Saturday, February 18, 2017

Reaction To Shona Ferguson's Rant About Being a Black Producer


Ferguson Films owner and prolific television producer Shona Ferguson went on a twitter rant on which he expresses his frustration at the disrespect black producers receive in the film and television industry in South Africa.

Before we breakdown my response and motivation behind it, let me state unequivocally that I am aware that most of the money in our television industry still goes to whites. I am also aware that white producers are somewhat treated with more reverence than blacks as in any other industry in SA because of our history. 

Back to Shona's rant: I respect the guy and what he has achieved and continues to strive for. However, he made his frustration public therefore he opened it to scrutiny — and the veneer ain't looking good from this vantage point.  

Firstly, I think we as black creatives have gotten to a point where we need to stop passing the buck and stand for something. How long are gonna keep pulling the race card when we need to confront issues pertaining to how we deal with each other in this industry? 

The reality is that now we have a great number of black people in leadership positions within the industry who should be accountable for the failures of the business. We can't go on forever blaming white folks when it is us black people making decisions in our industry. 

Yes Multichoice, ETV and Viacom Networks are owned by non-blacks but we have SABC — it's not like black producers are having a peachy time there even though the broadcaster is run by people who look like us and should understand our struggle. This is why I think the black and white issue could be a distraction to the real conversation of transparency and fairness we should be having amongst ourselves. 

It is black production companies who hire black actors and not pay them. It is record labels owned by black people who left white labels claiming they exploit black people, yet they employ the same contractual tactics against fellow black artists in their new record labels.  

Which brings me back to Shona Ferguson's posts; the gist of which alluded to the fact that he feels betrayed or disrespected by black people he has tried to give opportunities to. Without knowing who he is referring to or what prompted his frustration, anyone who can read can simply deduce from his post that he thinks (at-least in said rant) that black people have done him wrong and they shouldnt because he is black and hired them.


In the context of black performers having being exploited and held ransom to their race by their fellow black people in this industry, I took issue with that. Have an honest conversation with any black person in this industry who is an employee of someone and they will tell you that the grass is not greener now that black folks own these companies and hold senior position at the helm of the industry. 

In fact, it has become somewhat harder for blacks to be paid their dues because the blacks they work for in this industry just expect them to 'understand'. Many actors have had to take black producers to court or expose them in the media for failure to meet their contractual obligations. WE not talking about that. We are not putting those black producers on blast as loudly as we should. This is not a white man forcing them to treat their fellow blacks as such ... but it happens. 

The concern that I have with what Shona posted is that it teetered on the borderline of being somewhat condescending. He says HE is trying to make a contribution in the industry and is being spat on the face by the people he is giving opportunities to. Fair enough! But the condescending factor culminates when you step back and think that Mr Ferguson is not just creating these opportunities because he is a good samaritan, he is businessman. So as noble as he thinks his cause is, the main motivating factor is not charity it is a business. 

No one person's contribution in this industry is more important or special than others'. Mr Ferguson may feel hurt by whoever he has hired (given opportunities to) but by making such declaration on a public platform using general terms, he opens it up to everyone and thus makes me question if he thinks his contribution is bigger or better than that of the actors and crew that work with/for him at Ferguson Films. Simple. 

Then he also claims white producers are never disrespected by black folks. That is also not entirely factual. I have worked in this industry for over 10 years. I have worked as a consultant for couple of production companies with white people. The reality is that they too have unpleasantries with broadcasters and actors. Hell on one occasion an actor friend of mine was fired from a show because he could not get along with a white director and producer. 



Making a blanket statement that blacks in this industry ill-treat black producers is tantamount is wrong and dangerous. The danger comes in a form of suppressing black voices against black executives in this business. 

By airing his rant in such a public platform, as an industry leader and employer of black people, how does he expect those who work for him to take it? Can a Ferguson Films employee feel free to express their grievances or disagreement with the company if his boss has told the world that he does not appreciate people he has "given opportunities to" to rub him the wrong way?

This is problematic and the fact that people were giving me grief on Twitter for challenging Mr Ferguson on this goes to show just how sheepishly blind our country and industry is. Fear mongering is a real problem in this industry. People are exploited and never speak out for fear of being blacklisted or being shunned. Nobody is doing anyone a favour by employing them. It is a collective effort to make television shows. 

Yes we don't know what incident occurred to prompt Mr Ferguson to make such statement, but he did. Sorry, I don't need to call him and ask him why he posted that. The issue is not why he posted but what he posted. Given the climate in our industry, his posts should give industry people a pause. 

If there is further contextual information that is needed to be given by Mr Ferguson on those posts, that is great and welcomed. However, to expect that such utterances should just be ignored simply because we don't know what happened before he posted them is ludicrous.

In conclusion: hey we all have those moments when we just want to vent. Shona Ferguson is entitled to his moments too. BUT if you make 'em public, we have to discuss 'em! 




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