You may not have heard of BWE, the Black Women’s Entertainment Network, but if you’re an aspiring TV writer you might have heard of a certain $10,000 contest for web series pilots starring black women.
“It gets people in that mindset of, ‘yea, let me create something for a black female lead,'” BWE CEO Camille Irons Coakley said. “That’s very much what we’re about.”
With many indie web series made for less than that, the contest is a bold move for a new player in web video. The brainchild of Coakley, a producer, development executive and co-founder of the Rockstone Foundation, which supports filmmakers of color, BWE is trying to make a big splash in the space for independent web video.
Of the many groups who are less visible in film and on television, black women may be the most passionate about their programming. Black Americans, of course, watch more TV than other racial groups, and women are big supporters of scripted fare. Which is why the past few years have frustrating for the community, with reality shows offering less-than-stellar role models and the many TV shows in which black women remain best friends but not leads. (This might be changing, though. Sure, Sherri and The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency never got anywhere, but HawthoRNe and Single Ladies are doing okay, and more shows are in the pipeline, including a buzzy new Shonda Rhimes series starring Kerry Washington).
“As black women, seeing people that look like us is really uplifting,” Coakley said. “There was a need and a want to see programming that was geared toward us.”
BWE is an omnibus site for all media pertaining to black women, from books to music, but the main focus is video. BWE, which started this spring, is focusing on distributing many of the black web series already online, something numerous other networks are trying to do — see: RowdyOrbit, GLO TV, Better Black TV, VisionTube, MyCulture TV, and Q3030. All this activity mirrors the similar rush for black networks on cable.
But BWE is so far the only network explicitly targeting black women.
“In this day and age, there’s really no excuse that you can’t take things in your own hands and do things,” Coakley said. “It’s not like an offline television network when you need millions and millions of dollars to do it.”
Yet Coakley isn’t a stranger to big media. She and her partner, HM Coakley, have produced films and series for the likes of BET, HBO and Lionsgate. A former development exec for Tracey Edmonds and Russell Simmons, Coakley is bringing her production know-how to BWE, which has plans for live programming and branded entertainment.
BWE is trying to solve a number of problems many see in media right now: the lack of curation for professional web video, the lack of positive or complex representations of minority audiences and the need to connect advertisers to online audiences.
“We cater to advertisers, and we cater to the community as a whole,” Coakley said. “The great thing about this site is: black women, we love to shop. Beauty and hair, that’s our thing.”
BWE is targeting smaller, black-owned companies who want to sponsor televisual content but don’t have the cash to work with BET, TVOne and the like. “We can easily incorporate them into our shows,” she said.
The small company, with a staff of four, is gearing up to produce much of its own content, including series for each of its subpages — interviews with authors for the “books” section, for example.
“This is something that no else is really doing right now,” she said. “We’re really excited to launch it.”