Have you ever turned on the television and flipped through the 200-plus channels on cable, and said to yourself, “I can’t believe with all these channels there’s nothing on?” Well, you need to know there is a revolution going on to fill in those gaps, and African American creativity, talent, resources and leadership is at the center of it.
This revolution is as near as your cell phone, laptop or desktop computer, and Los Angeles is the epicenter. Michael Ajakwe Jr. is its leader.
Ajakwe, an Emmy-winning television producer, NAACP Award-winning playwright, award-winning filmmaker, veteran comedy writer, and working writer (“Love That Girl,” “UnSung”), is the founder and executive director of the Los Angeles Web Series Festival (LAWebFest).
LAWebFest is the first web festival of its kind in the world and was started in 2010.
“There is no narrative medium that excites me more than the entertainment revolution unfolding before my very eyes on the Internet,” said Ajakwe, who in 2009, formed his own web channel, AjakweTV.com and launched his first web series “Who …”
“When I noticed what television, cable and other web channels weren’t doing for people of color, in terms of programming, I decided to do something about it. It’s like ‘Cosby’ never existed.
There is no shortage of talent in front and behind the cameras, just a shortage of vision,” said Ajakwe, who is poised to unveil his next web series, co-starring L.A. Sparks player Candace Parker in her first comedy acting role.
He created “Who . . .” to fill the gap.
Ajakwe says that the web series or short-form micro series, is its own genre of entertainment, not simply “chopped up TV, film or theater.”
A web series is a serialized fiction or nonfiction show not only made specifically for presentation over the Internet, but adheres to the rules of made-for-Internet viewing–short and fast-moving content, that usually runs between three and 12 minutes per webisode (each episode of a web series is called a webisode).
A web series is a form of new media, which also includes online short films, online feature films, online TV dramas, online TV comedies, random online amateur videos, random online professional videos, V-logs, and blogs.
Ajakwe said one of the biggest myths about web series content, is that it’s made by amateurs or “outsiders” who know nothing about producing quality work.
But quite to the contrary, Ajakwe said the majority of web series producers are established and working industry professionals–writers, producers, editors, directors, actors, designers–who tell stories that aren’t being told in traditional media outlets.
“Goodnight Burbank,” the first half-hour comedy made for the web, just became the first such work picked up by a television network and was called by USA Today “better than 99 percent of the stuff on TV.”
Ajakwe said the web eliminates the “gatekeepers” and allows open access. This diversity of story and producers is evidenced by the submissions to Ajakwe’s LAWebFest the past two years with products from around the globe, including Australia, India, Canada, Italy, the United Kingdom, France, as well as the United States.
African American producers, actors and writers associated with web series include such established industry names as Vanessa Bell Calloway, Obba Babatunde, Anthony Anderson, Reggie Gaskins, Jaleel White and Robert Townsend.
Townsend’s web series, “Diary of a Single Mom,” was honored at the 2010 LAWebFest as Web Series of the Year and featured veteran actors Billy Dee Williams, Richard Roundtree and Leon.
Kevin Ross, host of “America’s Court with Judge Ross” and founder of an informative, and at times, provocative online newsletter, was a Social Media Award Honoree at the 2011 LAWebFest for his outstanding efforts in the area of social-media marketing, community awareness and education through his 3BASS Media Group.
Ajakwe said, “Black folks are doing some amazing, creative things online. I’m happy to shine a light on that and give the opportunity for that creativity to be seen, just as I was given opportunities within traditional media. Creativity has no color.”
There are so many African American producers and actors in the web series genre that websites such as Black Web Series now chronicles the latest web series developments. The stories they tell on the web are diverse, including Anthony Anderson’s soap/drama “Anacostia,” Angela de Joseph’s beauty/wellness talk show “The Angela Show,” Phill Branch and Lisa K. Robinson’s dramedy “The Punanny Diaries,” Nathan Fluellen’s “Travel & Lifestyle Worldwide Nate,” Terence Anthony’s animated comedy “Orlando’s Joint,” Kristal Mosely’s Hollywood talk show “Abiola’s Kiss & Tell TV,” Al Thompson’s drama “Lennox Avenue,” and Ajakwe’s own comedy “Who …,” just to name a few.
The latest buzz has been about Issa Rae’s comedy “Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl” and her latest mockumentary “Flyguys Present the F-Word,” as well as Sonya Steele’s drama “Celeste Bright,” and Caryn K. Hayes’ “Breaking Point.”
The Marseille Webfest is being spearheaded by Paris and Marseille-based television, film and web series producer Jean Michel Albert. Last year, when the city of Marseille expressed an interest in hosting a web series festival, Albert–who was chosen to lead that efforts–reached across the Atlantic to Ajakwe.
“We looked all over the world for a web series festival and found just one–LAWebFest. Mike did not view us as a threat. Instead, he welcomed us and took me under his wing,” Albert recalled, crediting LAWebFest with serving as a role model for organizing Marseille’s upcoming web series festival.