Hulu Lacks Black Executives. Can Its R. Kelly Documentary Be Trusted?

Written by Lauren DeLisa Coleman
Few prominent media outlets are owned by people of color. BuzzFeed recently announced a new deal with Hulu. The first project? An R. Kelly documentary. “I have a hard time trusting the integrity of its production motives first, and then the story overall,” a business analyst says. R. Kelly Illustrator: John Wallace


As entertainment content offerings expand given increased post-cable opportunities thanks to advances in tech, there is greater opportunity for expansion of stories and voice.

However, the intersection of race, influence and revenue generation still continues to be an issue, even with expanded platforms. It is a troubling cultural trend that bears discussion.

Even with the push for diversity in Hollywood, few digital media production deals have seen much increase in business, particularly via production companies owned by women of color.

New platforms should mean new ways to craft and control image while also building wealth, but to date, this is not the case.

There are few prominent media outlets that are owned by a person or collective of color. As the gold rush continues for deals within the next generation of OTT and other emerging tech platforms, the ratio created by people of color is low, if present at all.

Inclusion is a barely above a whisper in the latest virtual reality film at the hottest film festival.

For series or film deals with companies like Amazon and its originals department, the silence is nearly deafening.

Though Netflix has been lauded for its deals with Shonda Rhimes and Lena Waithe, many are looking forward to deals with those offering more edge — and from an indie Black female ownership perspective.

Which brings us to BuzzFeed.

The company recently announced a new deal with Hulu. The first project? An R. Kelly documentary.

BuzzFeed News will develop a feature documentary that will explore the sexual abuse allegations leveled against the singer.

The film will be based on BuzzFeed’s ongoing coverage of Kelly and his legal woes based primarily on contributor Jim DeRogatis’ reporting about numerous women’s accusations against the singer. It is reported that DeRogatis will serve as a consulting producer on the film and will also provide commentary.

Indicative of the times, there are no decisionmakers of color on either side of the deal, nor direct business beneficiaries. Indeed, even the selection seems quite curious for one of the first documentaries from the Lerer Ventures-backed company, and the deal has raised many an eyebrow in communities of color.

Business Analyst Kara Owens says, “Baiting watchers on the sake of a story’s sensationalism is already exploitation. If R. Kelly’s story is getting told by Hulu, which appears to have very little in the way of diversity at its executive level, then I have a hard time trusting the integrity of its production motives first, and then the story overall. The decision to make this story at this particular time may say more about Hulu itself than the company might want to say.”

Pepper Miller, recognized Black-American market researcher, author, thought leader and speaker, echoes Owens’ thoughts.

“One would immediately think that the voices of the Black community get stifled when these types of things happen,” Miller said. “Interestingly, albeit given the powerful Black social network, content and hashtags flow well and organically between Black Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, the activity does not seem (to) build followers needed for reinvestment, resources and many investors.”

In other words, we have a ton of activity that we do online, we out-index over all other races, but it does not amount to any revenue for us as Black people and worse, builds the legacy wealth of Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg and others.

“Business leaders who not long ago believed under the Obama presidency that we are post-racial, reduced investment in Black consumer marketing and Black businesses,” Miller explains.  “Under the current administration, mainstream America is seeing for the first time that America has a huge problem with race. However, this current behavior and mindset could work in the favor of Black-owned digital platform focused businesses so that they get their fair share from special programs and initiatives.”

It is implied that with such investment, we could create our own BuzzFeed competitors and also own and tell our own stories first.

“Unilever, for example,” says Miller, “is investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in developing relationships and business opportunities with Black-owned women’s businesses.”

As we all look to true fiscal paradigm shifts from new types of investors to even new types of currency, it is important to be vigilant in terms of media ownership and content creation, particularly in the digital era.