- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Kentucky marketing mogul behind a new documentary on pioneering black filmmaker Oscar Micheaux has his own entertainment world back story.

Bayer L. Mack, 41, of Louisville, went through financial booms and busts with paging, dot.com and telecom businesses before founding Block Starz Music in 2008 with a German partner.

The independent label has since carved out a place in the industry, working with rap and hip-hop talents like Lega-C, Machine Gun Kelly, Rhymefest and J.R. Bricks. Mr. Mack said in an interview, though, that it was his love of history that shape his current project.

Before becoming chief executive of Block Starz Music, Mr. Mack had invested in the industry as an entertainment journalist.

In the late 1990s, he connected with an Indiana radio station and developed an innovative website where he posted first-person, transcribed interviews with rap artists for the public.

As exciting and popular as these activities were, they eventually revealed a certain repetitiveness, even boredom, within the industry, Mr. Mack said. Instead of being satisfied with meaningless talk, he said, “I was really starting to push the artists on, ‘What are you really doing to push forward [their causes], whatever it is, even gangsta rap, whatever?’”

Mr. Mack also asked himself the same question — which is why he was so moved when he happened upon by Patrick McGilligan’s 2007 book on Oscar Micheaux.

Not only was it disconcerting for a self-described history buff to have “never heard” of such a groundbreaking black filmmaker, but in many ways, Micheaux’s life “mirrored mine,” said Mr. Mack. Like Micheaux, the entertainment mogul went through a divorce as well as many financial successes and setbacks.

“When I realized that there was no documentary exclusively depicting the three-decade career of our country’s most prolific black filmmaker, I knew I wanted the opportunity to inspire modern audiences with his uniquely American story,” Mr. Mack said on a website devoted to “Oscar Micheaux: The Czar of Black Hollywood,” as the project came to be known.

Mr. Mack added he chose the “czar” because, in addition to his professional success, “Oscar lived larger-than-life — wearing wide-brimmed hats, marrying disastrously and being driven by his personal limousine driver.”

After deciding to create a Micheaux documentary, and forming Block Starz Music Television LLC in 2013 as the vehicle to do that, Mr. Mack and his creative team have since tapped into other ways to use history, film, photography and music to tell stories about positive, inspiring role models.

One upcoming project, for instance, will look at how the funeral business has created “generational wealth” for countless black families. No matter where a community is, Mr. Mack said, “if there is a person or a black family with money at all, eight, nine times out of 10, they’re the morticians.”

Another documentary will look at “African-Americans who dared to be great.”

Micheaux’s life “is an American story, an against-all-odds story,” Mr. Mack said. “Why is it important? It’s so you can show that anything is possible.”

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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