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First Black Film Studio in Works

July 11, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The founder of the Black Entertainment Television cable network announced plans to create the nation’s first black-owned movie studio by the end of the year.

BET owner Robert Johnson said he plans to produce black-themed movies for theaters and made-for-TV films for his network.

``I’m convinced the talent is out there to do it, both behind and in front of the camera,″ Johnson told The Washington Post in an article published Saturday. ``We can find good, passionate scripts, and I’m convinced we can make them.″

The studio, which will start with a capital investment of $100 million, will release its theatrical films starting in 2000 and its television movies next year, Johnson said.

A black-owned movie studio would fulfill a long-time dream of black producers, directors and actors who have frequently complained that the white-dominated studio system fails to understand their cultural context or demands of their audience.

Johnson, speaking from an annual retreat of business leaders in Sun Valley, Idaho, said the feature films will have small budgets of about $3 million each, with similar budgets for marketing and advertising. The television movies will have smaller budgets.

The films will be aimed at a middle-class black market, and their releases will be targeted in high-volume urban multiplexes. The television movies will be black love stories taken from romance novels from a paperback publisher recently bought by BET.

``They have got to be films that tell the untold, middle-class black story,″ Johnson said. ``Everything from sex to no sex. There is this vast, middle-class black slice-of-life movie.″

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