Conversations surrounding the issues that impact Black people, globally, are often relegated to its “timeliness” in the media. Media only allows the stories of Blackness to be told in order for it to fit within a frame that is palatable to audiences while neglecting to push the envelope that is required to address racism and white supremacy and its wider affect on the world. Ashley Akunna’s, The Grapevine TV is a roundtable-style platform that brings together Black creatives, game-changers, and professionals to tackle the topics mainstream media is afraid of.
The Grapevine is hosted on YouTube and presents its viewers with conversations that serve to address and assert the views of the wider spectrum of Black voices that exist. Past conversations have included panels on harm against Black trans women, cultural appropriation, hot topics in mainstream media that address Blackness, and leveled up discussions featured exclusively on their Patreon for paying members. The series has also taken itself, globally, reaching deeply into the diaspora and including Black community panels in The U.K., Ghana, and South Africa.
The moderator and creator of the show, Ashley Akunna developed this idea while examining everyday conversations she would see on social media and believed the millennial voice was excluded from a lot of news-specific programs.
“The voices that I saw in my circles weren’t the one’s on television, yet they were raw, honest, unique, and in many ways very revolutionary. So, I wanted to give people a platform to say how they felt,” Akunna shared.
The objective was less about the being known and more about truly showing up for the intersections that are all-encompassing of Blackness. The premise for The Grapevine was shared with the show’s Producer and recurring panelist, Donovan Thompson who, at the time, had advocated in hiring Akunna for a position at a media company that displayed timidity towards hiring her as a dark-skinned Black woman. Bouncing ideas at work allowed them to cultivate the direction in which the show would go.
“I wish I could describe the energy in that room on the day of the first show with so many different kinds of Black people coming together with their views about everything from relationships to politics. It’s through conversation that you can really help liberate people and get into the crevices of people’s minds and with The Grapevine we are educating people,” Thompson shared.
Although social media has given many a reason to create similar platforms of discussion, The Grapevine TV has a nuance in the quality of its production, the panelists chosen, and the controlled delivery that grants panelists license to fully express their innermost beliefs on topics that are sometimes heartbreaking or earthshattering. With such a small team including Akunna and Thompson, the show also functions off the brilliant work of their Executive Producer (with many hats), Amanda Scott.
“I had been putting all of my money into the show because I knew exactly what it could be. But, trying to get people on the show that were possibly well-known, they treated it like, ‘Well, who are you?” So, we had to rely heavily on our network of people we knew. And although we had hurdles, the biggest being getting the finances to pay people, I felt like we just had to keep going and build our audience brick by brick,” Akunna shared.
For a grassroots show that didn’t offer “celebrity” commentary, it allowed The Grapevine a more robust take on the topics most people disclose in their private circles, but now could watch in a wider forum. And although the initial panels did not include any usual suspects of those found on major networks, the show developed crowd favorites the audience began to fall in love with the eloquence of their contributions to discussions including Jeff Johnson, Ayesha Faines, Mouse Jones, Uchechi Chinyere, Jameer Pond, Latasha Mercer, Doug Rubenstein, and many others.
The show’s groundbreaking format only has a matter of time before mainstream media realizes its impact of global impressions and does its due diligence in bringing its already large audience into the wider fold of society. The Grapevine disproves that Black issues and social issues are only made to solidify a timely quota, but present an authentic avenue to kill stereotypes and prejudices that land upon the intersections that exist within the Black community as a whole.
“Post-COVID I see The Grapevine on a huge platform. We want to shoot for the stars because we know this is what the world needs. This is the perfect time for networks to get behind young Black people saying ‘listen to us’! We can help with a lot of healing and a lot of understanding, so with the right partner that believes in having this new way we are communicating and pushing conversations, it’ll be something everyone will benefit from.”