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Black Friendship, Broadcasted – The New York Times


Every two weeks, Sylvia Obell and Deanii Scott get on Zoom from opposite coasts to record their podcast, “Okay, Now Listen,” which is produced by Netflix.

They tackle topics that range from breakups to parental abandonment to favorite TV shows, heartbreak and memes in an upbeat, sisterly way. In one episode, the hosts read from the journals they kept as preteens.

But their most candid and sincere conversations are about life as young Black women pursuing their dreams in white, male-dominated industries. (Ms. Obell, 31, is an entertainment reporter who previously worked at BuzzFeed, and Ms. Scott, 30, is a radio host, known professionally as Scottie Beam, who got her start on Hot 97 in New York.)

Often those conversations extend to their guests. On a February episode with the actress Zendaya, the hosts discussed the importance of Black women giving themselves credit and celebrating their successes, an act that doesn’t necessarily come naturally for Black women. “I struggle with it a little bit because I’m one of those people that if I give myself credit, it’s going to be gone,” Zendaya said.

The hosts also bring the conversations back to the frustrations Black women face daily — for example, when Ms. Obell and Ms. Scott broke down Solange’s song “Mad” from her 2016 album, “A Seat at the Table.”

“She took the angry Black woman trope and flipped it on its head,” Ms. Obell said, about the song. “She’s got a lot to be mad about, how about you figure out what you are doing to make her angry — what society has done to make her angry.”

In another episode, Ms. Scott said: “Having to rediscover joy and salvage something you never tried to lose can get exhausting.”

Their friendship predates the podcast, which may explain why their warmth is palpable. The two met at Essence Fest in 2017 and immediately hit it off.

“I wanted ‘Okay, Now Listen’ to be a direct reflection of our friendship,” Ms. Scott said in an interview. “I wanted to showcase Black relationships, Black friendships, in any type of way.” For many listeners, the podcast, which premiered in 2020, has become a way to feel closer to their own friends during the pandemic.

“My girls are the love of my life,” Ms. Obell said brightly, speaking about the way friendship guides the podcast.

“I have a tribe of women that hold me down,” Ms. Scott said. “My auntie team is impeccable.”

It was a member of Ms. Obell’s tribe, Jasmyn Lawson, who asked the pair to start “Okay, Now Listen” for Netflix. Ms. Lawson, 29, a television executive at the Netflix, was on the team that in 2018 started Strong Black Lead, a content vertical marketed to Black subscribers; one of her responsibilities was creating the types of shows and podcasts that she herself would want to see and hear.

“They were really supportive of the work that I was doing and wanted me to just go, go, go and do more,” Ms. Lawson said in a recent interview, of her bosses at Netflix.

In addition to creating “Okay, Now Listen” Ms. Lawson also produced “Strong Black Legends,” a podcast where celebrated and acclaimed Black actors, including Cicely Tyson, Elise Neal and Blair Underwood, discuss their careers.

“It just came from my own selfishness of wanting to honor our legends in our community,” Ms. Lawson said. “I know most of our aunties and uncles might not be on the internet every day to see how we talk about these actors. I wanted to make sure we had this archive of their stories, how they got into the industry.”

Of the “Okay, Now Listen” hosts, Ms. Lawson said: “I really wanted them to have great cultural conversations about what’s happening within the realms of millennial Black people.”

In 2015, an estimated two million Black households subscribed to Netflix — a number that represented only about 5 percent of its total subscribers. These figures came from a 2015 memo, which was obtained by The New York Times, that was produced by Black employees at the company to make the case to Netflix executives that they were missing an opportunity with Black audiences.

The memo also said that Black households represented a market worth $1.4 billion. Netflix executives, perhaps hesitant to lose out on such revenue, started Strong Black Lead in 2018. The company also continued to improve its hiring of people of color and women in many different positions — including as directors, screenwriters and producers — according to a recent study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative that was commissioned by Netflix.

Today, the media company has established a reputation as being the pre-eminent place for Black talent to go in Hollywood to produce their work.

Ms. Lawson recently took on a new role as a manager of original series at Netflix, a position in which she develops and produces live-action comedy series. But she has not deferred her goal of creating content that she would like to see personally. (Netflix would not share viewership numbers or audience demographics for this article.)

“I see myself as a reflection of the audience,” Ms. Lawson said. “There’s no way that you try to really have a space and culture and stay relevant and not try to talk to the Black audience.”

And the Black audience for podcasts seems to be growing. Forty-one percent of podcast listeners in the United States are not white, according to Nielsen. That figure, Nielsen also points out, means that podcast listeners are a more diverse population than that of the country.

For Ms. Scott and Ms. Obell, finding that audience has everything to do with staying true to their original vision and respecting each other, as they do their listeners.

“My purpose right now is to speak power into these Black women like myself, like Sylvia, and do the work,” Ms. Scott said.

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