On November 8, 2013, filmmaker Leslie Harris announced a new feature-length project on Kickstarter, the popular online crowdfunding platform for creative projects. Lauded a decade earlier for her provocative coming-of-age film Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. (1992), which took the Special Jury Prize at Sundance in 1993, this “Sundance-Miramax era” independent filmmaker had resurfaced in the “Kickstarter-YouTube era.” At the end of the fundraising period, Harris's I Love Cinema campaign had raised only $4,074 from fifty-eight potential backers, falling quite short of her $35,000 target. The failure of Harris's Kickstarter campaign to garner support provides a telling and consequential sense of how the very idea of black film circulates in the current moment of presumed breakthrough, crossover, and arrival. Her unsuccessful appeal to the masses soberly dismantles some of the logic of inclusivity that permeates the contemporary media environment, especially in what is a celebratory moment for black film and media, in which the visibility and viability of a few diverse voices do not necessarily translate into greater opportunities for either new or old faces.
What does online crowdfunding, particularly Kickstarter, signify for the efficacy of black film today? The presumed democratization of cinema production and distribution through this kind of financing practice challenges but also reinforces dominant and reductive narratives about the idea of black film's appeal to targeted and general audiences. Issues of faux democracy, populism, and quality that need to be addressed are at work here, especially in terms of their racial dimensions.