NFTs have the potential to flip Hollywood’s studio model upside down

Erika Alexander recently launched a bunch of NFTs based on her graphic novel.

Erika Alexander

Erika Alexander teamed up with NFT platform Curio to explore the realm.

Photo: Robin L Marshall/Getty Images for AfroTech

There is a big opportunity for Black people and other marginalized creators on the blockchain, and Erika Alexander wants to create the blueprint for it.

Alexander, best known for her role as Maxine Shaw on the '90s television show "Living Single," sees non-fungible tokens as an opportunity for those who have been underestimated to reclaim their power, she told Protocol.

This year, Alexander teamed up with NFT platform Curio to explore this new digital realm where creators are less reliant on traditional power structures. Curio reached out to Alexander after coming across "Concrete Park," a graphic novel she co-created with Tony Puryear.

The graphic novel tells a science fiction story of exile, struggle and hope. Alexander and Puryear created it in response to the pushback they received from a Hollywood executive for the same storyline, but in the form of a television show. Alexander said the executive told them the story wouldn't work because Black people don't see themselves in the future.

"At this moment, there seems to be a greater awareness in Hollywood about the themes and the issues we're talking about in 'Concrete Park,' which is race, mass incarceration, gender difference and tribalism," she said. "That's a sea change, and it's very welcome."

But NFTs offer something that Hollywood doesn't, Rikin Mantri, chief operating officer at Curio, told Protocol. NFTs, Mantri said, have the ability to create a two-way dialogue between creators and fans. Beyond the ability to prove ownership of a digital asset, Mantri sees potential for NFTs to foster human connection.

"Concrete Park" and Curio first teamed up for a launch of NFTs based on the characters of the graphic novel in July, and they quickly sold out. In September, "Concrete Park" dropped another 7,000 NFT avatars with unique traits and characteristics, called Bangers, "that the world can identify with," Mantri said.

"And now that you have a community with other Bangers, what does that mean?" Mantri asked. "There's a whole kind of roadmap that Erika and Tony are working on to figure out how we continue to offer something new and different in this space."

Alexander shared with Protocol a bit more about why she's interested in NFTs and how being a digital creator differs from life in Hollywood.

This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.

How did you first learn about NFTs?

I heard rumblings in the cryptocurrency space of different types of things that were popping up. I think the first thing I heard about was CryptoKitties and the types of collectibles that were being created. I think it was first explained to me as a world of collectibles, which I could really glom onto because that made sense to me. And then Curio actually approached us about the "Concrete Park" collaboration. And that's when I really understood not only what it was, but the opportunity as an artist and creator to expand our audience inside that world.

When did you start thinking that you wanted to create your own NFTs?

It took some education for us to really realize the opportunity was there and companies like Curio to have a conversation [with us] about it. There's a certain skill set we didn't have, tech-wise, in order to create a generative art project, like we've recently done. Even the initial minting of the NFT was something we didn't know how to do but were curious to learn. The minute Curio talked about how we could engage fans one on one, have the opportunity as a creator and an artist to own, and have a revenue source that would be throughout its lifetime was fascinating. It was a once-in-a-lifetime situation to be pioneers alongside people who were already doing well in the space and who wanted to invest in our community.

How do you measure success?

I think everybody loves when things sell out very quickly. That's really nice. And that can be a powerful source of fuel and momentum. But that doesn't always happen. So I look for proof of life. Proof of life is the excitement of the first drop and how quickly it sold. And we were really inspired by that.

Curio NFT page "Concrete Park" and Curio first teamed up for a launch of NFTs based on the characters of the graphic novel in July.Screenshot: Megan Rose Dickey

Are you thinking about creating any sort of social currency or token?

To have an NFT that's a Banger is social currency, as far as I'm concerned. I think you create the value with the way that the community embraces it. There are all sorts of conversations around this because of the idea of coloring the future. I feel like as the conversation develops, the currency of the NFT itself explodes.

But, you know, there's some education that has to be done sometimes. Again, I've never done anything that's been this tech-heavy and in a totally new space where people had to be educated and brought in. But to me, it's an opportunity to pioneer and be the first branded NFT line. We know what the stakes are. We're trying to build something that's going to last and also that will be a blueprint for people going forward. But the conversation about race, ethnicity and what it is to be human will always be the case around NFTs because it's one of the reasons creators are there. They're partly there to have a dog in that race.

How does your experience being a creative in Hollywood compare to being a creative in this new digital world where there's more opportunity for artist ownership?

We're outliers, or, people who work in blurred spaces. That's where creation is. And I think that's a really powerful way to think about it. Being in a marginalized community, you live in those spaces and try to find ways to amplify and redraw the lines clearly, and expand territory.

Hollywood has always been a place for marginalized people to be dismissed or underestimated, under-addressed. There is systemic bias and racism, so if we were to make any moves at all, we were going to have to learn who in those new spaces was doing the heavy lifting. And that's why you need partnerships with new emerging technologies and industries that are not only not afraid of those spaces, but that's where they live. I think the new studio system is being created in this space, the new IP delivery system is being created in this space, the new ownership class of art is being created and recreated and developed in this space. So it makes sense that people like us, who had to go around the big mountain that we couldn't move, would suddenly find that there was not only a new space, but that there's paradise back here.

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