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.

Protocol | Fintech

Crypto wallet maker Ledger gears up for battle with Dorsey’s Block

CEO Pascal Gauthier wishes Block’s CEO were still distracted with Twitter, but he’s still gunning for the big opportunity in securely stashing customers’ coins.

Ledger CEO Pascal Gauthier talked about Ledger’s strategy in an interview with Protocol.

Photo: Ledger

Ledger CEO Pascal Gauthier reacted with an odd mix of excitement and fear to news that Jack Dorsey was leaving Twitter to focus full-time on Square.

“Oh, shit,” was his immediate thought, he told Protocol. “I would have preferred him to stay with more companies and not focus on anything.”

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers 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 Signal at (510)731-8429.

In a tight labor market, businesses are competing for top talent, even as employees leave in droves. A record 4.4 million Americans resigned in September 2021 — the highest on record for nearly 20 years — ushering in what some call the Great Resignation. That same month, 65% of U.S. workers said they were looking for a new job.

Business leaders have to respond to mitigate the negative impacts of this disruptive churn, with 36% of CFOs saying they're very concerned about turnover remaining high indefinitely and weighing on revenue growth. The answers to this challenge should be informed by the root causes of employee dissatisfaction as well as retention drivers.

Keep Reading Show less
Suneet Dua, PwC
As PwC’s US Products & Technology Chief Revenue and Growth Officer, Suneet Dua is responsible for driving more than $1 billion in product revenue and executing PwC’s product revenue strategy. He’s focused on driving innovation, delivering world-class, forward-thinking products and digitally upskilling the workforce and society at large. With 20+ years of technology, media and entertainment industry experience, he’s positioned as a catalyst for organizational transformation and delivers on the firm’s promise to solve the world’s most important problems. Additionally, he launched Salesforce and client-focused centers of excellence, such as our Cybersecurity centers in Israel, Singapore and India––all to improve the way PwC serves its clients. During his tenure as US Chief Product Leader, Suneet, and his team, played a critical role in designing and implementing digital tools that upskilled more than 55,000 of its US employees, which led to the development of PwC’s digital learning platform, ProEdge, that addresses the digital skills gap crisis facing today’s workforce. He also serves as a board member of PwC’s Trifecta Consulting (US, China, Japan and Mexico). Previously, Suneet served on PwC’s US leadership team and was Global Client Market Leader for PwC’s Global Network.
Protocol | Fintech

A legal brawl failed to uncover bitcoin’s fabled creator

Is Craig Wright Satoshi Nakamoto? A trial didn’t lead to an answer.

Craig Wright has claimed to be the creator of bitcoin.

Photo: Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for CoinGeek

A legal battle was supposed to answer the biggest question in crypto: Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?

Well, that didn’t exactly happen. The identity of bitcoin’s fabled creator remains a mystery, despite high hopes that an unusual civil suit would lead to Nakamoto’s unmasking.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers 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 Signal at (510)731-8429.

Snap CTO Bobby Murphy on embracing Apple’s AR glasses

Snap is building its own AR Spectacles, but the company also wants to embrace third-party devices.

Bobby Murphy wants Snap’s AR lenses to run everywhere — even on hardware made by competitors.

Photo: Getty Images for Snap Inc

Snap is all in on AR: The Snapchat maker has been building its own AR glasses, and is currently testing an early version with a small group of creators. Snap has also signed up 250,000 creators to build mobile-centric AR experiences through its Lens Studio platform, whose lenses have collectively been viewed over 3.5 trillion times.

Snap celebrated those milestones at its Lens Fest Tuesday, which the company also used to release a number of updates for both mobile and headworn AR. Snap CTO Bobby Murphy recently put that work in context in an interview with Protocol, in which he talked about the company’s progress in building AR Spectacles, why it isn’t focused on non-AR wearables anymore and why it ultimately also wants to build apps and experiences for AR devices made by its competitors.

Keep Reading Show less
Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Discord launches paid channel memberships

The company’s new subscription tiers effectively broaden the creator economy to include people managing communities.

Select Discord server creators can start charging membership fees as part of a new pilot program.

Image: Discord

Creating and managing successful communities can be a lot of work. Now, Discord wants to make sure that the people doing this on its platform can also reap some rewards: The company launched a pilot program for premium memberships Tuesday that allows community creators to put parts or all of their servers behind a paywall.

“We want to make sure that running communities on Discord is more sustainable,” said Discord Engineering Director Sumeet Vaidya in an interview with Protocol.

Keep Reading Show less
Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Latest Stories
Bulletins