MTV scouts Oak Bluffs for reality show
The Music Television channel, known to young America as MTV, is looking for young African-Americans to participate in a Vineyard-based reality show called "The Bluffs." The aptly titled show would document the lives of black youth while they swim, party, and work their way through a summer in Oak Bluffs. Locals say it could shine a positive light on the Island town, or bring even more publicity to the already overcrowded summer resort.
According to the casting call, which is featured on a number of casting web sites and blogs, MTV is looking for young African-Americans planning to spend this summer on Martha's Vineyard.
"MTV News & Docs is casting for a new pilot documentary called 'The Bluffs,' which gives an up-close and personal glimpse of African-American young adult life on Martha's Vineyard," the listing reads. "Maybe this is your first time to summer at the Vineyard with your prep school friends. Maybe you'll be working on the island while hanging with your sorority sisters or frat brothers. Maybe you live there. Maybe you're a summer regular. Whatever the situation or story, we want to hear from you!"
Kehinde, the self-styled mayor of Oak Bluffs, showed MTV why his town was the town for the show.
Interested candidates are instructed to contact MTV casting director Claresa Mandola. Although the casting call has been out for months, the show is not yet definite.
"As far as I know, the show is still in development and no one knows for sure yet if it will be filming," Ms. Mandola said via an e-mail received by The Times on May 17.
Although the details are sketchy, if approved, MTV film crews would follow the chosen individuals around while they soak up the summer life on the Vineyard. Oak Bluffs town administrator Michael Dutton said there are no permits or specific rules producers and film crews would have to follow, since most of the filming would probably take place in public areas. But, he said he hopes MTV would contact him as a courtesy, if they decide to film in Oak Bluffs.
"If it's a show that reflects what really goes on in Oak Bluffs in the summer it could be a really positive thing. Hopefully they show the true cultural and ethnic diversity that goes on, especially in the summer, and all year round," Mr. Dutton said yesterday. "I don't watch much MTV, but from what I gather, they normally film in bigger cities like New York, so this would be a big departure for them."
Selectman Duncan Ross said the show could have a positive or negative effect, depending on how producers decide to portray the town and the individuals involved. But with a critical eye on Oak Bluffs and its reputation as the place for entertainment on the Island, he said "we have enough" attention on the small town already.
Marie Allen, former president of the Vineyard chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and respected leader in the black community, said the show could be a great thing for Oak Bluffs. "It could be very positive," she said in a telephone interview recently. "I think the youngsters that come here in the summer are very fortunate to come to such a beautiful place, and have such a nice time and feel relatively safe."
Ms. Allen said she caught wind of the series last summer, and alerted her network of acquaintances about the casting. She said the reaction was mixed, and most people were curious what angle the producers would take.
A quick Google search turns up a 17-minute long application video posted on a Myspace page. In the homemade video with heavy hip hop beats in the background, Kehinde - pronounced Ky-en-day - tells MTV producers why he should be cast for the reality show.
The 29-year-old self-described "mayor of Oak Bluffs" takes viewers on a guided tour up Circuit Avenue, down to Inkwell Beach, and to local hot spots like Backdoor Donuts and the Island House. Kehinde, who is from Brooklyn, New York, sells himself as a lifelong Oak Bluffs summer resident with complete knowledge of Oak Bluffs and its community.
"We're considered Vineyarders, there's a difference," he explained. "Islanders are the ones that are born here, Vineyarders are the ones that vacation here. And we basically grew up here, which gives us an advantage because now we became the popular kids...everybody knows who I am or they know of who I am."
Kehinde describes a racial division on the Island, highlighting where the white and black people sit on the beach, and how they interact.
"Throughout this journey you will see everything that goes on on the Island, the good and the bad," he says. "But mostly you'll see what the Vineyard is all about. Hopefully that will change your perspective about it."
The casting call is also featured on a highly trafficked blog titled The Ghetto Fashionista: Entertainment, Culture, Style. "Keeping a pulse on both the runway and the hood," the blog dedicates entries to everything from couture sandals bedazzled with bling, to commentary on black celebrities like Jennifer Hudson and Beyoncé.
A November 2006 entry calls out to all the up-and-coming buppies - young black urban professionals - who may be interested in being revealed on the show.
Why Oak Bluffs?
Oak Bluffs has traditionally been a summer vacation resort for wealthy, successful African Americans, among them politicians, artists, entertainers, and writers. One of the most popular spots for the black community in the summer is the Inkwell Beach, which runs along Seaview Ave. at the bottom of Waban Park. The Inkwell has traditionally been a meeting place for African-American families and visitors.
The African-American Heritage Trail of Martha's Vineyard highlights The Gospel Tabernacle on Dukes County Avenue, which once served as a church for a congregation of African Americans during the 20th century, and the home of Dorothy West, an African-American writer and last surviving member of the Harlem Renaissance group.