Milwaukee filmmakers want to break down racial stereotypes with humor

Santana Coleman and Emily Kuester are friends who have led parallel lives in some ways. Kuester is black and was adopted into a white family living in the Village of Avoca. She graduated from UW-Milwaukee. She’s 22 years old. Coleman, on the other hand, grew up in a black family in Milwaukee and went to college at UW-Platteville (about an hour’s drive from Avoca). She’s 26.
They met while working at 371 Productions in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. And they’d like to create a semi-autobiographical short film and hopefully a TV series, and they’d like to do it while working with mostly women and people of color.
“We wanted to work with all women, but that’s kind of impossible in Milwaukee,” Coleman laughed. “It’s not a huge city, and it’s not a big filmmaking place.”
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They’re raising money and awareness for the project right now on Seed and Spark. They have 30 days to raise $10,000 to create the film and get 500 followers. Twenty-one days in, they’ve raised $7,812 and have 418 followers. So far their crew is about 80 percent female and 80 percent people of color.
Kuester is the producer and Coleman is the director of the short film, which is loosely based on Kuester’s life.
The film will start with main character, Mia, being presented with information about her biological family from her adopted parents. Mia worries that because she was raised by a white family that she won’t be “black” enough.
“A really cool part of this is that we look at stereotypes from both sides because they kind of identify the white things about Mia, and it’s not really until the end of the story where she starts to break down stereotypes on both sides,” said Kuester. “And she’s able to be like ‘You know what, I am who I am, and it doesn’t matter what I know or what color my skin is I have to be comfortable and be ready to meet my parents.'”
It’s similar to what Kuester has gone through in her life, with one big difference. In the movie, Mia meets her biological family. In real life, Kuester hasn’t taken that step yet, and she may not. But the premise of the film is an interesting way to talk about the diversity of American culture because Kuester and Coleman had such different experiences growing up.
“Emily was growing up in a very small town where she and her brother were the only two black people and everyone knew them, and she was bullied a little,” said Coleman. The only experience Kuester had with people of color was on TV shows where there were one or two black characters.
Coleman, on the other hand, grew up around almost all people of color, then she moved to Platteville for college and experienced a culture shock. But now the two women are bonding over these cultural touchstones that Kuester missed out on, like church, food, hairstyles, music, dancing, TV shows, the “Friday” movies.
“That movie just fills your soul,” said Coleman. The two women are now close friends. Kuester says Coleman is like the sister she never had. Coleman has a list of TV shows and movies that they’re watching together, films like “Friday” and “Next Friday.”
“We keep trying to break down white culture and black culture,” said Coleman. “But people have to accept it’s American culture. There are people with all different ways of living here. You have to be yourself and be confident in who you are and understand when a stereotype is rooted in racism or when it’s rooted in culture in itself.”
Be MKE Who we are. Where we go. What we need to know. Each week in this newsletter, Sarah Hauer will serve as your city guide and share stories about Milwaukee, its people and what’s happening around town. Sign up Coleman sees the film as contrast to some of the documentary films she works on with 371 Productions. Lately, she’s been working on the documentary “When Claude Got Shot,” which shows how gun violence impacts three families.
Brad Lichtenstein owns and runs 371 Productions and Custom Reality Services, where the team works on virtual reality videos. Lichtenstein has quite the resume. He’s been nominated for an Emmy for the documentary “As Goes Janesville.” He’s also won two DuPont Awards for journalism and has collaborated with Al Jazeera and PBS’ “Frontline.” He signed on as executive producer of “Black Girl Training,” which will be 371 Productions’ first scripted project.
He also has the industry contacts, many of whom donated to “Black Girl Training’s” Seed and Spark campaign. For Coleman, that’s something to aspire to.
“I just want to get to a point when I’m a black woman and I know all these people and I can get the money coming in on my own,” Coleman said.
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Political Cartoons – Political Humor, Jokes and Pictures

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See Mailchimp’s weird new branding

By Katharine Schwab 4 minute Read
As companies grow up, their branding usually does, too. That often means that the initial quirkiness of a startup logo fades into the slick, streamlined branding you see everywhere today–like that same sans serif font that has become the basis for Google, Airbnb, and Pinterest’s wordmarks . advertisement advertisement
[Image: courtesy Mailchimp] The marketing company Mailchimp , which today is announcing a complete rebrand, could have easily given up the quirkiness that defined its branding as a young company the way many other giants have. Instead, with the help of branding agency Collins , Mailchimp is doubling down. It’s keeping its logo-cum-mascot Freddie the Chimp, for starters, and using an analog typeface from the 1920s as its new typeface, and illustrating its new brand with a series of almost childlike drawings that look unpolished and rough by design. Weird branding is alive and well in the tech industry.
[Image: courtesy Mailchimp] Mailchimp itself was responsible for pioneering the kind of friendly, humorous design you see everywhere in tech nowadays, which was radical when the company first launched in 2001. Perhaps most emblematic are the company’s ubiquitous podcast commercials, which poked fun at its name: “Mail . . . kimp?” It’s hard to imagine Google making fun of its own name in commercials. But that was Mailchimp, with its primate logo and curly, seemingly handwritten wordmark.
[Image: courtesy Mailchimp] “That wry sense of humor is an authentic part of their brand,” says Ben Crick, a creative director at Collins who worked on the branding. “They have more of a right to it than most of the tech companies that rely on humor.”
That winking humor, along with playful illustrations that are meant to demystify what a tech company does, is commonplace among startups these days. “It’s the de facto way to look if you’re a tech company,” says Angie Shih, a strategist at Collins. “The trajectory of every company is that you’re quirky, friendly, approachable, and when you become a massive company with a lot of employees, you become austere, sterile.”
Mailchimp wanted to keep its quirk and eschew the traditional logo trajectory that Shih references, where large tech companies opt for the slick and seamless over the human. But the company did want to rebrand for similar reasons that others do: It has grown significantly since its founding 17 years ago. The company sends about a billion emails per day , and as of 2017, it was adding 14,000 new customers per day .
[Image: courtesy Mailchimp] “As we evolve as a company and are offering these different services and features, we need to evolve our brand and our visual language as well,” Gene Lee, Mailchimp’s vice president of design, tells Fast Company . Features now include marketing automation software that’s more sophisticated than the email building software that the company has been known for. advertisement
And among smaller companies that haven’t yet gone corporate, the quirky, playful brand is very in right now–making it harder for Mailchimp to stand out. “Part of the challenge with creating a visual language and a system is, these days, it’s hard to come up with something that nobody has seen before,” Lee says.
[Image: courtesy Mailchimp] The solution? Nothing about Mailchimp’s new brand uses slick design to point to the company’s maturity. Instead, Collins maintained nearly everything about Freddie the chimp, just simplifying the image slightly so that it would work better across a range of different sizes and situations. (“He got a haircut,” Crick says.) The designers created a typeface to use for the wordmark, and updated the 1920s, pre-digital typeface Cooper Black for use elsewhere, with the idea that it would make the brand feel more humanistic.
Related: Your next Mailchimp message might be on a snail-mail postcard
Most striking are the illustrations on the company’s new website and inside of its web platform. Mailchimp worked with both internal illustrators and artists from around the world to create drawings with a sense of perspective that’s slightly off-kilter–one that makes them appear like they were drawn by either a famed contemporary artist or a kindergartner. There’s a person with five legs representing Mailchimp’s automation features, a misshapen hand balancing a stack of objects illustrating how quickly users can create with Mailchimp, and a giant personified mushroom acting like an umbrella for a host of smaller fungi to represent business growth. On the company’s new website, a human figure with a gigantic arm, who is adding the final piece to almost-completed puzzle, symbolizes Mailchimp’s optimization tools. An illustration accompanying a message to welcome new subscribers shows a group of oddball birds sitting with a person on the pinkie finger of a giant hand. It’s the kind of weirdness you wouldn’t expect from a company with Mailchimp’s success–last year it brought in $525 million in revenue–and that’s exactly the point.
[Image: courtesy Mailchimp] “Ultimately, the goal is to make Mailchimp a beacon for its own customers, who are growing brands trying to figure out how to speak to their people,” Shih says. “[They’re] hoping to send a message to these companies that success doesn’t mean erasing your peculiarities and idiosyncrasies. It’s about amplifying them. That’s how you stand out and connect with everyone.”
Whether the branding’s strangeness works is another question. Part of the goal was to attract larger businesses, which might be put off by some of the illustrations’ childlike elements. But in staying strange–and, they say, true to themselves–Mailchimp is challenging the typical paradigm for tech branding today. advertisement advertisement About the author Katharine Schwab is an associate editor based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture. Email her at kschwab@fastcompany.com and sign up for her newsletter here: https://tinyletter.com/schwabability

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