Wednesday 10 October 2012
Web Series - how a new solution is creating the same old problem
Since its inception, the World Wide Web has always created new channels of opportunity. It has helped many businesses and professions broaden their appeal and horizons, and also breathed new life into previously stale or one-dimensional offerings. One area that has recently received a breath of fresh air is the film industry, especially with actors and producers, birthing a new phenomenon - the web series.
Web series are mostly the brain child of minority actors and writers who have long complained about being trapped in "type-cast" roles. The arguments revolve around the fact that minority actors are often casted in the same urban, dysfunctional or menial roles, a perception that offends many people from minority backgrounds whose stories differ drastically. And although web series have now been widely adopted across the board, a lot of actors affected by this debate are increasingly turning to web series to broaden their prospects.
Web series are being used by many to show the wider world what they can do and their range of talents, in ways that could not be sufficiently portrayed in auditions or trials. One quick search through Google or YouTube and you'd be introduced to a world of web series, each trying to tell a different story or at least a different interpretation of a particular one.
It goes wothout saying that the idea of web series is genius. It makes the work of the casting directors and other participants in the selection process easier by giving them a good chunk of information that could aid an informed decision. It also gives the actors, cameramen etc a good platform to showcase their work in a way that could lead to bigger opportunities in the future. For example, British web series Meet the Adebanjos has managed to translate its online success to the stage with a run of sold-out shows at the Hackney Empire. Also, Issa Rae, creator of internet sensation The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl is being rumoured to be getting her own show on the ABC network with the production crew behind Grey's Anatomy.
But the more web series I watch, the more I see a portrayal of the same urban, disfunctional and menial characters that gave rise to the whole debate in the first place. Most of the stories are too similar, acting is generally mediocre and concepts often come across as half baked. If the purpose of these web series is for the actor or director etc to show their skills and ultimately impress casting directors, commissioners or whoever it is that would not previously have taken a second look at their material, then why does any writer, producer or actor think attaching their name to a project that tells a story that shows them in the same old light would make any difference?
It might sound a bit patronising but I strongly believe that minorities in performing arts who want to be given the same opportunities as their counterparts from other backgrounds will sometimes have to do more to create a more wholesome picture of their talents. I think the best and most productive way to differentiate yourself is to offer something completely different, wholesome and refreshing. Not just a different manifestation of something already in existence. Like the old saying goes, if you want to see something different, you have to do something different.
Through laziness, indifference and a lot of other factors, the story of many people, minorities and the general populace alike, has been reduced to a single one. We are daily being deprived of the stories many people have to tell simply because it is assumed that they would not fit into the boxes we have created for them in our minds.
And maybe it is a bit ambitious to think we can tell everyone's story on the big screen but if we are not even doing a good job of it at the web series level then we might as well pack it in. The world is always looking for something new and I am a strong believer that a good story, produced following the right procedures will always succeed. We have the platform, the intelligence and the tools. All that is left is for us to use these things to bring about the change we want to see.
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