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When last we left Bronzeville, the audio scripted series produced by Laurence Fishburne’s Cinema Gypsy Productions and Larenz Tate’s TateMen Entertainment, the Copeland family was reeling from the mysterious death of Everett Copeland (played by Wood Harris). And now, with Season 2 officially underway after an agonizing three-year hiatus, we make our triumphant return to Chicago’s Bronzeville community—a self-sufficient, Black metropolis where numbers running is the name of the game and the arrival of a new mob boss in town threatens to unravel the Copeland empire.
For those of you who are new to this podcast, I suppose now would be an opportune time to also mention the cast of characters who help bring 1940s Bronzeville to life: The aforementioned Fishburne and Tate lend their voices and provide their directorial expertise, while the rest of the star-studded cast is filled out with the likes of Mekhi Phifer, Lavar Burton, Tika Sumpter, Lalah Hathaway, Affion Crockett, and many more.
So with listeners clamoring to return to Bronzeville, The Root spoke with Tate to discuss his decision to explore the podcast medium, the obstacles he faced while producing the series, and what we can expect from its second season. But first comes the not-so-shocking revelation that Hollywood wasn’t exactly keen on the idea of a drama that focuses on the interworkings of a historically Black neighborhood.
“Getting into the audio series world was something that came about simply because we were trying to get the concept of Bronzeville sold,” Tate said. “We had this great concept and we wanted to make this show about the fact that Black folks actually were able to see the American dream realized at a time where it was not imaginable. And our company, along with Laurence Fishburne’s company, went to every major network in Hollywood. They all loved the story, it was a great idea, but they got cold feet.”
He continued, “We knew that the story needed to be told. That Black people—when we talk about the American dream, Black folks were self-sufficient in our own communities. [Look at] Bronzeville, Harlem, or Tulsa, Okla. We had economic infrastructure. We had our own businesses. We had our own newspapers. We had our own hospitals and department stores and local stores; all the things that communities are made of. And again, the folks in the industry just didn’t think there was an audience.”
So much like the citizens of Bronzeville, Tate and Fishburne decided not to rely on outside help. They put their own money up, devised a game plan, and produced the series themselves. They also refused to compromise the integrity or quality of the series by taking shortcuts.
“We presented this project in the podcast space no differently than we would a high-quality TV series or high-quality film,” Tate said. “We got a great writer, we got all the technical people to make sure the sound design was right, and we got an awesome cast of actors and actresses and just artists who just came to this project as a labor of love.”
And to the surprise of no one, it turns out Hollywood didn’t know what the hell it was talking about.
“We released in 2017 and since then, man, there have been more than 20 million downloads,” Tate said. “So [we got our] proof of concept, right? That there was an audience. But because it was a story about Black life and Black liberation and Black family and love and—we have some gangsta stuff in it. We have some underworld stuff involved. But the center of it. Hollywood didn’t want to get behind Black stories. So we said, ‘That’s fine. We’re not going to ask for your permission. We’re going to do it anyway.’”
As for the impetus of the series, Tate attributes it to a conversation he had with the incomparable Quincy Jones while filming 2004's Ray, starring Jamie Foxx.
“We had been trying to get this concept off [the ground] since 2003,” Tate said. “When I was working on Ray, I played a young Quincy Jones and spent time with Quincy. Quincy’s from Chicago. And he’s like, ‘Yo, do y’all know about Bronzeville?”
The seed was sown. And after doing his own research and discovering that Bronzeville not only had one of the highest concentrations of thriving Black businesses, but that it was ripe with storytelling potential, Tate went to work.
“Hollywood didn’t give us a dime to produce this content,” he said. “And now they are taking notice. [...] We tell a story about a family that certainly was the ideal type of family. They had real infrastructure. They defeated all odds. They wanted to educate themselves on so many different levels. Whether it was from school or the streets, they just learned everything. And we wanted to center this story loosely based on a real family, which was the Jones family. They were pillars of the community.”
They were also about creating opportunities and facilitating Black wealth.
“They ran the policy, they ran the numbers,” Tate explained. “They invested back into the community. [...] They were worth hundreds of millions of dollars. They would be modern-day billionaires. They would be the Jay-Zs and the Oprahs of today.”
So with Bronzeville back in full swing, Tate is proud that he was able to help such a powerful story see the light of day—on his own terms.
“We didn’t ask for permission. We didn’t need to get validation for people who don’t look like us, who don’t have our experiences,” he said. “It speaks to the whole spirit of us overcoming and never giving up. If no one is listening to this in terms of what we’re trying to accomplish, then we want to do it ourselves. And thank God that we have platforms like podcasts to be able to do it.”
Bronzeville is available on your podcast platform of choice, with new episodes dropping every Tuesday.