A Conversation with Brett Dismuke: Bringing into Time and Space, The Black Experience
As Brett Dismuke, General Manager of ALLBLK and WE tv at AMC Networks, speaks directly to the Black community in this very raw and candid interview, we are met with what sits heavy on his heart.
We are reminded, "it is our job to redefine for the Black entertainment experience what Black entertainment can be." And the imperative of highlighting not only positive images but also all images--authentic images--in the Black stories we tell. Which he goes on to further express, "this is an intentional conscious effort" being seeded into the content and programs found on the trailblazing ALLBLK streaming platform.
As a Chicago native living in Los Angeles who graduated from the University of Southern California, Dismuke has an Olympian track record, spanning over 20 years in the entertainment industry. From Motown, Polygram Distribution, Universal Music and Video Distribution, Hollywood Records, UrbanWorks Entertainment, First Look Studios, and the Black division under Image Entertainment, One Village, Dismuke's very own brand.
It is no wonder why Dismuke has consistently been an invaluable, trusted partner, and influential leader for BET co-founder Robert “Bob” L. Johnson. After buying Image Entertainment and Acorn Media in 2012, Johnson merged the two companies to create RLJ Entertainment. He then brought in Dismuke to serve as the SVP of Acquisitions and Urban Programming for RLJ Entertainment's One Village. In 2014, Dismuke took some time to establish himself on the creative side of the business. He produced films for various other networks before rejoining forces with Johnson and the RLJ team in January 2019. At which time, Johnson had sold the majority stake in RLJ entertainment to AMC Networks.
Dismuke saw the infinite possibilities to expand and capitalize on a larger audience with AMC networks now in the picture to provide the financial backing to grow and scale and the marketing machine needed to have a competitive edge.
At its inception, ALLBLK, the streaming video on demand platform—formerly known as UMC (Urban Movie Channel)—was the first to market streaming service tailored explicitly for Black programming.
"My primary mission is to inform and share as much as I can with our people and our Black creatives...[I want] to leave this place better than I found it."
BD: Aja, thank you so much for reaching out. I feel honored by this interview request.
AB: So, tell us, what is ALLBLK?
BD: ALLBLK.tv is a streaming service specifically catered to the African American experience. We feature stories, movies, docuseries, stage plays, original series, as well as some of your favorite cult classic films, like Boomerang, Juice, or Love & Basketball.
BD: What's interesting is if you look at ALLBLK.tv versus the other services catered to the Black audience, we are the most diverse when it comes to the content offerings in the marketplace. Our focus is not necessarily in one area; our focus is the breadth of our content, giving offerings that all three levels of the family may want to enjoy, including grandmom or dad, the parents, and even some of the late age kids.
BD: And we see this in docuseries like Behind Her Faith, which speaks to certain Black women's journeys—the ebbs and flows of their lives and what they've overcome. But at the same time, we're offering stand-up comedy titles like Lil Duval's Living My Best Life. And then, to put the cherry on top, we also have a wide array of original series, like action crime dramas, Double Cross, or nighttime Emmy-nominated soap operas or relationship shows, For the Love of Jason and Stuck with You. As well as traditional sitcoms like Millennials and a weekly talk show with Kendall Kyndall, called Social Society.
BD: Starting off as UMC in 2014, Bob Johnson had a vision of realizing the primarily African American cable viewing community and wanting to transition them into the subscription world, and it hadn't been done yet.
BD: Now, when we launched Urban Movie Channel, which UMC stood for, it was a very descriptive name. We wanted the audience to know exactly what we were offering since there were no other services like us. But over a few years, we felt that it was time to go in a new direction. The term "urban" had pretty much run its course. As Black Americans, because everything is cyclical, we have gotten back to calling it what it is.
BD: Therefore, getting away from the name "urban" as well as not having the focus just be primarily on movies, we decided to rebrand, and we wanted a new name that really encapsulated the journey, encapsulated what we're all about, and knowing that ALLBLK can be your destination for simply that, Black entertainment. It was a must for us.
AB: Why is it essential to have a service platform like ALLBLK?
BD: I think historically, we have been at the mercy of other cultures, other people from different backgrounds, greenlighting our stories.
BD: When we would look at television, or we would go to the movies—and quite frankly, we would watch the content because that's what was being offered. However, some of us were like, 'how come this type of story isn't being told?' Us having this platform, we don't have to rely on anyone else to share our stories.
BD: It is a fact of reality that we have entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, engineers, and well-known politicians; we also have hustlers and folks on the grimy side and everything in between.
BD: We do a good job of not only showcasing that through our scripted programming, but we have quite a few reality shows, as well, in conjunction with our partnership with WE tv. Whether it's Brat Loves Judy and highlighting same-sex love, or it's The TS Madison Experience and talking about transgender women, I could go on and on about different areas of Black life that get overlooked at times, but we're here to share it all.
AB: The spectrum of representation is crucial. You want to be entertained but also educated. A difference in perspective can still bring forth unity because there's empathy and a willingness to understand the uniqueness of others and their experiences.
BD: Absolutely. Where else can you have a show highlighting dancers who are trying to get out of the strip club, like Beyond the Pole, but then turn right around and turn on Social Society with segments on financial literacy in the Black community, Black tech companies, and how to maximize on your taxes. We're giving all of that!
BD: We have a responsibility to share information with our people. So again, good, bad or ugly, we are at least going to talk about it and show it. You may not like everything. You may love it all. We're not going to be in a position where you can say ALLBLK shied away from any of those topics.
AB: What are the challenges you have faced in building all-Black content programming and networks?
BD: There seems to be a reluctance sometimes to support Black businesses. And that's not just in entertainment. That's across the board. And it's a trust issue. We have to overcome people looking at us and saying, ‘oh, that's just a Black streaming service, it's not worth...fill in the blank.’ And we're here to prove those people wrong and set an example. A business geared towards Black people does not have to be considered bootleg or second-rate.
Brett takes a moment to give flowers to the Black excellence of Bob Johnson, Oprah Winfrey, Sean "Diddy" Combs, and Master P, who he acknowledges have all helped pave the way in that instance.
BD: I do believe the perception is changing, but we're here to drive that home as we continue to grow virally and our audience gets larger. We can make much more of a louder bang about what we are doing. We see the same situation in hip hop music. This doesn't have to be any different. We are here for consumption because we know pop culture is Black culture.
BD: Usually, when you go to an outlet, they have anywhere from two to four original series. We have five to six times that. And I have to shout out Terror Lake Drive because that was our first thriller series. People said it couldn't be done, so our content is growing as our subscriber base grows.
BD: Yes indeed. In the Fall of 2021, we have the return of our top-rated series, Craig Ross Jr.'s Monogamy. This will be season 3 of that series, and that show has a cult following like no other. It's amazing. [The] season [premiered] on September 2nd. I challenge you to watch episode 1, look at our social pages and see the fans go crazy.
BD: We have Covenant, a new show by Kaye Singleton premiering. It's an anthology series that really tackles stories from the Bible. It recreates what those stories would look like in present-day society. The actions, the language, the situations, people will be able to relate to what they're seeing. Then during the after show, you'll see Kaye and some of the cast members have conversations about the inspiration of those episodes.
BD: We have a legal drama called Lace from Katrina Y. Nelson and Michelle Ebony Hardy that is amazing. It follows Lacey McCullough, and she owns a law firm. Yet, she is not only a lawyer that deals with high-end clientele, but she's also very closely associated with an escort service.
AB: Oooo, y'all are going there. Ok!
BD: We're going there. McCullough & Associates, they're no holds barred to what they will do to get their clients off. And you can take that how you want.
BD: We also have a great new sitcom called Partners in Rhyme from MC Lyte and Bentley Kyle Evans. It's funny. Last year at ABFF [American Black Film Festival], we started a partnership called "Shoot Your Shot." It was a national casting call for a prominent role on the show, Partners in Rhyme, where we found Precious Way as the co-star of the series with MC Lyte—and Precious is phenomenal. She is a young MC, an artist, and she plays MC Lyte's niece on the show. It's kind of like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air meets Empire. It's a traditional sitcom. We're going to have a ball with that.
In speaking with Brett, we also heard the insider scoop about this year's ALLBLK's "Shoot Your Shot" competition in partnership with ABFF, featuring the extraordinary Coleman Domingo of Fear of the Walking Dead. Coleman is looking for an actor to put in his new series, West Philly Baby, set to begin filming in 2022.
BD: We also have a supernatural show called Dead Places that premieres in November. It's about a private investigator from the UK. These are all Black people, by the way. He goes to South Africa to investigate his sister's disappearance. But, he stumbles upon all of these different supernatural cases that are happening. So that's going to be a fun ride.
While Brett verbally couldn't share too much about what is coming in 2021, his energy spoke for him as he lit up with excitement for the hot newness coming. In addition to the proudness of returning shows, Social Society with Kendall Kyndall, Marriage Boot Camp, Growing Up Hip-Hop, and a lot of other WE tv show’s that will be back.
AB: Where can people find ALLBLK?
BD: There is a direct website at ALLBLK.tv. We can also be found anywhere content is streamed, whether that's Amazon Prime, YouTube, Comcast, and mobile apps on iOS and Android, for $4.99 per month.
AB: Brett, last and final question. What is your personal mission?
BD: To leave this place better than I found it. I take that responsibility very seriously. I am specifically talking about how Black and brown people are treated in this business and what we know. For years, companies, agents, managers, lawyers, and studios have taken advantage of people who did not have much information.
BD: So, one of the things that I do, I don't care if it's a college [or] film festival, I'm going to sit on as many panels as I possibly can to share all the information that I have. The other thing is when I'm negotiating; if there are terms that the filmmaker, the producer, or the licensor doesn't understand, I'm going to sit down and explain it to them. I'm also going to give them their options. Not only for the flexibility they have with doing business with me, but I'm also going to tell them about other companies. And what they can do at other places so that when we as Black people are sitting at the table with these other companies and networks, we know what we're talking about. Ultimately that is going to change the game.
BD: And I have to give it up to my Big Brother Master P. He has taught me a lot in this business. When he redefined how record labels should approach distribution companies, that's what I'm talking about. We didn't have the knowledge that we could do that. My primary mission is to inform and share as much as I can with our people and our Black creatives.