An Interview with Reginald Hudlin of BET
June 14, 2006
My guest today, Reginald Hudlin, the president of entertainment at BET, has been at the forefront of changing the way America sees itself.
During the early 80s, he and his brother, Warrington, were early champions of Black independent film. After their breakthrough with the hip-hop comedy "House Party," Reggie went on to direct hits like "Boomerang," and underground favorites like "Cosmic Slop." More recently, he helped bring Aaron MacGruder's "The Boondocks" to TV, directed Chris Rock's "Everybody Hates Chris" and "The Bernie Mac Show", and has breathed new life into the classic comic-book character, "Black Panther."
A year ago, he was selected as the chief programming executive at BET, which bills itself as "the leading African American multimedia entertainment company," and charged with creating excitement for a network known mainly for its rap video and comedy shows. He brought in a hip-hopcentric crew to reshape the network, including fellow polymath Nelson George, former Source editor and author Selwyn Seyfu Hinds, and hip-hop journalist/novelist Touré.
Reggie has since greenlit acclaimed reality shows "Season of The Tiger," "Lil Kim: Countdown to Lockdown," and "College Hill," revived the network's news department with edgy shows, "The Chop Up" and "Meet The Faith," and overseen specials on Dave Chappelle, Stanley "Tookie" Williams, and the death of the Notorious B.I.G.
For POV's Borders | American ID, we talked about the changes that have occurred in representations of race in the pop landscape during the hip-hop era.
Chang: Your first movie, "House Party," was actually your graduation thesis film at Harvard. But it took 6 years from graduation to getting the film released in 1989 at Sundance in other words, almost the entire decade of the 80s. What was the environment then for Black independent film and, more generally, for images of people of color in Hollywood?
Hudlin: I did a short film version of "House Party" as my college thesis. Based on that I wrote a spec script version that New Line picked up and financed as a feature film that debuted in Sundance.
Chang: Certainly the environment has changed a lot since then. What do you think has been the driving factor in the opening of media, advertising, and entertainment to a wider range of images of people of color?
Hudlin: The confluence of unapologetic black cultural expression being sold by a generation of black entrepreneurs who not only connected to the black audience but post-civil rights generation of white kids who wanted their funk uncut.
Chang: You're now the chief executive in charge of programming at BET. What kinds of stories are you now interested in bringing to the world through BET and your own work?
Hudlin: My new job is totally consuming but I have to keep one pure creative outlet, and "Black Panther" is both the least time consuming (compared to a television series or movie) and is a medium that allows me the most radical statements.
As for as my programming goals at BET, it's different from being an individual artist. As a broadcaster, you have to connect with many different constituencies. But the fun is the biggest canvas imaginable 24 hours a day, seven days a week ... plus DVD and feature film projects. It's hard to sum it up in a phrase I guess the totality of the black experience?
Chang: There are many complaints that the range of representations of African Americans in the entertainment realm has shrunk again in the past 5 years. Would you agree? What is the importance of having to appeal to "crossover" audiences i.e., non-Black audiences?
Hudlin: There are more black U.S. Presidents in popular culture than ever before. There are more black doctors in popular culture than ever before. Just on television commercials, I see a wide range of black professionals, homemakers, any number of "positive" images. There are the same number of thugs and prostitutes, but those will always be there.
Crossover is very important, but it should not just be thought of as crossing over to white audiences. We have to compete in the international marketplace, and in the film and television business, what's really holding us back in our difficulty in being accepted in the Pacific Rim, Latin America or Europe. That doesn't mean watering down our culture but it does mean thinking globally.