The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, a facility opening this summer in Cincinnati to recognize the efforts of whites and blacks who freed slaves in the 19th century, is looking to get its message to people far beyond the Ohio River, using television and other media outlets, and not just during Black History Month.
It has formed Freedom Center Productions, headed by Jim Friedman, who has produced eight previous diversity-based films for television over the past six years. His Dreambuilder Celebration
included seminars and other events in addition to the TV programs, was sponsored by Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble and by DaimlerChrysler. The last program, Skin Complex,
was televised in more than 30 markets.
Freedom Center Productions is working on several projects. Among them is Everyday Freedom Heroes, for which, the Freedom Center will create not only programming but also formats so that stations can produce news segments on local residents who have contributed to diversity in their market.
"We want to get 120 markets," says Addie Rosenthal, director of major events for Freedom Center Productions. "At NATPE, we got significant interest from stations that will cover 45% of the nation." She didn't want to name the station groups yet.
"Through the different production pieces that we hope to develop over the years, we'll be able to reach millions of people, as opposed to just those who visit our physical location," says Sue Feamster, vice president for advancement and chief development officer at the Freedom Center. "There are still some 26 million people around the world considered to be in slavery, and there are places in America where race relations are tense. We want to make sure that our messages reach people and present what really happens on a daily basis not only in America but around the world."
Friedman takes his mission seriously. "When television stations program for a diverse audience, too often, they create programs by black people for black people. It's almost like they're saying, 'White people, turn your television off because we have to do this.' We feel there is no reason that there can't be programming from a black American voice that is powerful for all audiences."
The movies produced by Freedom Center Productions will be modeled on movies that were part of Friedman's Dreambuilder Celebration project.
Friedman's goal is to have scripts read and produced by people who otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity to tell their stories.
"Our belief has always been that the thing keeping people from getting along is opportunity," he says. "Once you work with people and once you are involved with people, racial issues, gender issues and age issues fall away. It becomes people issues."
Still, Friedman and his partners are aware that audiences will tune in—and hear the message—only if the quality is high enough to prevent the movies from looking like community-theater productions.
"In each of the movies, we bring in someone from Hollywood," says Friedman. "That person is responsible for giving professional insight to people who have never been on a set before. The starring roles always go to someone you've seen before."
Skin Complex, starring Wolfgang Bodison, who appeared in movies like Joe Somebody
and A Few Good Men, focused on a black man contemplating a procedure to make his skin white.
The new productions will include Web-based content, and, says Rosenthal, "It's not just black and white. It's about total freedom, including religion, race and culture."