JengoTV is aptly named. In Swahili, "jengo" means "building strength," and that’s exactly what this scrappy LGBT media network for people of color has been doing.
Since its inception last year, JengoTV has been generating buzz and growing an audience who is looking for an alternative to the incredible whiteness of LGBT movies and television both online and on-air. If you’re staring at your blank TV screen praying that somehow the now-defunct Noah’s Ark (ahem, Logo!) will magically appear, or if you’ve made Jennifer Beals your screensaver until The L Word returns in January, get a quick fix of some LGBT content of color at JengoTV instead.
"There is a need and a desire for people of color to see images of ourselves that aren’t in the mainstream and also not in LGBT networks," said Debra Wilson, an Oakland-based filmmaker and JengoTV’s CEO. "I looked around and thought, ‘We deserve quality programming as much as anyone else.’ That’s why I decided to get started."
JengoTV offers an eclectic mix of programming — music, reviews, podcasts, a community forum, an original drama series and several talk shows, including 61st Avenue, which features an FTM transgender host.
After getting laid off from her day job at an AIDS services center, Wilson kicked off the network in February 2006 with its first show, Inside Blast. This talk show, hosted by journalist Kamika Dunlap, has featured interviews with Latina comic Sandra Valls, Jenny Shimizu and many others.
"I jumped off my own personal website, produced it with my own equipment from my own home and used my girlfriend as host," said Wilson. "From there I thought, why not just do a network."
JengoTV has more new programs on the way. Last month, the network rolled out Playing Spades, a soapy lesbian series served up in 5-minute episodes. Based on the books Back in the Day and Drama written and published by Atlanta’s Deardria Nesbitt, Playing Spades follows the escapades of record execs Islande Evans and CheyAnta Edwards and their various friends and lovers.
The one "mini-opera" I watched had more drama, drama, drama than the wobbly plot could handle, but I enjoyed some of the atmospheric elements of the African-American girl-on-girl soap: the throbbing soundtrack, thongs, spiky gold sandals and loads of cheesy dialogue:
Despite the poor production quality and wooden acting, give this spunky black lesbian experiment a chance. Each download costs $1.99, which isn’t much. It is what it is; enjoy the ride.