Black Art is Black Money

The inventor of TikTok’s viral “Renegade” dance Jalaiah Harmon, rapper Sage Elsesser, social media star Parker Kit Hill and other creatives discuss how Black art gets cribbed in this powerful short film.

Black Art is Black Money is an important and informational short film by Akin Adebowale and Ousman Sahko Sow, the co-founders of Blacktag, a global platform for Black content.

They both set out to explore the many ways in which Black culture is often poorly duplicated in the mainstream media and how the artists and originators of these trends are rarely awarded the financial or social compensation for their work.

Cast in the eight minute flick include the creator of the Renegade” dance, Jalaiah Harmon, alongside rapper Sage Elsesser, social media star Parker Kit Hill, model/​activist Gabrielle Richardson, actress Eloisa Santos and Miski.

The group of friends gather to have an extensive conversation about cultural appropriation and the trends they’ve seen and studied throughout history that haven’t been properly attributed to Black artists in the mainstream. They thumb through a prop called the White Book of Atrocities and point out specific instances of appropriation and misuse of Black culture – which includes poached phrases like on fleek” and spill the tea”.

Harmon is a recent example of a Black creator not receiving recognition for her creation. The 15-year-old from Fayetteville, Georgia is a dancer and the original creator of one of the most popular dances on TikTok. The lack of credit caused her to miss out on sponsorships, brand deals and all the publicity that she saw other creators earning from her dance. Harmon is shown in the film as a visual aid, performing the countless number of dances created by Black people around the globe.

As co-directors of the film and co-founders of Blacktag, Adebowale and Sow creatively demonstrate an important conversation that reflects the core values and ideas of their interactive platform launching this year.

The FACE caught up with the duo for more insight on the making of the film and its importance to Black creators.

How does the concept of Black Art is Black Money speak to Blacktag’s mission as a platform?

Akin Adebowale: Black Art is Black Money is short for our core pillar that Black economic power should and must equate Black creative power. This is our core message and key driver. Blacktag in the end is a protest apparatus driven by the urgent need to equate Black economic power to our immense and far-reaching artistic power. Overall, we also play a small part and proudly contribute to the global movement to close the atrocious wealth gap. I say again that Black art has for a long time and continues to drive popular culture worldwide; this simply needs to be acknowledged and paid for.

Ousman Sahko: At the heart of Black Art is Black Money is the fact that Black creators have always been robbed of the economic return for their contributions to mainstream culture. It’s a conversation that extends far beyond Black History Month and even beyond the resurgence of the social justice movement we witnessed this summer. At Blacktag, we are laying the foundation to finally put money into the pockets of Black creatives. Black Art is Black Money is just the first layer of bricks in that foundation that audiences can expect from us.

Why is 2021 the perfect time for your film?

Akin Adebowale:
2021 follows the 1968 of our day (which was 2020). Last year opened a lot of eyes on the other sides. In the midst of a pandemic and so much tragedy, an uprising emerged. Our hope is that the year following – this year – a Black renaissance happens. A renaissance of wealth, enlightenment, and artistic power. We’re all getting booked and busy this year and forever more.

Ousman Sahko:
2021 is a declaration of ownership opportunity to create your own path – a new worldwide Black renaissance has awaken. We believe that the movement is driven by a greater realisation by all of the world of the power of Black art and Black artists. Also, a continued obligation to fight for justice in all forms is shared by today’s generations.

As two Black creators who have worked with some of the biggest companies and talent in media and entertainment, how did your past experiences influence your thought process in the making of this film?

Akin Adebowale: Interestingly enough, my experience with top talent partly showed me the importance of not-so-top talent. Emerging artists are our focus, specifically alternative Black artists (ABA). The ABA are progressive and represent the future of popular Black consumption. I’ve found that alternative and more niche talent have stronger relationships with their audiences and simply come more authentic in their work. This film casts members represent a wide range of ABA.

Ousman Sahko: I’ve spent almost a decade now working in advertising and media as well as being directly behind the camera as an operator, then moving towards direction and creating ads for some of the world’s most recognisable brands. I’ve been on sets with white majority crews and a lack of acknowledgement of diversity. Despite the buying power Black people have around consuming Hollywood content, fundamental structural change in Hollywood is not yet evident. Our process was to fundamentally recognise the default around media and speak directly on the problem by discussing the artefacts used in the film as a way to start addressing the problem, the platform hopefully can be the solution.

In the film you showcase all kinds of Black and African art found throughout popular culture. What qualities and aspects connect the different eras and platforms of Black art?

Akin Adebowale: Unfortunately, the very thing that mostly connects the different eras is what we partly made the film for – unpaid and/​or unacknowledged artists. The constant pattern is influential Black artists with no pay or credit.

How do Black artists and creatives take back control of their work?

Akin Adebowale: Well, you can start by joining Blacktag when we’re out mid this year. But seriously, there is an ever-growing number of Black-owned or ‑operated entities out now that are geared towards Black artists taking control. It’s all in the spirit of independence and not waiting for others to do right before you can live your life and do your work to the fullest potential.

Ousman Sahko: The statistics for people of colour in key entertainment roles are particularly striking considering their visibility, buying power, ideas and experiences in the population at large – including as consumers of entertainment. One of Blacktag’s missions is getting in the room and creating your own table. The power that we have as Black artists is immense, brands need Black artists for authenticity, pure and simple.

What else can we expect from the two of you individually and from Blacktag in 2021?

Akin Adebowale: On my part, definitely more film work that challenges us to take an honest look at ourselves and our world while maintaining the entertaining and poetic presentation of it all. Also, art that empowers more Black creators to know their power and move accordingly. Lastly, science and art dichotomy has always been an important part of my personal brand so I do plan on introducing the marriage of technology and art through Blacktag with ideas such as interactive content formats on our platform.

Ousman Sahko: I’m incredibly excited to break the monolithic stereotype around Black creativity; the world needs to see more stories around Blackness globally. We hope to champion filmmakers, we want to be as diverse as possible from up and coming to established, but the overall goal is to push alternative Black artists (ABA) to the mainstream. Filmmakers, far and wide between Nigeria, Brazil, the United Kingdom, and of course the United States. We are working to establish strong partnerships with studios, filmmakers like Jordan Peele, Khalid Joseph, and even independent production companies like A24 and various film festivals. Viewers can expect user-generated content from creators, both long and short-form originals from Studio arm, sponsored content, theatrical films, and live entertainment content.

Personally for me, storytelling has always been my anchor, the need to tell our stories; and to empower our people is to tell their own stories is just the beginning. If you see people who look like you and act like you and speak like you and come from the same place you come from, it serves as an inspiration.

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