BY OLU ALEMORU

The global branding and licensing industry – worth countless billions – ended its annual Las Vegas jamboree at The Mandalay Bay as summer 2014 officially arrived.

With over 400 exhibitors representing more than 5,000 brands and catering to 15,000 attendees watch out in the next few months for the hottest things in toys, games and apparel.

We’re talking about the big guns; Disney Consumer Products, Hasbro, Martel, Twentieth Century Fox Consumer Products, and of course, Disney-owned Marvel Entertainment.

I’d venture it’s the dream of nearly every creator toiling away in that tiny bedsit or sketching that next great idea on the bus to reach the heights of a billion dollar marketing juggernaut, such as a "Southpark," "Spongebob," "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" or "The Simpsons."

And though one can understand these corporate Goliaths catering to their core customers – adolescent, teen, White boys – maybe some of the suits might really start to tap into the lucrative urban (black and brown) market.

That’s definitely the view of  New York-based filmmaker Samantha M. Knowles, who a couple of years ago made an awarding winning short film called “Why Do You Have Black Dolls?” It’s still playing on the festival circuit with upcoming screenings scheduled in Chicago and Philadelphia in early August.

Inspired by a question asked of Knowles as a child about her own black doll collection, the Dartmouth College graduate explored the little-known black doll community for her senior honors thesis film project.

“There's often a disconnect when you are talking about [cultural] representation and companies driven by dollars,” she said. “The black audience is huge; if it wasn’t there wouldn’t be a BET or TV One. [You could also cite 2013’s bumper year for black films and just this weekend “Think Like A Man Too” topped the box office]. A lot of shows featuring black characters are doing especially well. Shows like ‘Doc McStuffins.’ I think they underestimate how black people react to them and how much money they can make. The focus needs to be on the positive that reflects black culture and not just have white dolls painted black.”

According to Knowles, that’s why she was able to find so many black doll makers going out on their own.

Women like Salome Yilma, a publishing executive turned entrepreneur. EthiDolls (http://www.ethidolls.com/index.htm), co-founded by Yilma and Yeworkwoha Ephrem, produce high end collector dolls that come with a story book. “Her [Yilma’s] dolls represent all different women in Africa,” Knowles added. “She works with a manufacturer and is very specific about skin tone. I think at one point her dolls were sold in F.A.O Schwartz.”

With future hopes that her film will be available on DVD, Knowles believes her cinematic thesis delivered a powerful message.

“It was interesting for me to see all these female entrepreneurs running their own businesses and seeing a market and wanting to explore it,” she said. “I think black women do think they are beautiful… and it’s nice when you feel represented. You have this moment, ‘Okay, I’m beautiful and I feel included.’”

YOUR HIGHNESS: Queen Makeda of Sheba from the EthiDolls collection. Photo courtesy of Samantha Knowles.

Info: http://whydoyouhaveblackdolls.com/

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