The latest in streaming services began like most great things do: on a couch on a simple, slow day. KweliTV founder Deshuna Spencer was trying to find something to watch. As she flipped through channel by channel, she quickly realized that she couldn't find a show or movie to relate to.
"I was watching and thought, where are all of these great independent movies that I read about on these blogs?" Spencer told Digital Trends. "Even Premiere and regular streaming services had the same problem: while there was some content there, it wasn't the huge amount of content that I was looking for."
KweliTV was founded in Spencer's Alexandria, Virginia home and was developed in response to the lack of black content on streaming services.
The streaming service hosts over 400 indie films and TV shows with over 35,000 registered users and is growing. But it's more than just a "Black Netflix".
Rather than trying to compete with larger services that have millions of dollars in revenue and funding, KweliTV wants to thrive in that void by consciously thinking about the content it hosts. Regarding KweliTV's list as carefully curated, Spencer claims the service is intended to only host films that include not only black characters but also black directors, writers, and producers.
As of 2020, 98% of KweliTV's films were official selections at film festivals.
"One of the challenges I see with available black content is that it is very monolithic," says Spencer. “The stories are usually the same. We are not a monolithic community. We have a lot of stories to tell. For KweliTV, our goal is to show authentic stories. We don't shy away from reality, but we want to show the other experiences that viewers don't normally see. "
This experience not only prevents viewers from watching different films.
It also prevents newer and more subversive works from being included in the classical canon. According to a report in the New York Times, the Criterion Channel, a streaming service attached to the famous Criterion list, has a famous blind spot for black content and creators. Of the 1,034 films released, only four were by black directors, four by black directors outside the United States, and only one by a black woman of color.
While Netflix's new Black Lives Matter movie collection includes movies and shows from people of color, the list includes fewer than 100 offerings, most of which are focused on the African American experience.
“I feel that black stories can sometimes be an afterthought, even if people are definitely more focused on representing the black community. And I hear people say, "Well, it's for your community." And yes, that's true, but it also applies to other people. And there is a lost opportunity there. There are services like Criterion or Netflix that say, "We want this little segment for them," but the reality is that everyone can enjoy black content.
While the content is made for everyone, it's the details that make KweliTV so specific. Spencer is careful of his audience and refuses to add a variety of films depicting blacks' suffering, citing the fact that blacks are already inundated with this type of footage. But their careful curation of indie films that may disappear after festival circles make KweliTV a special service.
“The larger platforms focus on well-known talent, celebrities who are known and can attract viewers. But KweliTV is home to award-winning filmmakers who just haven't had the same chance, who may not have the big studio attached, or 20,000 followers on Twitter. So I think we're really giving black filmmakers a chance to showcase their work, a way to showcase their films when they might have disappeared before, ”says Spencer.
While Netflix and Criterion have recently shown greater interest in showcasing a wide variety of black films, this current interest could be a passing event. Spencer isn't worried.
"If things wear off, the other platforms may remove Black Lives Matter from their Twitter accounts, but our mission won't change," says Spencer. "That makes us different."
KweliTV is available on Roku, AmazonFire, AppleTV, and Google Play. You can subscribe to KweliTV here.
Correction: In an earlier version of this article, Deshuna Spencer's first name was misspelled and her hometown was incorrectly identified. The article has been updated.