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Black Twitter Is Black History


Black Twitter is a cultural gift that keeps on giving. UpRising chats with the mind squad behind the upcoming docuseries that chronicles the rise and reign of Black ingenuity on the bird app

UpRising: Black Twitter: A People's History is based on the September 2021 Wired cover story. What was the process of the article getting the documentary treatment?

Jason Parham (Producer): I don't think I was necessarily envisioning that this oral history would turn into this three-part Onyx project on Hulu. I just wanted to really highlight and spotlight our genius on the platform. I’ve been on Twitter for a very long time, around Black Twitter’s founding around 2008, 2009. I wanted to give love. We deserve our place in history. This is our story; I didn't want anybody else to tell it. I thought I could do it some justice. So the story comes out, then [executive producers] Sarah Amos and Andrew Whitney at [Conde Nast Entertainment] are like, “I think we can make this into something. We have a dream guy in mind to direct this: Prentice [Penny].” I was like, “Oh, shit! Insecure Prentice?!”

Insecure, for me, is our modern-day Living Single. So to have that knowledge and somebody who also puts so much love and care into Black storytelling, I was like, “This is a no-brainer.” Then Joie [Jacoby]—coming from the unscripted doc side—knows all the mechanics of the behind-the-scenes stuff. It really was a dream team for me.

For the three of you to come from different backgrounds—Prentice in scripted work, Jason coming from journalism, and Joie with roots in documentary film—how did those diverse skill sets work together? 

Joie Jacoby (Showrunner/Executive Producer): I thought it was very cool. There were things both of them brought to the process for me that was so new and that I want to apply to documentary filmmaking in the future. Working with a journalist as your producer is amazing. His knowledge of this subject and the people we needed to speak to and just the snuff test of “Is this okay? Does this feel weird?” He was an incredible resource.

Prentice brought his scripted approach to the documentary space in a way that was really new for me. We often are shooting as fast as we can and getting as much as we can, and you don't have time to make everything perfect. But Prentice wanted everything to look perfect. Every interview had to be a scene that was really bespoke and required a lot of time to produce and to set up. That made us more intentional in our interviews—we didn't have a lot of time to mess around. We couldn't do four-hour interviews [twice] per day if we were changing up the set. So I had to adjust, and I think it was for the better. We had so many amazing people that we were going to be talking to. You don't need to talk to people for five hours. We had long interviews, too. But it made us really focus and waste a lot less on the cutting-room floor.

Prentice Penny (Director/Executive Producer/Producer): I had similar [feelings], coming from a scripted space where everything is either generated from your own mind or from a writer's room of other people. Once I came on, some of the very early conversations with Jason were taking the article and wanting to know more. I would just have notebooks of information, like, “Walk me through this with more detail.” Even as I think about the way I do scripted stuff, I don't know if I do that much pre-work on my characters. But sitting with Jason, the details were so specific. That level of going deep is something that I would definitely do more of.

The tricky thing about when you're doing narrative stuff is when you run into a problem, how to solve it. I learned from Joie all the creative ways things get solved in the doc space. Sometimes, when you're doing scripted, you kind of have one way to think about something because it’s all from here [points at head]. She'd be like, “Well, we could try something like this, this, or this.”

Parham: Don't have B-roll? Maybe we'll use a GIF or meme.

Penny: It’s a different way to think about something. Those are the types of things I know I'm going to take as I go forward in scripted stuff. 

The documentary covers how the film Zola was born from an epic Twitter thread. If you had to choose one iconic Black Twitter moment to give the screenplay treatment, which would it be?

Penny: Negro Solstice, for me. The comedy of Black superheroes changing on this one day. Some powers are cool, some powers suck. 

Parham: Like, why the fuck did I get this [power]? [Laughs]

Penny: Yeah. I would do Negro Solstice—a Black comedy Avengers.

Jacoby: I love that. I would say, #MeetMeInTemecula. These two dudes meet up in wine country.

Penny: It's like a Black High Noon.

Parham: We deserve our action thriller #NiggerNavy moment. That would be so good. 

Penny: That's what we need to do—these Black mini movies. 

Ours would definitely be #MontgomeryBrawl.

Penny: That's a good one, too.

Parham: The chair hit heard round the world. It's so funny you bring that up. We were trying to figure out how we were going to end this, then the river brawl happens, and I remember emailing them right away. This is how we end it. This is the moment. It was so perfect.

Black Twitter: A People's History debuts on Hulu on May 9. The three-part docuseries features interviews with Jemele Hill, W. Kamau Bell, Amanda Seales, Kid Fury, Sam Jay, Van Lathan, Baratunde Thurston and others.


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