The Netflix doc highlights the behind the scenes kingmaker of Hollywood and American politics.
In American popular culture, when you think of “The Man” behind the scenes that imagery looks nothing like Clarence Avant. Avant, a dark-skinned black man from Climax, NC was filled with street knowledge and was personally reared in the game at the hands of Joe Glasser, one of the most renowned record company executives of all-time.
The very idea of black entertainers controlling their own destiny by owning and controlling fruits of their creativity is a very relatively new thing in popular culture. Of course, Berry Gordy at Motown, Gamble, and Huff, Philadelphia International in Philly, and Sugar Hill Records in New York all come to mind, but even they pale in comparison to those of Avant and his accomplishments.
So, why is he worthy of a Netflix documentary in his name when most folks don’t even know who he is?
Who is the Black Godfather? Witness the exceptional and unlikely rise of Clarence Avant, a music executive who influenced legends such as Bill Withers, Snoop Dogg, Quincy Jones, Muhammad Ali, Hank Aaron, Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and so many more. The Black Godfather premieres June 7th, in select theaters and on Netflix.
I spoke with briefly with The Black Godfather director Reginald Hudlin about the importance of Clarence Avant’s story being told.
TSL: You’ve been a cultural creator before the term was ever even coined. To some, you are as high up there as it gets in that regard. However, you’re paying homage to Avant, a man most people don’t even know but who has been the mover behind the scenes of some of America’s most profound culture statements.
Hudlin: “Having lunch with David Geffen, Lew Wasserman, having slept overnight at the White House in the Lincoln bedroom, having helped elect several presidents. How’d that happen?”
“I’ve known Clarence for most of my professional life. And even before then he was already a legend. I would hear stories about him from Andre Harrell, Russell Simmons and all of our friends in the music business. They all spoke about him as if he had The Juice, you know?”
“All those top guys were top guys, and that’s who Clarence was. Whether from Clarence or people who know Clarence, I’ve heard stories about him over the years. ”
TSL: From viewing the documentary, it seems as if Clarence Avant isn’t the type of dude who likes the spotlight much. It had have been a bear to get him to agree to being filmed.
Hudlin: “I always tried to encourage him to write a book, which he would dismiss offhand. Finally, when he agreed to do a documentary, I knew there were a bunch of stories I wanted to make sure we captured on camera. But, the thing was, the more we filmed, the more we heard new things.”
TSL: It seems like he’s one of those dudes where, no matter how much you think you know, you’ll never know the whole story.
Hudlin: As we were filming, there would always be a new story that would come up. We’d be like ‘What? I didn’t know that!’ Even with our research on the film and all these experts, every interview we made, there was someone else that would come up who wanted to tell their story.”