Delores Edwards is the Executive Producer of GBH's "Basic Black," the longest-running program on public television focusing on the interests of people of color. She is also the owner and Executive Producer of her own company, Marblehill MEDIA. Learn more about Delores on her website, and connect with her on Facebook at Delores Edwards or on Twitter @deeadrian.
How has the current political and social moment affected your work at “Basic Black”?
Meet WIFVNE Member Delores Edwards!
How did you get started?
My interest in journalism began as a teenager while in high school in a journalism honors class. I was also accepted into the Dow Jones News Fund Program, a summer program for high school students at NYU, where I was fortunate to meet journalists of color, and the opportunity to learn more about working in media. I also began to learn about the power of writing and the power of words. It wasn’t until later that I would combine words with visuals in order to create and produce stories.
Later, as a student at Northeastern University, I was able to obtain work experience through their co-op program. While the work wasn’t always entirely specific to journalism, I did come out of school with two years of full-time work experience when I graduated with honors.
My first job was at ABC News. During my time working there major news events like Tiananmen Square, the San Francisco earthquake, and later the numerous Gulf wars occurred. While at "Nightline," I was exposed to so many things—stories, correspondents, and producers, reporting worldwide events. It really was my training ground. I also worked in-and-out of ABC for various projects and programs throughout my career, which was pretty cool.
Being a young woman from the Bronx, I didn’t have connections in the industry, so I had to hustle and network. At the time I remember reading an article in Essence magazine about producer Marquita Pool [now Marquita Pool-Eckert] and thinking that it would be great to speak with her. I remember calling CBS and asked to speak with her, unsure if I would be able to talk with her. When the person on the other end of the line said sure and put me through to her, I was surprised. It seemed too easy! I was able to visit the studio, talk with her, take a tour, and later spoke with the CBS talent development person.
I also went to talks and workshops conducted by the Center for Communication (CFC), where I heard experts in news, public relations, music, advertising, and other types of media talk about their experiences. During one CFC panel event, I was able to hear national network Executive Producers discuss what it was like to produce their programs and later connected with a producer at “20/20” while touring ABC. She provided me with names of people to contact. The contacts she provided to me helped me to land my first job in television. From there I was able to get my foot in the door and make connections for myself.
What do you love about the work that you do?
I love telling stories, especially being able to tell other people’s stories. Where I grew up in the Bronx, I knew a lot of people whose stories, issues, and concerns weren’t always told. They were often overlooked and other people weren’t aware of both their struggles and their happiness. They weren’t seen. I say this because the Bronx gets a bad rap so the opportunity for me to tell stories from various viewpoints and facets in the media due to my diverse background—from news, entertainment, documentary, talk, to network programming, and now at “Basic Black,” has been great.
What has been your experience taking the helm of a legacy program like “Basic Black”?
“Basic Black” started out in 1968 as “Say Brother,” and it grew out of the unrest of the time—specifically the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was an acknowledgment that there was a need for Black voices to be heard, and through the prism and voices of Black creators. The show has evolved over time. In the past there were music segments and producers traveled. Now the format is closer to a panel show. That being said, the mission of the show—telling those stories that aren’t always told about Black and Brown communities—has continued throughout the history of the program and continues today to also include communities of color. Since I have joined the program as the Executive Producer, we reshaped and added topics—from discussions about mental health, art, and politics to conversations around the history of hair within communities of color. I also had the opportunity to spearhead the redesign the show set and new graphics, which was fun to do. And it is stunning!
You have had a very successful career and won a number of awards, including being nominated for a number of Emmys and "Basic Black" receiving the Boston/New England Governors' Award. Tell us more!
We were very pleasantly surprised when we received the Governors' Award—and acknowledgement of the legacy of the program. We've been working hard over the years and it’s really nice to get the recognition—like, “we see you.”
It’s also been great because there aren’t a lot of shows around focusing on communities of color. Growing up, I remember Gil Noble’s "Like It Is." It was a worthy program, but went off the air several years ago. To its credit, GBH has been supportive of “Basic Black,” and the contribution that it provides to the community.
We're a live show, however, due to the coronavirus, we've been taping our episodes that air in the evening.
We’ve always sought to make the show as timely as possible, such as recent program episodes covering the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, BLM protests, COVID-19 and the health disparities for BIPOC to the travel ban, immigration and hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in the past, but going virtual has definitely changed the dynamic. We’ve been able to keep the format pretty consistent with our guest panelists joining the program remotely, however, we’d like to go back to in-person taping once it’s safe.
Since we also have viewers who watch the show on the web, via Facebook and Twitter, we’ve been able to broaden and expand the audience a bit, which has helped increase our viewership and ability for more people to see the show.
Year-after-year we have been able to bring on more guests, more new faces as well as more experts. We’ve really been able to give more people living in our communities of color the opportunity to share their stories.
What can you tell us about marblehill MEDIA?
marblehill MEDIA is primarily my banner where I work on my own independent projects and creative interests as well as some freelance work. The name comes from the Marble Hill projects in the Bronx, where I grew up.
What I’ve learned is that if you work long enough in the industry that jobs come and go. You’ve got to have something for yourself, a little side-hustle—things to pursue for you. It also keeps the creativity flowing!
What has your experience as a woman in the industry been like?
I would say that it’s been mixed. I think there’s been a lack of access—access to opportunity, information, and better pay. As a Black woman, I have experienced racism, micro aggressions, marginalization, and prejudice. I don’t think, sad to say, that it is unusual. However, I’m glad to see that people are speaking out and speaking up about these issues as well as the lack of diversity and about ageism, too. It’s important that women, a diverse group of women are included, who are decision makers to greenlight projects, and take part in those top-line discussions about hiring, direction and approvals—basically have a seat at the table, maybe a couple of seats at the table! We’re seeing more of it; more female directors, producers and writers working on their own projects, starting companies and heading up film and television divisions.
Were you told or did you learn a piece of wisdom or advice you now tell others in the beginning of their career?
What I have learned? Relationships. It’s old advice, but relationships really do matter. We call it “Networking”—but really it is getting to know people. Don’t just reach out when you need a job. Make the relationship meaningful and well-rounded. You can find people that are great sounding boards and willing to share and give great advice.
What are some things that you wish could change/would help if more women were in the industry?
I think ACCESS is huge. We need more opportunities for women, people of color, and other underrepresented people to direct and produce—more people to greenlight projects. We also need to spread the wealth better. There needs to be paid internships and paid training—and there are so many areas of the industry that need to diversify. We are beginning to see more people on the air and a diversity of actors—some who are creating and producing projects for themselves, but what if you want to be a gaffer or a make-up artist? Is there support for these positions and others to diversify?
There are some great programs, like NYWIFT’s Writers Lab supported by Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman, and Oprah Winfrey that helps and supports women screenwriters over forty—but there needs to be more. Conferences need to be more affordable, too, and there can always be more of them to give people greater access to the resources they need. Due to the health pandemic, there is plenty of content online to learn and engage.
And finally, we need diversity in the C-Suite—we need a range of voices and experiences in those positions.
Where would you like to go in your work?
With my personal work, I’m developing some programming and ideas for film projects. I’d also like to take one of my scripts, a film short, that made it into a festival and make a film. I also have an idea for a podcast. All of these ideas and more helps me to stay creative and curious about storytelling.
As for “Basic Black,” we will continue to expand our topics, continue to reach new audiences and include new voices on the topics and issues presented. I’m looking forward to seeing where our work goes.
What can you share about what you are working on now?
The podcast idea that I mentioned, writing and hopefully work on a panel series for women with WIFVNE. I'd also like to raise money for my quirky New York story film short. I have also written a children's book with a diversity theme that I am hoping to get published.
Why are you a WIFVNE member? How do you think WIFVNE can support filmmakers in New England?
I’ve been a member of NYWIFT for a few years and joined WIFVNE through the dual membership program when I moved to Massachusetts. I am a member of both organizations because I want to stay connected to creative women in the industry, learn, and forge new friendships and potential partnerships with like-minded individuals.
WIFVNE is doing outstanding work with the newsletter and the website. I like how the newsletter and website has evolved, and the availability of information. I am learning a lot about events and projects in the New England area. The emails have also been an excellent resource of information to keep members informed. Plus, the virtual events during COVID-19 have also helped to spread the impact of the organization. One of the ways WIFVNE can continue to support filmmakers in New England are through more workshops and bringing more diverse voices into the organization. I also think that once we’re able, having more engagement in person through both big and small networking events will also help members. Every year NYWIFT presents the Muse Awards, showcasing women creatives in vision and achievement. Perhaps WIFVNE can produce an event to recognize its members and/or creative women in the industry.
Is there any final take-away you would like to share?
Hmm. Probably those reading my story will understand that if you really want to work in the industry that you can. Many people still think that you need the right connections to enter the business. That is not true; it really comes down to desire and perseverance. Just keep going, find your own path, seek guidance, stay creative and have fun.
1. Meredith Nierman
2. Delores Edwards