Nov 6 2011

Crystle ‘Clear’ Roberson: Independent Black Filmmaker on the Rise

If you’ve seen the music video for Idris Elba’s sultry new single, “Private Garden,” you have experienced a sample of the creative eye and spirit of filmmaker Crystle “Clear” Roberson, but if you haven’t viewed any of her award-winning short films, you are in for a real visual feast.

Roberson has been writing, producing and directing her own material for five years, and she already has an impressive collection of awards and honors from the industry. In 2006, she received a film grant from Kodak, which she used to shoot the short film The Song of Time, chosen as an official selection in the TOMI Film Festival of New Orleans, and honored by Women In Film & Television’s International Showcase.

Roberson went on to write and direct two more shorts, Friend In A Can and Standing Reign. The latter was awarded Best Film of Atlanta in the 48 Hour Film Festival, Best Short in the TOMI Film Festival of New Orleans and Best Narrative Short in the International Black Film Festival of Nashville, Tenn. Standing Reign was also featured on the Best of 48 Hour Film Project 2007  DVD, which includes 16 selected films of over 2,000 entries.

In 2008, Roberson was honored by Women in Film & Television/Atlanta with the esteemed Woman to Watch Award and was chosen as one of four filmmakers, nationwide, to compete in the Chase Legacy Film Challenge, an opportunity for young filmmakers launched at the SundanceFilm Festival. She  wrote and directed “Next Door’s Next” and won the Challenge’s HBO Filmmaker Award, for which she received an additional film grant from Kodak.

Roberson also served as associate director for the award winning short film, Before I Wake, which won Best Film Grand Prize in The Doorpost Film Project. Her short film  “The Black Cage” starring Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump) also earned “Top Film” status in Doorpost. Both of these films were selected as 1 of 7 Top Films for BET’s Lens On Talent 2011. Crystle was the only director to have 2 films as Finalists in this esteemed competition.

On Nov. 11, Roberson will wrap her first independent feature film, Echo at 11 Oak Drive, which tells three stories that transpire under the same roof over three eras-1951, 1973, and 2011. Although each occurrence is unique, the dialogue is identical; proving that history repeats itself in the oddest of ways.  Famed film producer Will Packer (Stomp the Yard, This ChristmasTakers, Obsessed) is a supporter of the project which he says he is sure audiences will find intriguing.

Crystle “Clear” Roberson and I spoke recently and she offered exclusive insight into her film career and the mission she is on as a filmmaker:

What qualities do you possess that make a career in film the perfect “lane” for you?

I’m a woman. Women have always been the natural storytellers of their respective culture. Back in the day, we were responsible for ensuring the next generation knew the history of their ancestors. Also, we are the best at telling bedtime stories and we’re at the center of every fairy tale.

I’m an observer. I naturally observe life and humanity from a fly on the wall perspective most of the time. I walk into a room and immediately take in the sound design, lighting, and view the people as characters. First, I thought I was crazy but then I realized, I’m not crazy… I’m just a filmmaker.

I was sheltered as a child. This speaks through the surreal or sci-fi genre of films I usually write. My single mother was strict, and since I couldn’t go many places as a child, I would sit in my room and read a lot, then I would create worlds and stories of my own. My imagination had to be active, since my reality wasn’t. Also, Not being exposed to a lot as a child helped me maintain innocence (and ignorance) to what I could and could not do. I didn’t know that Black Female Directors were almost non-existent, so I didn’t know that I couldn’t. I just did it.

I’m extremely visual. I was always attracted to beauty. I’m also a Libra. I love pretty pictures and pretty colors. Visuals speak to me so loudly that sometimes I can’t hear and watch things at the same time. I took up photography as a hobby in high school and was amazed at how I was able to capture my visuals and show them to other people.

When did you know this was your passion? How did that reality hit you?

I was a sophomore at Valdosta State University when my passion hit me. I remember sitting in my dorm room writing my first short film and as I wrote, I began to cry. An intense feeling came over me, my heart began to beat really fast and I couldn’t stop crying and smiling. I felt like I was in love. And from then on, I thought about film every single day and dedicated my life to it. My professors had my cell number and would call me if I missed class, I was all the way into it.

What inspired your film, The Black Cage? What do you see as the solution to the immaturity referred to in the ending narration?

I have some very close friends that are near and dear to my heart that are struggling with their own “Black Cage.” I believe everyone finds themselves trapped in their own cage at some point in life. The great thing is that the sooner we wake up and realize we are in a cage, as the man in the film did, the sooner we can find our way out. The solution to the ending, is simple. The man still has the key.

How did you come to direct Idris Elba’s “Private Garden” video? Did you conceptualize, cast and direct the project?

I met Idris on the set of Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls. I was a production assistant on the project, and he was the lead actor. Part of my job was to get his breakfast every morning and one day Idris handed me a cd that he’d recorded. At first I was like “great, another actor-singer.” But on the way home, I popped it in the CD player and I genuinely thought it was dope. I was pleasantly surprised. Then, about a year or so later, Idris held a contest on Myspace for filmmakers to win a free trip to London to attend a film festival. Of course I was all over that. I did a mini-video to one of the songs on the cd he’d given me and I won the contest. That kicked off an amazing working relationship that eventually led to my direction of the “Private Garden” video. Idris is very creative and I have no doubt that he will also be a genius director when he chooses to go down that path. I directed the video, although Idris and I both collaborated on the concept — but I have to take credit for the body paint. The girl in the video, Iman Ramadan, was a friend of theirs and was a joy to work with.

When you wrap a project, who, in your heart of hearts, are you hoping will be proud of what you’ve produced?

I like to think I made sort of a “deal” with God. We came to an agreement that if He could lend me a certain amount of creativity then I would use it to spread His message to the people. So every time I finish a film, I hope that His message shines through as He intended. If God is pleased, then I know my friends and family will be as well.

How do you imagine your future in the industry? What will success look like to you?

Honestly, I believe my future in this industry is much better than I can even imagine it to be. So I find it hard to imagine whats about to happen. Instead, I focus my sight on my craft and let my career cards fall as they may. Success to me is creating a comfortable lifestyle for myself and my future children [or] family by directing and writing films that I love.

What advice can you give you give to young people who are drawn to a career in film, but are wondering if it’s too ambitious a goal for them to ever reach?

I would tell them to adopt The Bumblebee Theory. A bumblebee, aerodynamically, isn’t supposed to be able to fly. However, the bumblebee doesn’t know that, so it flies anyway. Don’t realize what you can’t do, just do it. Just fly. If you want to make films, just make them. Practice makes perfect. Film is art, indeed, and there is no “right or wrong” way to express yourself so long as it is your art with your own voice.

Jul 22 2011

‘Ebony,’ ‘Jet’ Publisher John H. Johnson Immortalized on Black Heritage Postage Stamp

In the wake of recent news that family-owned Johnson Publications has sold a minority share of the business to JPMorgan Chase & Co., the U.S. Postal Service is announcing that it will include the publishing company’s founder, John H. Johnson, in their Black Heritage stamp series with a 2012 commemorative forever stamp.

” We are proud to immortalize John H. Johnson as our latest inductee in our Black Heritage stamp series,” said Stephen Kearney, manager of stamp services. “He was the trailblazing publisher of EbonyJet and other magazines, as well as an entrepreneur.

In 1982, he became the first black person to appear on Forbes magazine’s annual list of the 400 wealthiest people in America. His magazines portrayed black people positively at a time when such representation was rare, and he played an important role in the civil rights movement. President Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996.”

Johnson, who died of congestive heart failure at age 87 on Aug. 5, 2005, once said of Ebony magazine’s purpose, “We try to seek out good things, even when everything seems bad. We look for breakthroughs, we look for people who have made it, who have succeeded against the odds, who have proven somehow that long shots do come in.”

That long shot theme is one Johnson himself knew well. The grandson of slaves, he was born in rural Arkansas in 1918. When he was 6 years old, his father died in a sawmill accident. His mother remarried, and for two years during the Great Depression the family collected welfare until Johnson’s stepfather was finally able to find work. In 1942, Johnson’s mother let him use her furniture as collateral for a $500 loan which he used to publish the first edition of his first magazine, Negro Digest, reaching 50,000 circulation in only six months.

John H. Johnson turned a $500 loan into an empire that eventually included a book division,  a cosmetic company, hair care products, television production and the Ebony Fashion Fair (the world’s largest traveling fashion show) which has donated over $47 million to charity.

The Postal Service’s commemorative stamp, designed by art director Howard Paine, features a color photograph of John H. Johnson taken by Bachrach Studios. The photographer was David McCann.

Customers may preview the stamp on Facebook at, via Twitter@USPSstamps or on the website Beyond the Perf at Beyond the Perf is a U.S. Postal Service site where you can find the backstory on  upcoming stamp subjects, first-day-of-issue events and other philatelic news.

Jan 5 2011

Oprah, Kathleen and Heavy D: we got our OWN thang

O, the wonders of photoshop

So, yesterday Oprah was talking to me (like she does several times a week). I was a little preoccupied with something on my laptop, but when I finally looked up at her she looked me right in my eyes (to make sure I was really paying attention, I suppose) and she said,

“Here we are, this is our day. This is our moment.”

She was talking about our new OWN network, of course–you know, the one we launched on January 1st.  She insisted to me that (even though her name is the only one on the logo) it really is OUR network, and darn it, I believe her.

I know she said the same thing to you, I mean, I’m not crazy. I know she wasn’t talking only to me when she said this network is for us, but I must say that so far the programming choices come pretty close to exactly what I would love to see on television. I especially love the show called Master Class.  <click to see the promo if you haven’t seen the show yet–it’s (in Oprah’s voice) really good.

I won’t list the complete schedule, but in addition to Master Class I’m super geeked about these shows: (OWN’s descriptions)

The Miracle Detectives: Do miracles really exist? Or is there a logical explanation to the seemingly inexplicable? Two investigators; one a believer, the other a scientist will travel the globe to uncover answers to mysterious incidents that transcend logic

Mystery Diagnosis: Every year, millions of Americans fall victim to real-life medical mysteries—ailments that go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for years. Their lives are thrown into turmoil—sometimes their sanity is called into question

Searching For: Viewers can expect an intensely personal ride when cameras follow Pam Slaton, a professional investigative genealogist, and her clients through each step as they track down lost loved ones.  Whether Pam’s clients find a joyous reunion, painful rejection or tragic loss, they all walk away with the closure they were desperate to find. (Pam has an 85 percent success rate, follows a strict “no find, no pay” policy, and is one of the most sought-after professional searchers in the country.)

The Gayle King Show: Start your day off right with Oprah’s best friend and O Magazine Editor-at-Large Gayle King, as her hit radio show comes to television every weekday on OWN. Gayle’s live talk show will offer her unique perspective on an array of topics ranging from current events and cultural trends to politics and more, all while bringing viewers closer to their favorite celebrities and notable public figures with her revealing, compelling daily interviews.

I love Gayle. I think she’s really down-to-earth for someone who is the best friend of one of the most powerful women in the world. (Sorry, I digress.)

Anyway, by now you’re wondering, what the heck does Heavy D have to do with any of this? Well, ever since Oprah started talking to me about this OWN thing… Heavy’s “diddly diddly diddly dee” has been stuck in my head. I know I can’t be the only one who mentally plays the song when the OWN network promos come on.

“We Got Our Own Thang” by Heavy D and the Boyz <listen to a snippet.

Although not all the lyrics in the song are going to be to Oprah’s liking (you know how she is about hip hop), this part of the song is perfect for what OWN is all about:

“In this life, I strive for improvement
Be your own guide, follow your own movement
Loving is a legend
Me, I’m legendary at it…

Stay self-managed, self-kept, self-taught
Be your own man, don’t be borrowed, don’t be bought
Started with a pow and I’m going to end it with a bang
We’ve got our own thang
We’ve got our own thang”

How is that not the theme song playing on the OWN promo?
Maybe and Heav could do a remix for you…
Oprah, it is our network, right?