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.

Workplace

Everything you need to know about tech layoffs and hiring slowdowns

Will tech companies and startups continue to have layoffs?

It’s not just early-stage startups that are feeling the burn.

Photo: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Images via Getty Images

What goes up must come down.

High-flying startups with record valuations, huge hiring goals and ambitious expansion plans are now announcing hiring slowdowns, freezes and in some cases widespread layoffs. It’s the dot-com bust all over again — this time, without the cute sock puppet and in the midst of a global pandemic we just can’t seem to shake.

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

Sustainability. It can be a charged word in the context of blockchain and crypto – whether from outsiders with a limited view of the technology or from insiders using it for competitive advantage. But as a CEO in the industry, I don’t think either of those approaches helps us move forward. We should all be able to agree that using less energy to get a task done is a good thing and that there is room for improvement in the amount of energy that is consumed to power different blockchain technologies.

So, what if we put the enormous industry talent and minds that have created and developed blockchain to the task of building in a more energy-efficient manner? Can we not just solve the issues but also set the standard for other industries to develop technology in a future-proof way?

Keep Reading Show less
Denelle Dixon, CEO of SDF

Denelle Dixon is CEO and Executive Director of the Stellar Development Foundation, a non-profit using blockchain to unlock economic potential by making money more fluid, markets more open, and people more empowered. Previously, Dixon served as COO of Mozilla. Leading the business, revenue and policy teams, she fought for Net Neutrality and consumer privacy protections and was responsible for commercial partnerships. Denelle also served as general counsel and legal advisor in private equity and technology.

Entertainment

Sink into ‘Love, Death & Robots’ and more weekend recs

Don’t know what to do this weekend? We’ve got you covered.

Our favorite picks for your weekend pleasure.

Image: A24; 11 bit studios; Getty Images

We could all use a bit of a break. This weekend we’re diving into Netflix’s beautifully animated sci-fi “Love, Death & Robots,” losing ourselves in surreal “Men” and loving Zelda-like Moonlighter.

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt

Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

Workplace

This machine would like to interview you for a job

Companies are embracing automated video interviews to filter through floods of job applicants. But interviews with a computer screen raise big ethical questions and might scare off candidates.

Although automated interview companies claim to reduce bias in hiring, the researchers and advocates who study AI bias are these companies’ most frequent critics.

Photo: Johner Images via Getty Images

Applying for a job these days is starting to feel a lot like online dating. Job-seekers send their resume into portal after portal and a silent abyss waits on the other side.

That abyss is silent for a reason and it has little to do with the still-tight job market or the quality of your particular resume. On the other side of the portal, hiring managers watch the hundreds and even thousands of resumes pile up. It’s an infinite mountain of digital profiles, most of them from people completely unqualified. Going through them all would be a virtually fruitless task.

Keep Reading Show less
Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Fintech

A crypto advocate’s plea: Cool the Twitter trash talk

A top blockchain advocate says the SEC is wrong in its efforts to regulate crypto, but crypto advocates’ personal attacks aren’t helping.

Chamber of Digital Commerce founder Perianne Boring spoke with Protocol about how crypto can strike a better tone.

Photo: Chamber of Digital Commerce

Chamber of Digital Commerce founder Perianne Boring cites a Bible verse to sum up her philosophy about how the crypto trade group should take on the industry’s many critics.

Her Twitter page refers to Ephesians 4:29, which says — oh, let’s use the King James version, it’s more fun: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth.” For her, it’s a reminder that trash talk in defense of crypto is unacceptable.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Latest Stories
Bulletins