Columbia University alum Uzo Ometu has launched a new video streaming service showcasing content made by black creators, filmmakers, and writers.
BlackOakTV, which officially launched earlier this year, is an authentic space for Black creatives to produce targeted narratives for Black viewers. The goal is to be the go-to platform for Black movies, shows, exclusives, and everything in between.
Indeed, with major streaming services like Netflix and HBO increasing their library of Black content, Black filmmakers and creatives represent a hot commodity in the film industry. Still, while this market is being partially satisfied by current platforms 36-year-old Ometu believes this is not enough.
“For me, if you want to go all-in for Black people and really want to make a change, just do it,” Ometu said. “Try going to the Black creators and asking them what they want to do. Then go to the Black audience and ask what they wanna see and mesh the two perspectives together to create something that is bold and unafraid.”
This desire for change in the streaming industry needs to be intentional and deliberate says Ometu. Putting Black actors in leading roles of shows written by white writers, for white audiences does not accomplish that, he adds. Black creatives shouldn’t have to claw and fight for every little piece of authentic Black content.
“We do get a few good Black shows every now and then from major media companies, we do get some effort but it’s often not consistent, bold enough or it came too late,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I’ve seen that at the 6 or 7 main media companies there was always this push and pull regarding Black content.”
The platform’s library holds hours of original content featuring 3 exclusive projects: the sitcom First Dates by Talibah Newman, the mockumentary series Untold Stories of the Unknown by Dormtainment, and the drama series The Retreat by Ashley Denise and Ricki Lynée of Nuanse Entertainment. Additionally, 15 more exclusive series’ will be added to BlackOakTV’s catalog throughout 2021.
One particular project Ometu is excited for audiences to see is The Closet B*tch by Shana Solomon, in which she plays each character akin to Eddie Murphy in the Nutty Professor. The project encapsulates how Black Oak TV wants to change the film industry for Black creatives: by providing a platform for Black creatives to create full, uninhibited and authentic Black content without needing to dilute it for mainstream, white, audiences.
“ [The Closet B*tch] is an indie show done on an indie budget, and yet I feel like it could easily be on HBO or FX,” Ometu said. “I owe it to her to make sure that more people see this show and the second season she’s gonna do for us in a few months.”
Black Oak TV’s origins didn’t begin with streaming but with publishing. In 2006, Ometu launched Black Oak Enterprises, a digital media publishing company that serviced ABC, The Economist, ESPN & Ziff Davis among others.
This eventually evolved into BlackOakTV uploading webisodes on YouTube, beginning with First Dates.
Graduating from Columbia University in 2006, Ometu’s experience at the Ivy League institution has helped shape his, and Black Oak TV’s, destiny going forward.
“The culture of being around so many various groups in general and even various groups of Black people from different backgrounds… has inspired a lot of how I approach life and thinking about culture and race and wanting to address topics like the ones I’m taking on with Black Oak TV,” He said.
While studying at the Ivy League institution, Ometu met his wife, Talibah Newman Ometu, who shared his love of content and helped inspire him to pursue this venture.
“My wife is a filmmaker and I love the work she’s put out there,” Ometu said. “We’ve done a couple of collaborations together and through all that I was trying to figure out what I want my role to be in not just content but creating Black content.”
Ometu was also a division 3 student-athlete playing fullback, linebacker and defensive line for the Columbia Lions football team.
“Athletes naturally take this perspective into the workplace and realize this is just about putting your mind to the work and the rest will come,” Ometu said. “I think it brought a work ethic, fortitude, and the ability to work within a team that is unmatched.”
Ometu’s career also emphasized the importance of teamwork and lessons on knowing how to best contribute to a winning team.
“That teamwork experience you get at an early age really affects you for the rest of life as it’s very humbling,” Ometu said. “You have to play a role that 9 times out of 10, especially by the time you are in high school and college, it’s not a role you wanted to play but only one person on the team gets to be Michael Jordan. This will always be the case in business and in a career.”
After receiving his bachelor’s degree, Ometu went on to write for Inc. Magazine in New York and over the next few years gained experience working for several other media publications including ESPN, CBS, and Morpheus Media.
“The biggest thing I learned is to not be afraid; I think these large media companies have a lot to protect,” Ometu said. “They need to be careful, as small things they do affect big numbers. It’s the laws of being a big company.”
Ometu eventually returned to Columbia in 2012 and earned his MBA in Media & Entertainment, Strategy, and Entrepreneurship. During his second tenure at Columbia, Ometu won the 2013 Microsoft Case Study competition and was a member of the Columbia Entrepreneurs Organization.
“You had this mix of African culture from across the world and Black culture from across the US, you get there and feel an affinity to each other,” Ometu said. “The beauty of being Black in that environment is that you all have a common thread of where you have felt disrespected, overlooked, under-estimated or under celebrated. It brought us all together in a uniquely Black way that is just a part of our experience and culture certainly here in America and abroad.”
Now that Black Oak TV has launched, Ometu is focused on building relationships with Black filmmakers and YouTubers who have the talent, but not necessarily the financial support, to make high-quality, original content.
Black Oak TV aims to focus on partnering with avant-garde, independent Black creatives who haven’t gotten their big break, Ometu said. The ones who may not have the financial backing and other resources to go above and beyond the current type of content they are creating.
“We are focusing on traditional film-makers, the avant-garde independent Black creatives out there who have been making content for a long time and haven’t gotten that check to do something above and beyond what they have already done with limited resources,” he said.
The goal of BlackOakTV is to put creators and audiences first, in addition to supporting independent filmmakers who have a strong vision for what they want to create.
“I am the founder of an entertainment company, but I’m not the creator,” he said. “I want the creators to be the one to bring their voices and their stories and ideas to the platform. I try to be their supporter and enabler.”
This relationship between the platform and creators will not be the only connections that BlackOakTV hopes to facilitate however.
“We eventually want to be a community, we want our audience to embrace the content, interact with the creators and talk to one another,” Ometu said. “We’re building out a suite of product features that will allow that to happen and bring those conversations that are happening on Twitter, Facebook, or even at home and bring them to a broader audience.”
Audience engagement is pivotal for any modern streaming service and while Blac OakTV does not have widely captivating Black programs like Boondocks or Power, it is creating an environment for more niche filmmakers to create for their core audiences.
“What differentiates us from other services that focus on Black content is that we are focused on original, quality shows from influencers [that] folks already love,” Ometu said.
Streaming services like HBO have claimed days, in this instance Sundays, in which they consistently premiere new content and BlackOakTV aims to do the same.
“If you tune in on Sunday, or any night, you’re gonna find an awesome Black show for you and not just the times when Insecure or Atlanta are on TV,” Ometu said. “We’re not gonna be for everybody nor every Black person. But for the shows and creators we’re working with and for the folks who are going to like those creators, even if they haven’t heard of them yet, we are the place for you.”