By Dawn C. Chmielewski
  • Jeff Clanagan, CEO and president of Codeblack Entertainment, is photographed in his office in Woodland Hills. In the background is a trailer for the new Kevin Hart film, "Let Me Explain."
Jeff Clanagan, CEO and president of Codeblack Entertainment, is photographed… (Gary Friedman )

Russell Simmons has made a career -- and a fortune -- programming to audiences that the mainstream media has ignored.

The hip-hop impresario co-founded the Def Jam label, launched the Phat Farm clothing line, started a film and television production company and branched out into stage productions with “Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam on Broadway.”

Now Simmons is moving to Los Angeles to spearhead ADD Video, a YouTube channel designed for what he describes as a “post-racial America.” It will offer lifestyle programming, and showcase the current and rising stars from entertainment, music, fashion, sports and film, with a focus on the kind of diversity that the mainstream media is missing.

PHOTOS: Behind the scenes at YouTube's 'The Philip DeFranco Show'

“Hollywood doesn’t realize -- it’s not like ‘Do more black stuff,’ ” Simmons said. “I’m an American. I don’t want to be patronized. I want to be included.”

Simmon’s ADD Video is among a number of new YouTube channels targeting African American, Asian American and Latino viewers who already flock to the site by the millions. YouTube executives see an opportunity to fund original programming for these audiences, which are underserved by traditional media.

Some of the most recognizable names in the entertainment industry -- including rappers Jay-Z, Queen Latifah and Diddy, and former BET Entertainment President Reginald Hudlin -- will unveil channels in the coming weeks, joining those already launched by former Los Angeles Laker Shaquille O'Neal, Grammy Award-winning musician Pharrell Williams and “The Original Kings of Comedy” producer Walter Latham. YouTube also announced Monday that it would fund a new generation of original channels in Europe.

Traditional media -- particularly film and television -- have been slow to embrace multiculturalism, either in front of the camera and or behind it.

Minority directors have made few strides in getting jobs on leading television shows, according to a recent survey by the Directors Guild of America. The survey found that out of 190 scripted television series on cable and network television last season, white males directed 73% of all episodes. Some high-profile shows, such as HBO’s “Veep” and TNT’s “Dallas,” hired no women or minority directors.

White actors command most of the television and film roles, too, according to the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Whites accounted for 79% of the lead roles in full big-budget theatrical productions in 2010, based on an analysis of casting data for union productions.

Latinos reached their highest share of lead roles that year, the study found, but the portion of African American actors cast in lead or supporting roles hit a five-year low. Minorities fared worse in major roles on low-budget films, those costing less than $2.5 million. African American, Latino and Asian American actors won just 1 in 6 lead roles, SAG-AFTRA found.

“It’s still a pretty male and white environment,” said Adam Moore, SAG-AFTRA’s director of equal opportunity and diversity. “We have a long way to go for our screens to represent the world we all walk around in.”

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