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Stateside Podcast: Detroit's Black indie filmmakers find a home on Tubi

a hand holds out a remote in front of a television that has been blurred.
Glenn Carstens-Peters/Unsplash
Someone streams a movie through their television.

There are plenty of streaming services to go around. There are the giants like Netflix, HBO Max, and Hulu to name a few. Then, there's an ecosystem of smaller streaming platforms that curate to more niche audiences. Take, for example, Tubi, which has become a go-to place for lovers and producers of independent Black film.

“When I took a deeper dive into it, I noticed that a lot of these films are actually filmed out of Detroit,” said journalist Phil Lewis, a Detroit native and senior front page editor at HuffPost. He recently wrote about the Detroit-Tubi connection for his Substack newsletter.

That’s right. It’s not L.A., or New York, or Atlanta that’s emerged as the quote unquote Tubi capital. It’s Detroit. On limited budgets, creators are pumping out independent movies and shows that audiences love. And many of the films uploaded to the service are shot and produced in the city, and made by Detroit-based filmmakers.

“I talked with Travis Grant, for example, who is an independent film critic," said Lewis. "...He is probably one of the few film critics really heavily looking into Tubi films, and he was like ‘Tubi needs it’s own Detroit section.’ Like that’s how prominent Detroit is on the platform.”

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Lewis says that Detroit is getting more attention in the entertainment world, and that's what, in part, is spurring a boom in local content creation.

“People are starting to realize this with other projects that are out now, with BMF on Starz and all these other Detroit-related shows that are popping up,” Lewis said. “People are starting to realize, and America is starting to realize, that Detroit is just cool. And so Tubi, I think, is sort of capitalizing on that.

The service is not without its critics, though. Black women filmmakers have mentioned that much of the content made on Tubi is made by men. Lewis said when interviewing Nadia Calhoun, a director from Detroit, she told him that she was tired of sex, violence, and guns being at the center of Tubi storylines.

“One of the things you’ll notice on Tubi is that a lot of the films are made by men, which is not just a Tubi problem, but an industry-wide problem," explained Lewis. "So there are women who are looking to create films on Tubi and to make them a little different from the sort of average film that we see on TV, which has gratuitous violence and sex and all this.”

Lewis said there has always been a need for Black filmmakers to create their own spaces, from the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s to self-funded indie projects from Spike Lee to Issa Rae. Tubi is just one example of a place where Black filmmakers are creating content for and by Black people. Tubi, he said, helps make an often-ignored audience feel seen.

"They see, in these Tubi films, they see themselves or representation on the screen and it's a joy for the people to create," Lewis said. "Everybody I talked to for this story was delighted to hear the reactions that these films have on others and that's the long impact that goes back to the long history of filmmaking within the Black community."


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Music in this episode byBlue Dot Sessions.

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April Van Buren is a producer for <i>Stateside</i>. She produces interviews for air as well as web and social media content for the show.
Dan Netter joined the Stateside team as an intern in May 2022 and is a senior at Michigan State University studying Journalism and Social Relations & Policy.