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Nelson George is a novelist, cultural critic, and filmmaker. After receiving his degree from St. John's University in 1982, George first worked for New York's Amsterdam News, later becoming an[…]

George talks about the frustration of getting a film about the black experience seen outside America.

Question:How do you choose your medium?

Nelson George: Interesting. It depends you know what I mean? Certain things are easier to . . . I mean certainly they know . . . I’ll give you an example. I’m writing a novel now called The Plot Against Hip Hop. It’s kind of a . . . somewhat inspired . . . __________ inspired by the Philip Roth plot against the Jews. But there’s a whole long history of Black people are paranoid about institutions, you know . . . White institutions fucking their stuff up. And it goes from J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI to __________. There’s a long history of, you know, even . . . even the whole thing about crack being bought into South Central Los Angeles with the help of some CIA elements helping the Contras. We have some anecdotal connections. There’s a long history of Black people paranoid about that. So I’m writing this novel, and I said this is a harder sale as a movie as a script I think, because it’s kind of conceptual. But if I write it as a paranoid, John Grisham-like thriller, then I have a better . . . I’ll have more latitude to have fun with it, and I can also bring in a lot more hip hop. I can play with hip hop culture in a way that maybe it can end up as a screenplay one day. But I felt like I . . . For this I needed to write it out the way it needed to be written out – the way I saw it. When you engage in writing film scripts, you are automatically engaging in the marketplace with imperatives of who’s gonna play these people – a star – and then marketing. And then sort of to this day the film industry is still not totally convinced that they can market hip hop. _________ even market Black culture, and I think as a guy like Tyler Perry has shown, there are people in the Black community who know more about it than they do. So anytime you bring a project that has a Black theme to Hollywood, I mean at least in my mind it’s always like okay, can I get this made? What stars can I get in to get this made? How much money will it cost to get it made? And how can I . . . Can I get someone to give me the money that I need to make the film? So all those things get involved in that process. When I’m writing a novel or a non-fiction book, it’s just me and me convincing one publisher or one editor that I can . . . this book will sell enough and there’s an interest in it. Certainly internationally . . . Like when I did Hip Hop America, I had no idea . . . The book . . . I just got a thing today. It’s gonna be republished again, I think for the second or third time, in Chinese. It’s in German. I just . . . It’s being published in Norwegian. (24:09) It’s in Japanese. You know it’s been in England a number of years. The fact is that this culture is huge. And I think another thing when you deal with any kind of writing or expression about Black culture in America, there’s always a tendency in film to say that no one outside the country cares about it – Blacks. And yet when I write books, I have novels that have been published in different languages. So there’s . . . I know for certain pieces if I wanna make this a global piece, I’m better off writing it because it seems like for some reason the publishing world and the world of readers is more . . . is easier to contact because of the . . . maybe _________ overhead. If you’re gonna do a film with Black folks . . . anything about a Black theme, an American theme, it’s a challenge to get it seen in England, and France, and Germany. But at the same time you know there’s audiences there for it, so it’s very frustrating.

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