Yesterday, on Nov. 30, warptown.com had the opportunity to interview Moguldom Film’s EVP Barion Grant. This fall, Moguldom Media Group, one of leading global digital media companies serving multicultural audiences, announced the launch of Moguldom Films, a subsidiary dedicated to producing documentary films. “By launching Moguldom Films and pioneering a form of informative, yet highly entertaining features that the company is calling ‘documentainment,’ Moguldom is furthering its reach into the $10 billion market for African-American media and entertainment,” the company said in a statement.
Barion is a producer and entrepreneur who is best known for his work on the Academy Award nominated documentary “Tupac: Resurrection” and for co-founding theGrio.com, the first video-centric news and opinion site for the African American community.
How did Moguldom Films come about?
Moguldom Media Group is a digital company in the sense that they own several websites that are really targeting the African American and multicultural millennial audience. Their CEO and I had been talking for some time about online video and because my background is in Film and Television Production, I associate produced “Tupac: Resurrection,” I produced through my own production company where I found the financing for a doc that I did about race in America today called “Meeting David Wilson” because of my background, we started having a broader conversation about actually launching long form program under the Moguldom banner….figuring out how we could really leverage digital to promote long form content and with digital distribution being one of our first distribution windows, but also producing films that we can license for the television networks, as well.
Can you talk a bit about the upcoming programming for Moguldom Films?
We have our first doc coming up as a documentary about gun violence. I think it’s a really unique thing. The really unique thing about Moguldom Films, is that we talk about the subjects that you hear, but we talk about them in a way that has a particular perspective that is being overlooked. So for example, with the “Gunland” documentary, which is a documentary about gun violence, we really look at it from a youth perspective. Of course, we put the statistics in there, everyone is really talking about gun violence in Chicago based around statistics, but we want to talk about gun violence in Chicago based around the people that are being affected. And trying to really understand why there is this culture in this city and really helping to try to identify some of the remedies that people are looking into to kind of help stem the violence in that area.
Those are challenging subject matters.
It’s not easy, but it’s rewarding in the sense that, you’re not just reporting on what’s happening, but you’re really looking for the back story and really trying to identify those people. That’s difficult, because a lot of time you’ll just have a number and an article saying, “x amount of people were killed over this holiday weekend.” Then you have to really go into investigative mode to figure out who were these individuals and then once you find out who they were, where did they live, and then really examine their story to see was this person in a gang, was it a random violence and once you identify those people and really start pre-interviewing them, that’s when the stories evolve. This is what happened, my cousin was really just walking down the street, or my cousin was in a gang, but he wasn’t that type of guy, he grew up in a middle class family, but this area is so filled with gangs…We’re learning that a lot of these kids that are in these gangs are not necessarily the thugs that they’re portrayed to be. Some of them are middle class kids that grew up with mom and dad, but it’s cool to be in a gang or you feel protected if you’re in a gang. So really finding those stories, that was our goal with “Gunland.”
What made you decide to bring these stories to life?
I didn’t have to come up with the ideas. The CEO of the Company Jamarlin Martin, he owns six different websites. And the websites, they’re all about what’s the headline, what is the opening paragraph, what is going get people to respond immediately? So before I came on board, he had these ideas already researched and I really just had to come in and develop them into documentaries, he was like “Oh, I’m going to do something about gun violence, I want to do something about Jay Z, I want to do something about the single mother epidemic in our community.” So he had these great topics that he wanted to explore, because on a daily basis, he’s putting stories out there about all of these different topics on different platforms. Bossip is more about pop culture and gossip. MadamNoire is about what’s happening with black women in our community. Hip-Hop Wired is more about what is happening in the hip hop community. So being that, these sites he’s doing every single day. You know, he really came up with some really, really great ideas. So for year one, I was more involved in the development and the execution, but as we moved into year two, it’s becoming really fun because it’s more of a creative process where, he’s throwing out some ideas, I’m doing some ideas, he’s getting his editorial team involved, I’m getting my development team involved and we’re really brainstorming something about what the next film should be.
You mentioned briefly that Jay Z documentary. Can you talk a little bit about that?
The Jay Z Documentary, same thing. There are a lot of conversations that we have in our community that don’t get portrayed in the way that we have the discussions around our kitchen tables, around our very personal environment. So for Jay Z, we’re talking about everything from, you know the Barclay Deal, everyone’s like, “Oh, that hurts the community” and some people are like, “No, I’ve made out really well, I got the market value for my property.” So we’re really talking about Jay Z as a business man and is it fair to really criticize him as a businessman and whether or not people are criticizing his business decision just because of the color of his skin. Are people criticizing Michael Bloomberg as much as they’re criticizing Jay Z when it comes to some of the decisions that they both make. So it’s really interesting for a lot of people to say, “Well, he’s a rapper, but we don’t expect morality from a rapper.” But then the conversation becomes, “Well, he’s also from a community of people that made him financially successful, are they winning or losing in some of the decisions that he makes with his business deals.” So it’s really a conversation that we end up having, that I’ve even had, where people say “Well, you’re from Newark, New Jersey, but you live in Harlem and you make films…are you still from here anymore, are you still one of us?” So it’s really about success and how people look at success within the African American community and the criticism that comes around it.
Jay Z has been in the news a lot lately with the Barclays deal and as a sports agent as well. He’s getting a lot of flack for that.
He is and the question is, “Is that fair?” Who’s really being hurt and who’s to pay. He said himself, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business man.” His vision was to evolve from being a rapper to being a businessman and now that he’s done that, there’s a lot of criticism. So we’re talking about his successes, we’re talking about whether or not that’s fair to really criticize his successes.
What partnerships do you hope Moguldom Films to have with Netflix and Hulu?
Well, actually, that’s one of the first distributions for our documentaries. So we’re going with a service that actually gets you distribution into Netflix, Amazon, Hulu really simultaneously. So we’re in our first year, we’re looking to work with this service so we can actually get into those digital distribution platforms, immediately. And as time grows we really see ourselves as the provider of African American content from a perspective that people are not really discussing. So if it’s Netflix, if it’s the Biography Channel, if it’s A&E…if we’re doing Biographies like this on Jay Z, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be providing that content to digital distribution platforms or to the networks. We’re really looking to grow and really become a studio that’s a content provider where we can partner across the board with producing the types of documentaries that we’re doing this year and continuing to do that next year
Where did your passion for media come from?
I grew up as a kid in the urban environment and I liked different things and my parents always really challenged me to be creative. And I remember I fell in love with music videos. I would record them onto VHS and I would come up with a log, so I could go back and watch these videos and I would watch them with the sound off just so I could look at the visuals and I fell in love with Meat Loaf’s video “I’d Do Anything For Love,” the theatrics. I know how crazy it sounds that this young black kid from Newark watching this music video over and over again, but I did. But there was just something that evoked this emotion inside. There was something about it that was so compelling, so I said I want to do that. And I didn’t even know what that was at such a young age, but it really kind of put me down, it has taken me down this road to becoming a Producer and really trying to identify people’s emotions on screen. So yeah, that’s really how it started. One day I’ll have to thank Meat Loaf.
Q: You associate produced “Tupac: Resurrection,” do you have any thoughts on the upcoming biopic?
What I would say about that is, I think that it’s great because of the same reason why we’re having this conversation about Jay Z, that’s why we did that film about Tupac. People often think of rappers as kind of casting them into a very negative light and there’s a lot of humanity in all of us. So to understand who Tupac was beyond his discography, it’s important to understand the decisions Jay Z is making beyond his discography and where he came from and how those decisions are influenced by who he really is and his past I think is important. So a biopic on Tupac I think is just awesome.