Numa Perrier Of Black&Sexy TV Talks BET Deal, Ownership & Reshaping Your History

Numa Perrier Of Black&Sexy TV Talks BET Deal, Ownership & Reshaping Your History

Numa Perrier has always had a knack for storytelling. At the age of eight, she was penning short stories and dramatic romance novels—about adults, not kids. In high school, she considered journalism but found that she preferred writing plays and monologues over news reporting. And when she later got behind the lens of a camera, she fell in love with the idea of bringing her stories to life—both through screenwriting and acting.

“I read a lot. I had a very vivid imagination, and my world was just not normal, so it just fed me in that way to not be like everyone else,” she says.

The co-founder and her team at Black&Sexy TV have mastered the art of turning real-life situations into storylines that will have you sipping tea while waiting for the next dramatic scene to unfold.

On September 17th the world tuned in as the entertainment and lifestyle network transitioned from the computer screen to the small screen for the debut of their popular YouTube web series Roomieloverfriends—a show depicting the lives of two roommates who blurred the lines between friendship and relationship after a one-night rendezvous turned into an all out love affair.

Although it’s been six years since the 2009 launch of Black&Sexy TV--a web-based (YouTube) channel featuring webisodes geared towards people of color, which to-date has over 114,000 subscribers--it seems like just yesterday they were meeting with executives at BET to discuss the transition from Internet to television.

“It went really fast, we started meeting [with BET], and it was a matter of months,” Perrier says “No one could believe how fast, but they were determined, and they really wanted us a part of their fall programming.”

Roomieloverfriends is just the beginning of their television takeover. They’ve also cut a deal to run Sexless—a series about four female friends navigating the dating world while remaining abstinent and celibate—and Hello Cupid, where two best friends dive into the world of online dating. Their first show, The Couple, executive produced by Spike Lee, has also been in development with HBO for two years, which they hope will be released soon.

“With BET we were able to work really fast because we were just taking what we’ve already done and putting it on a screen, but The Couple—we’re developing that into a new format, it has to go through different approvals, it’s a longer process.”

It all seems like a modern day film fairytale. One of instant success after the integration of social media catapulted the content creators to the forefront of the web series revolution. Although Perrier credits YouTube for allowing them to gain visibility at a fraction of the cost, she admits that building a fan base and viewership didn’t come without its challenges.

First there was the funding. The founders funneled their own money into their vision and what little return they received on their investment was recycled into making another show or hiring another team member. With each successful video, they were able to build the foundation of their business brick by brick.

There was also trouble with finding a platform to launch their web series. They initially tried creating their own site, but failed. After multiple attempts they finally turned to YouTube, which offered both technical support and partnership opportunities once they started gaining a strong following through consistent content—something that she says they wouldn’t have been able to pay for on their own. Saving dollars through YouTube enabled them to create more content to attract a larger audience.

“I always say content is king, no matter what anybody says. If you’re not making content and finding ways to improve on and be consistent with that content, you need to find another way, because that is the main way to push through,” Perrier says.

With consistent content came the offers from large television networks. Perrier believes that having ownership and not having to rely on Hollywood executives to green light their projects gives them an advantage over other content creators who are trying to break down Hollywood’s doors.

[Tweet "If it’s about them opening a door for you, I think that we’ll always be disappointed. "]

“If it’s about them opening a door for you, I think that we’ll always be disappointed. Because even if they open the door and let us in, what happens when we get inside? Are you really welcomed at the table? Are you getting what everyone else is getting? Will you be invited again? There’s this constant anxiety of am I acceptable? And for us we’re always excited for any entity to come talk with us about what we’re doing and how we can partner up together. Hollywood is coming to us; we’re open to all conversations every time we make a deal that is good for our brand. But at the end of the day, it is ownership that matters to us.”

It’s obvious that Perrier is passionate about this topic. Watching many of her peers struggle to get into television and film, even with their own level of success, is a topic that hasn’t been ignored. An article on Indiewire noted that this year 73 pilots are in the works that will feature black actors, at least half with leading roles. However, the percentage of pilots that actually make it to television vary by broadcast and cable network. Although it seems as if Hollywood is embracing black television, even honoring a few our leading ladies at this year’s Emmy Awards, there’s still concern that there aren’t enough characters—or executives—of color being represented in Hollywood.

Recently, movie producer Effie Brown, who serves as a producer on HBO’s Project Greenlight, attempted to defend her reasoning for wanting a diverse directing team over a script centered around a black female prostitute character, in which fellow producer Matt Damon interrupts her to say, “when you’re talking about diversity, you do it in the casting of the film, not the casting of the show.”

In her New York Times article, Issa Rae, who recently scored a pilot deal with HBO for her new show “Insecure,” notes that behind the scenes it can be very white, making it difficult for our stories to get told.

And in the words of Viola Davis—the first African-American woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a drama—“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.”

And we haven’t even begun to talk about the brothers.

Perrier believes the solution lies within being our own boss and not relying on the powers that be to welcome us with open arms.

“It’s ownership that gets us out of bed in the mornings, and it’s ownership that makes us not have to kiss anyone’s ass. If none of these people come to us, we still have our own thing. Trying to get into the Hollywood door is always a mix of how do I get through this thing with dignity? Every little thing is about trying to be accepted by people who weren’t going to invite you in until they saw dollar signs around your head.”

To those looking to break into the industry without waiting on Hollywood, she offers this:

“The way the Internet is set up now, if you feed your fans, you will feed yourself well. Impress your audience, don’t impress those executive—they don’t care about you. And the ones who really do care about you, they will show it with their actions, and then have that conversation and make a deal. That’s how you do it. Otherwise, focus on your audience.”

[Tweet "If you feed your fans, you will feed yourself well."]

The House That Numa Built

Perrier’s wisdom stems from over a decade of experience creating and crafting content both in front and behind the camera.

It was 2007 when Perrier was first scouted to join the Black&Sexy TV crew. At the time the Beverly Hills Playhouse trained actress was an LA transplant looking to get her big break in acting and producing. She had starred in a few television shows (General Hospital) and a number of short films, but it was her own production, Judi: A Series of Memories, that would allow her to really flex her creative chops. The dramatic short, which was based off her relationship with her sugar-addicted diabetic foster mom, was both poetic and poignant. She recounts the experience on her personal blog, House of Numa:

When my Mom died - I felt as if the air had been sucked out of me. Nothing could prepare me for the impact, the despondency, the grief that slammed into me with a blunt force. She was gone. As was my father, as were two of my brothers. Too many losses. Writing it now I feel again the twist in my belly, the tension and grip of hanging on to the memories. I slowly crawled out of the pain and eventually regained focus. I never lost sight of what I wanted in life, but I was operating in a numb blur.

Some years later I was able to make a film that extracted the memories of my relationship to my mother. I wanted to carve out the emotional tapestry of my perspective. This was my first film made with the close collaboration of friend Taye Hansberry. I knew very little about cameras and editing at the time, but this project was a milestone for my expansion as an artist. It was the first time I put the voice of my writing into a visual form.

Telling stories, her story, would become the foundation of her films. In her second film, La Petit Mort, she explores the depths of femininity through the simplicity of everyday tasks such as putting on a bra or hiking up a pair of pantyhose over the folded layers of the stomach. Working on the project took her back to her unconventional childhood growing up on a farm in Washington. Living with her white foster mom, black father, and adopted siblings gave her a different perspective on life and who she was as a person.

“Me knowing who I was really was dictated by my own self. Not ‘this is how things are done,’ or ‘this is how you turn into a woman.’ None of those things were really laid out, so it just kept me distinct.”

Photo Credit: House of Numa

Even how she defines the idea of being feminine is abstract, and certainly reflective of her more fluid upbringing. To Perrier, being feminine means being open and letting things in, both literally and figuratively. It’s being flexible, not boxed into some rigid concept. “I don’t assign words like ‘weak’ or ‘soft’ to being feminine,” she says. “I assign openness and a willingness to lean towards something as being feminine.”

In a sense, she explores who she is and her identity through each film and each role that she creates—ones that are often pulled from personal experiences.

When writing for the show The Couple (created by Jeanine Daniels and co-founder Dennis Dortch), Numa and Dennis--who share a daughter together--funneled their own relationship woes into the scripts. It’s part of what makes the series so relatable—it’s more reality than imagination.

Having worked together since 2007 when Dortch discovered Perrier’s work on Myspace, the pair have managed to find their rhythm in balancing work and romance. On set they’re very much in work mode: utilizing their complementing skill sets to continue studying and building their digital empire along with their Creative Director Brian Ali Harding, creating content that can be monetized through their paid subscription service, and, as of recently, managing their collaborations with BET, HBO, and Issa Rae Productions.

Perrier attributes their family-like business structure to her ability to balance her work and family life. On her blog she recalls carrying a five-week-old Rockwelle on set while they finished the final two days of filming Roomieloverfriends. Being able to make decisions on her own terms without the discomfort that often comes with being managed by a subsidiary party has been vital for Perrier.

“If I want to come with my child and breastfeed all day, then that’s what I’m going to do because that’s my set. Everyone just had to accept that ‘hey, Numa’s here with her baby.’ Everyone was onboard with it, and she has grown up with everyone. I almost want to cry when I talk about it because everyone has been with her since before she was born, and because we were doing our own thing, we were able to integrate a family life into the work life.”

Without Dortch, Perrier says she doesn’t know how she would be able to manage her heavy workload and motherhood.

“When other women and my friends ask me, ‘well how do you it?’ I say, ‘well first of all you have to have the right father in place.’ I wouldn’t be able to do this if I were a single mother; I don’t know how single mothers do it. I really, really don’t.”

Being partners in business and at home certainly doesn’t come without its challenges. Perrier, who is six years younger than Dortch, admits that she can be handful (“I know there are times where he’s thinking I’m going to kill this woman because she drives me crazy”), but like managing their employees they’ve set guidelines to help manage their relationship. No fighting, just loving. And occasional dates that tend to flow into wrok conversations, which she says is the better relationship.

“When he’s in the director chair and I’m in the actress chair, that’s really healthy for us.”

I jokingly tell her that their relationship reminds me of Salim and Mara Brock Akil—minus the marriage part.

She chuckles, “No, we’re not married, but his time is running out!” She’s kind of joking, but not really. “It’s getting to the point that we have some things we need to sort out fast. You know, I’m a romantic, why not? We should. We’ll have a Black&Sexy wedding. I’ll keep you posted.”

In the meantime, they’re doing what works for them. I also ask her if with all of this work, does she ever take a break or go on a vacation.

“We celebrate a lot. We find any reason to celebrate. I always have to tell [Dortch] we’re going to celebrate. We’re going to get a bottle, and pour it out. We’re going to invite everyone over and celebrate this thing right now. But, a spa day is in order.”

She pauses as she tries to remember the last time she escaped from the hectic day-to-day of her crazy creative life.

“Oh! I did go to the spa for my birthday, in December. It was the first time in years. Me and mother…our birthdays are a week apart. So I took her to the spa for me and her.”

Photo Credit: House of Numa

The experience was especially significant given that she’s still in the process of building a relationship with her birth mother. As an immigrant from Haiti who arrived in America with four kids under the age of five, the single mother decided that it was best to find someone who would better take care of her kids, and set up a private adoption in hopes that they would one day be reunited once they were adults. Though Perrier tries not to hold any resentment against her mom, she admits that she suffers from abandonment issues, and that it’s something she’s been actively working on through therapy sessions and identifying areas of improvement, and even opening herself up as a confidant and mentor to people who’ve been through similar situations.

“I try to connect with them, encourage them, and be someone that they can possibly lean onto. And I try to set a different path for my own daughter who has a different history already.”

She’s made a point to reshape her own history, remembering the words of friend and designer Melody Ehsani:

[Tweet "I am not my history."]

“It really spoke to me, and it was kind of a precise way of saying you don’t have to do what your parents did; you don’t have to do what your culture has done in history; you are not your history; you are your own unique person.”

“That’s something that I really believe in, mainly because my history has been so fragmented,” she continues. “I couldn’t look to my past and say this is who I am, because then I’m taking on things I may not want to take on. If I am my past, and no one in my past has ever lived their dreams, does that mean I continue the cycle of not living my dreams? Or nobody ever had a name for themselves, do I continue that because those are things that have happened for me or even in my childhood? I really don’t believe in that, and I think that we’re capable of doing whatever it is that we want to do.”

As a black woman, mother, artist, businesswoman, and visionary—she’s certainly redefining her history and telling her own story.

Catch Black&Sexy TV's Roomieloverfriends on BET, Wednesdays at 11PM/10PM CT.

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