Rafee Kamaal is a woke brother who has been deeply committed to his craft. After 25-plus years as an independent multimedia and multi-platform producer, Kamaal’s wide-ranging and fascinating career spans digital video production, post-production, creative writing, directing, multicultural content marketing strategies and distribution, brand and business management, social media and e-commerce.
The 71-year-old co-chair of the Black Documentary Collective has produced musical variety, talk shows, films, dance productions, beauty pageants, news programs, and documentaries. He has also worked with the likes of Ashford and Simpson, Gregory Hines, Richard Pryor, Natalie Cole, Redd Foxx, Maya Angelou, Queen Latifah and countless more. A career high for Kamaal was when he co-produced On the Shoulders of Giants, an award-winning documentary about his childhood friend basketball legend Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Kamaal and Jabbar grew up in Dyckman, an area at the northern tip of Manhattan.
He recently launched the production company RAKA InterMedia, Inc. At the end of the year, the organization will launch the Jazzy Cultural Arts network. It is currently creating a multi-platform, live/VOD, multicultural performing arts, fine arts, and philanthropic lifestyle video network and e-commerce service. Kamaal, who refuses to put the brakes on his non-stop schedule also has in the works, a mixed reality game and an action-adventure feature film, Ren Daro, that will take place in urban America and in ancient China.
A few years ago, Kamaal suffered a health scare and this episode prompted him to direct a DVD entitled How to Stay Healthy, Live Longer, and Cut Your Medical Cost, in order to help others live a fit life. Kamaal produced other DVD’s as well that center around being successful in business and in finance.
Today Kamaal, who feels totally blessed that he is now physically fit, never takes life for granted and cherishes every day as a gift. As a matter of fact, Kamaal actually touts the fact that he looks 50 and attributes this to his healthy lifestyle. Kamaal shared a slice of his very busy life with 50BOLD:
50BOLD: Did you see the Black Panther movie?
Kamaal: Yes, I did.
50BOLD: As someone who has worked in film, do you think the movie is creating a cultural revolution in our community in some way?
Kamaal: Two things. In the African world of opposites, for every negative, there is a positive. On the positive side, more of us appear to be embracing African culture. That’s a good sign. The film shows that we can produce a product that sells globally, which is another good point.
On the negative side, there are some political and economic messages that are problematic for me. Anytime there is a hero who is a CIA agent, coming out of Africa, that’s a problem for me knowing what I know historically, and how they meddled in the continent.
In addition, economically, a lot of money was spent making this film very popular and profitable for many people who are not us. I hope that we can now begin to use some of those resources to support not just fantasies, but real live presentations about ourselves both historically and contemporarily.
When I was in the movie theater, there were mostly young people in attendance. I hope they understand that even though the film is fantasy, it is also a reality. For instance, at the end of the movie, as the credits started to roll, many young people started to get up. One teacher, who was in the theater with her class said, “Please sit down because there’s more to come.” The young man next to me said, “What is it that’s about to come?” I said to the youth man, “Look at the screen. You see all those credits scrolling on the screen? You and your boys focus on the people in front of the camera but look at all those people behind the camera! All those credits you see are jobs you can do and make a lot of money doing so!” The young man responded, “Wow, I didn’t think about that!”
The Black Panther film cost $200 million to make and another $150 million to promote it. All of the non-acting jobs that are associated with the film are definitely well-paying ones.
50BOLD: Wow, people don’t typically look at things in this way.
Kamaal: They actually don’t see beyond what’s there!
50Bold: Do you have a prescription for how we can fix the challenges we face as Black folks today?
Kamaal: The prescription for fixing our challenges is empowerment! I always go back to reference the accomplishments of our ancestors. They provided us with a game plan on how to deal with challenges and what we need to do as we move forward politically. We also tend to not use our economic power. We have $1.2 trillion dollars in economic power, yet we fail to use it strategically.
With all the power that we have; we need to re-learn some things. Back in the day, there was the Montgomery Bus Boycott the largest demonstration against segregation. It took place during the mid-fifties. Those brothers and sisters were not treated fairly, they made a choice to punish the system economically and their actions changed things dramatically. We don’t make major moves like the boycott today but if we did, things would change dynamically for us in so many ways.
50BOLD: Why did you launch RAKA InterMedia, Inc.?
Kamaal: The reason why I started my company is because there isn’t enough multi-ethnic, multi-cultural programming that not only deals just with the entertainment side but the information and educational side. I want to combine all of these programming aspects into one presentation and this is why I’m putting together this network.
50BOLD: So what does your company do?
Kamaal: There are several different projects we’re working on but the one that I’m planning to launch by the end of this year will combine performing with fine arts, as well as the art of living well. It will encompass everything–dance, theatre, fashion, culture, philanthropy, literature, technology, and community art. We will give the arts a multi-cultural perspective — something you certainly don’t normally see anywhere else.
50BOLD: So what will the end product be?
Kamaal: I liken the end product to you watching networks like NBC, CBS or the Oprah network. There will be a host of different programs, specials, and series. You’ll be able to view various series on dance, philanthropy, documentaries, literature, and even on the spoken word. The programs will center on not just folks you see on a national level but from many community organizations around the country that you never actually hear about. The programs will stream through your computer, mobile phone, and tablet.
50BOLD: What else are you working on?
Kamaal: I’m working on a multi-mix reality video game and feature film project I’m trying to produce in China?
50BOLD: Why China?
Kamaal: For a long time, I wanted to do a feature film in China because we (Black people) were there. And now that Black Panther has done so well, there is more of an opportunity for me to make it happen. I’ve always wanted an African protagonist in a film, and getting a movie done with one in the lead in this country has been very difficult to finance. It may be a little easier now. The film begins in urban America, transitions to ancient China and then comes back. I wrote a script with a Chinese filmmaker some years ago and now we’re trying to revive it.
50BOLD: And it’s going to be a feature film?
Kamaal: Yes, it’s an action-adventure feature film with a really nice transition from urban America, to ancient China and then back. I think it works. I learned from the late historian and scholar Dr. Ivan Van Sertima who taught me that we, in fact, did have a presence in ancient China.
50BOLD: When you open your eyes in the morning, are you pessimistic or optimistic?
Kamaal: I’m optimistic and so truly grateful for all the blessings I’ve received. Starting with the gift of life. With this gift, I’m able to achieve many things and this has been my position right from the start.