(Courtesy photo by Lenzy Ruffin)
DeShuna Spencer knew she had something back in 2014.
On a whim, she entered the UNITY Journalists for Diversity’s New U seed grant program and won $20,000 to develop a beta prototype for her streaming service KweliTV, an interactive streaming platform to share the African Diaspora experience around the world. After three years of refining the product, the company launched out of beta last fall.
“It took us two years to get out of beta,” Spencer told Technical.ly DC. “We relaunched four times, and I went through 10 developers in two years trying to figure it out. Every filmmaker stuck by us. I was blown away by that.”
Kweli translates to “truth” in Swahili, and the company currently has a growing list of 18,000 registered users streaming dozens of films and documentaries on Google Play, Roku and Apple TV. Users can try it out for free for seven days, and then pay $3.99 per rental, $5.99 for a monthly subscription or $49.99 for a yearly subscription, allowing you to stream such films as Fly By Light, a documentary about four DC teens who leave the city on a field trip to the mountains of West Virginia.
“I didn’t want to be the online version of a black network that only shows the 90s throwbacks, that we all love, but how many times can we watch those things over and over again?” Spencer said. “There’s black people creating movies all the time, and we want to support independent filmmakers and tell these stories that have meaning.”
The films have also been shown at dozens of festivals including the American Black Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, African International Film Festival, BronzeLens Film Fest, Cannes Film Festival, Hollywood Black Film Festival, African Diaspora International Film Festival,the Harlem International Film Festival and the Amnesty International Human Rights Film Festival.
Spencer, who lives in Old Town Alexandria, manages KweliTV full-time in coworking spaces in Silver Spring and D.C. She’s a graduate of Jackson State University, where she majored in communications with a focus on journalism. She also worked as a crime beat reporter with the Clarion-Ledger and the Oakland Tribune before becoming the communications manager for a Silver Spring-based trade magazine.
“I knew the coroner very well, and the police. I had a scanner on my desk,” she said of her time on the crime beat. “For me, as a person of color it was depressing to write about about people involved in tragedies who looked like me.”
Spencer hopes that KweliTV will become a portal for black female founders who need funding and to invest in other companies and her community. She is also planning to add a news feature to the site.
“We want to be that space in which people – if they want to know what’s happening around the world – they come to us to learn about social justice issues affecting people of color,” she said.
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