Whoever Controls the Narrative Holds Power, Amasses Wealth

Facebook Photo: Freedom Georgia Initiative Families

Three things made me happy about the announcement.

  1. They wanted to own their content and the rights to it.
  2. They wanted to control how the show was edited.
  3. They wanted to control how it was distributed.

When I first heard the news that production studios were approaching the 19 families that bought 90 plus acres in Georgia to do a reality TV series, I was concerned.

Over the summer, The Freedom Georgia Initiative bought a small town 130 miles outside Atlanta. After the murder of George Floyd, these families wanted to create a space where “Black parents can raise their children without the fear of police brutality and violence.” The new city will be “pro-Black in every way.”

Can I be honest? I was truly concerned about the safety and welfare of these families. Strong, vibrant, wealthy Black cities haven’t faired well in the United States. Black Wall Street in Tulsa’s Greenwood District and Rosewood immediately come to mind. Personally, I think I would have quietly built and then released a documentary. But the beauty of all of this is that we now live in a time where we get to control our stories and share them in a way that works for us.

Working on a reality TV series was an experience I will never forget. It gave us insight into the inner workings of the process and what we learned continues to benefit us to this day.

As a storyteller and award-winning documentarian, and especially after working on that reality TV series, I know the importance of owning and controlling your narrative. Being a Black woman in this country and in this industry drives that point home even more.

Over the past several years, I watched Colin Kaepernick’s protest against police brutality narrative be commandeered by those who refused to hear his truth. And this “new narrative” made its way to the White House and shifted the discussion entirely from its original intent. Only after Mr. Floyd’s murder was Mr. Kaerpernick’s original narrative heard. And that led to apologies from his former employer and protests all across the globe by people of all races and ethnicities.

That’s why I was glad to see that the Freedom Georgia Initiative want to own their content, the rights to it, and control the editing. To avoid misrepresentation, they must control their narrative and tell their story. They have to own it.

Novelist Chimamanda Adichie gave one of the best TedTalks on this subject. Her conversation on “The Dangers of a Single Story” tells what happens when only one perspective—a single story is given. And the truth is, history has not always been favorable to BIPOCs when it comes to telling our stories. A Virginia textbook for the last twenty years has described slaves as “happy”, “cheerful”, and “prosperous.”

Many slave narratives beg to differ.

Our stories are ours to tell.

I congratulate The Freedom Georgia Initiative for recognizing the value in their story and maintaining ownership of it.

Oh, and dear reader, whatever you do, make sure you own your story too.