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Nearly a year ago, TikTok unveiled its Black creatives program, a three-month incubator in partnership with Charles D. King’s Macro media company, to support an inaugural class of 100 creators and propel their careers forward. Since then, creators have attended town halls and meetings with TikTok and entertainment industry execs and received training on topics like how to turn their platforms into brands.
In November, TikTok and Macro said they were awarding 10 Black creators $50,000 grants each to pursue a larger project and help cover the costs of equipment, staffing and other resources. Jason Linton, who goes by @dadlifejason on TikTok and has 11.6 million followers, is a recipient of one of the grants, and says he was grateful the incubator brought him together with other Black creatives.
“We will help each other with each other’s content and with each other’s vision. We’ve actually started a deeper camaraderie that was sparked with TikTok for Black creatives,” Linton says. “It continues even to this day. And that really changed the game for us.”
TikTok’s incubator program was built after the social media app faced accusations that it suppressed content related to Black Lives Matter as users spoke out against police brutality following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd. In a blog post, Vanessa Pappas, TikTok’s then-U.S. general manager, and Kudzi Chikumbu, the director of creator community, apologized to Black creators for what they called a “glitch” and promised to take steps to make the platform a more inclusive environment.
But for many Black creators on TikTok, the perceived inequity on the platform — whether through user behavior or actions taken by TikTok to remove videos that supposedly violate community guidelines — hasn’t waned. This summer, several Black creators participated in a virtual “strike” when they refrained from posting dances to a new song from Megan Thee Stallion to call attention to the influence that Black creators have on trends and dances that go viral — often from white creators who may not credit the moves.
Joshua Neal, a TikTok creator who posts mostly comedy clips for his 907,000 followers and participated in the incubator program, says Black creators are “under a crazy microscope” when it comes to the videos considered in violation of community guidelines. In May, a popular video of Neal pretending he was in the front row of a rap concert was muted by TikTok because, as he suspects, the N-word was used in the audio. (TikTok has a policy against slurs unless used in a song “self-referentially.”)
“It can be very confusing and frustrating for Black creators or Black people on the app because sometimes you feel like we’re not allowed to have fun,” Neal says. “It can be discouraging.” Still, Neal reflects positively on his program experience and wants to continue seeing Black creators “flourishing and being creative and being dope and having fun on social media.”
TikTok isn’t alone in its attempts to better support Black creators. Next year, Facebook Gaming will continue its $10 million program for Black creators who live stream games. YouTube will soon introduce the next class of artists participating in its $100 million YouTube Black Voices Fund, with funds dispersed over multiple years via workshop training and seed investments.
Snapchat is opening applications in February for a six-month program that will provide $10,000 a month and educational support to 20 minority-owned businesses, while another program geared toward individual creators from underrepresented backgrounds is in the works. And, in January, the video-sharing platform Triller will begin yearlong contracts with Black creators that will give them $2,000 in cash and $2,000 in equity each month in exchange for eight videos posted on Triller a month. The program is part of the company’s Assembly for Black Creators initiative that provides networking and educational programming to help creators learn the business behind their craft.
“If you think about how most platforms were built — video, social — they were built on the backs of creators, and the creators had a very small percentage of the true monetization of that platform,” says Triller chief growth officer Bonin Bough. “We’re trying to pass all that money back to the creator because we know those are the people that built the platform, built the audiences.”
For now, Black creators signed to contracts through Triller’s program will receive equity in the form of standardized service provider units; those units can convert to stock warrants in parent company TrillerNet when the firm goes public. TrillerNet CEO Mahi de Silva says the firm is casting a “relatively wide net” with its equity program, which is expected to include 300 creators, before the company goes public.
“When you’re a public company, you have more limits on what you can do, so there’s an opportunity for us to be impactful today that may diminish over time. We’ll have to see,” de Silva says. “But the intent is that these creators get equity just like an employee would.”
Triller’s approach to equity follows similar efforts from other social media firms seeking to address the imbalance in power between platform and creator. Music producer Isaac Hayes III created the Fanbase app in late 2019 specifically to give all users — whether they considered themselves a “creator” — the ability to monetize their content.
In September, the Black-owned Fanbase gave company equity to all 23 members of its creator advisory board, which includes such creators as Ziggi Tyler, a comedian who previously went viral after calling out TikTok for flagging phrases in support of Black people as “inappropriate content.” (TikTok later fixed what it called a “significant error” that was “erroneously” flagging the phrases as hate speech.)
Hayes notes that it would be more difficult for a social platform with a much larger user base to provide meaningful equity to its users.
But for Noelle Bellinghausen, an actress and creator who is participating in Triller’s program, efforts to support Black creators are a step in the right direction.
“I’m just really excited to see how this unfolds,” Bellinghausen says. “I would love to see this continue on and get bigger and bigger and just be something that proves you could put money into Black creators and see a deeper return, [and] not just views in the press. Look at what we’re creating.”
A version of this story appeared in the Dec. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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