How 2-Cent Uses Media as Weapon: New Orleans for Sale
By JORDAN FLAHERTY
The video grabs your attention immediately. Young people in the Lower Ninth Ward hold up signs that read: “looter,” “we’re still here,” and “America did this.” Amid empty lots and damaged houses, poet Nik Richard delivers this message: “Hurricane Katrina was the biggest national disaster to hit American soil, and nearly two years later, this area is still devastated. But you know what? We made sure we preserved it strictly for your tourism. For about $75, you can take one of these many tour buses.”
Tourists drive by and people with cameras gawk. Richard looks directly at the camera and says, “It looks like there’s more money to be paid in devastation than regeneration. If y’all keep paying your money to see it, should we rebuild it?”
The short film New Orleans For Sale, which has garnered several awards, was made by 2-Cent Entertainment, a group of young Black media makers in New Orleans. The group, which currently has 10 members, made New Orleans for Sale to convey the frustration felt by many New Orleanians as the city has become a national spectacle and a backdrop for countless national politicians, while the aid the city needs to rebuild still hasn’t arrived. In 2008, the film won several awards including an NAACP image award in a competition, called Film Your Issue, which featured a high-powered jury with the likes of news anchor Tom Brokaw and media executives from MTV Networks, Lionsgate Entertainment and USA Today.
But for 2-Cent, the praise of the corporate media is beside the point. The collective's target audience is their community. Working at the intersection of art and justice, as well as entertainment and enlightenment, 2-Cent has attracted a wide and growing audience. In New Orleans, they’ve also collaborated with the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund, produced shows on local television and radio stations, and created mix CDs and scores of short videos. Beyond creating inspiring programming, 2-Cent members also seek to pass their skills onto the next generation, and have taught and presented their work and in New Orleans high schools and colleges.
“Huey Newton said the young people always inherit the revolution,” says Brandan “B-Mike” Odums, 2-Cent’s founder. “And that’s what 2-Cent is, it’s how our generation responded to that call.”
The collective formed in 2004, when Odums gathered a group of friends (most of them fellow students at the University of New Orleans) to produce a TV show with a message.
“A lot of TV promotes a monolithic way of thinking, saying there’s only one way to be, or promoting ignorance as cool,” says Odums. “We say it’s hot to stand up for yourself and speak for yourself.”
The group was still newly formed when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, and in the aftermath of the storm, with 2-Cent members spread across the United States, they nearly disbanded. “Katrina made us realize that this is what we want,” says Odums. “We’d done two episodes before the storm. Everybody was scattered. Katrina forced us to make the decision.”
The collective briefly relocated together to Atlanta, then made the decision together to return to New Orleans.
Kevin Griffin, another of the founding members of 2-Cent, joined because he shares Odum’s desire to change the images and messages delivered to today’s youth. “We were seeing the images that BET and others were putting out,” Griffin says. “And we wanted to do something different, more positive.”
Griffin is not just a media activist; he is also one of the leaders of a citywide movement spearheaded by the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, an organization whose mission is to close the Youth Studies Center, the city’s youth prison. The group has led campaigns to shut down other youth prisons around the state including the notorious youth prison in Tallulah, Louisiana, and they are also working to create more options for young people beyond jail.
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