LOS ANGELES — Working in Hollywood for years, actress and writer Erika Alexander has suffered her share of rejection. But one stung deeply — ultimately making her more creative and determined.
By the early 2010s, Alexander was well-known for her role as attorney Maxine Shaw on Fox’s “Living Single.” The actress was later hailed for her confident, nuanced portrayal of Detective Latoya in the Academy Award-nominated film “Get Out.” She had the credentials, the experience and track record to be taken seriously at a Hollywood pitch meeting.
At one, she pitched a new TV series called “Concrete Park,” about black teenagers who awaken on a distant, desert world known as Kepler 56-B, where they have to fight for freedom against hostile forces. She had maps, character sketches and a detailed storyline.
The executives were uninterested. One executive told her: “Black people don’t like science fiction because they don’t see themselves in the future.”
The executive was wrong. African Americans make up a large share of the sci-fi movie-going audience — 72 percent as of December 2018, according to data from Statista. Plus, Alexander found the comment about African Americans’ perceptions of the future deeply offensive.
“[The executive] became very abrasive after we pushed back,” Alexander said of the meeting. “We told him, ‘black people were the ultimate futurists and had created the future he lived in—blues, jazz, rock n’ roll, hip-hop; we told him about sci-fi icons Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany, and topped it off with the number one sci-fi star in the world at the time — Will Smith. For us the past is painful, the present precarious, but the future is free.”
After that meeting, she was still determined to tell her story.
If television wasn’t open to her ideas, she would find another outlet for “Concrete Park.” Eventually, Alexander and co-creator Tony Puryear (also known for writing “Eraser”) found their way to graphic-novel publisher Dark Horse Comics. It’s the same banner responsible for smash hits “The Mask” and “Sin City.”
Seven years later, with Alexander’s writing and Puryear’s illustrations, “Concrete Park” continues to gain legions of diverse fans worldwide.
This month, Alexander and the “Concrete Park” series will team with leading NFT (non-fungible token) platform Curio to break into the emerging market with a new collection of NFTs, based on the groundbreaking comic series.
An NFT is a digital collectible bought and sold on blockchain. Like memorabilia, a painting or a sports-trading card, an NFT is unique. In fact, it is rarer than the rarest baseball card because there is only one NFT per item. It is computer code that gives the owner the exclusive digital rights to a physical object, even if that object is publicly displayed elsewhere.
NFTs gained mainstream notoriety earlier this year when a series of eye-popping sales made global headlines. An NFT linked to a single Lebron James video segment recently sold for over $200,000, and a one-of-a-kind piece by digital artist Beeple brought in $69 million at auction.
Since the pandemic has left many confined to the digital world, it was only a matter of time before rare digital goods were sold to a market of homebound people.
Creators like Alexander and Puryear consider the NFT scene as a new way to connect with fans.
“It’s all about engagement. We’re not just do-it-yourself in our creative approach, our business model has been DIY as well,” Alexander said.
“We’re a sci-fi series, we’re about the future, and early on, we saw NFTs as the future of getting cool ‘Concrete Park’ collectibles into the hands of our fans.” The exclusive, limited-quantity collectibles will debut on Curio’s NFT platform in two series based on “Concrete Park” characters and cover art.
“Building connections to audiences is the most important thing for any fandom,” said Curio CEO Juan M. Hernandez. “This collaboration presents an entirely new digital experience that allows fans, collectors and NFT enthusiasts to embrace a direct relationship with the artists.”
Their aim is to create an environment where NFTs act as “digital passports” to new online and offline experiences. “People like to show off their collections,” Hernandez said on a recent podcast.
Alexander and Puryear are working with Curio to create a program of collectible items and timed drops throughout April and May.
Of course, some people have dismissed NFTs as just collecting expensive JPEGs. But part of being an enthusiastic collector and devoted fan is accepting that many people won’t understand what the collection and affinity means to you.
Puryear said throughout his life he has collected comics, baseball cards and obscure Prince records. Alexander favors fabric, old locks and lost family photos.
Alexander and Puryear have come a long way since their TV pitch meeting with an out-of-touch executive. In an interview with The Breakfast Club, Alexander recalls keeping her chin up in the face of discouragement, taking inspiration from the success of many sci-fi films starring Will Smith (“Independence Day,” “Men in Black,” “Cloverfield”). Entering the comic-book world was a big risk, with Alexander learning and honing the writing style, and Puryear taking up illustrating in his 40s. There were plenty of growing pains along the way, but it paid off.
The duo’s optimism is reaching new heights in anticipation of the upcoming “Concrete Park” NFT sales of rare covers and characters, and the overall excitement surrounding a new market conducive for art.
“In every generation, art undergoes a transformation,” Alexander said. “The Impressionists, Cubists and Surrealists challenged representational art, but for those movements, the canvases were in the physical space.”
After a career of connecting with fans via TV, film and radio, Alexander is looking forward to her fans collecting digitally. “Now, digital art and its creators are ascendant, and their presence challenges the status quo,” Alexander said. “Curio’s NFTs are the missing link. The future has arrived — on a pixel.”
(Edited by Judith Isacoff and Fern Siegel)
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