MLB Releases Animated Series About The Women Of The Negro Baseball League
The Major League Baseball organization commissioned Carl Jones and Love Barnett to bring the hidden figures of the National Negro Female Baseball League to light in an animated series, kicking off International Black Women’s History Month. The series is available on YouTube and the MLB’s platforms. With Black history and achievements being suppressed, the engaged couple persist in telling stories of the Black American experience.
From childhood, Jones became enamored with storytelling and animation when he first saw Star Wars in theaters and watched recurring Saturday morning cartoons. As an adult creative, he retained his childlike wonder and desired to entertain and impact people with his imagination. Jones constantly toiled on creating ideas and characters, improving his skill of drawing and writing, and moved to Los Angeles, California, to further his career.
“The very first day I was in L.A., I ran into Aaron McGruder on the street. I hopped out of the car and began to harass him about how much I love the comic strip The Boondocks and [told him] I was trying to get my foot in the door as an artist,” he says. The animated series was a comic strip at that time, but McGruder admitted he needed a cartoonist to add to his team. “I sent him some samples of my work. We did a few meetings [and] he hired me on the spot. When the show got picked up, I came on board to do character design and some storyboard revisions. Then I eventually worked my way into the writer’s room and started producing, doing voices, and a little bit of everything else. From there, I never looked back.”
For Barnett, her creative journey was a family affair; her mother worked as a jazz singer and actress, “I grew up in the industry and used to work for MCA (now Universal Records), and they would ask me if I knew this person. I had a bunch of pretty friends, and I decided to start a casting agency since they’re already asking me to [see] if this girl is available for these music videos or movies.”
At the age of 17, she launched Much Love Productions, landing contracts with record companies and movie production houses to fulfill their casting necessities and booked dancers for major recording artists and their world tours. Barnett is also a trained dancer who would sometimes appear in music videos for Kanye West, Eminem, Petey Pablo, and the legendary Tupac, to popular sitcoms such as Martin, Smart Guy, and The Last O.G.
Later on, Barnett graduated with an Advertising Degree at the Academy Art University in San Francisco and established a startup tech company called Augmented Reality, a virtual online figure drawing application for art schools and professional animators that she ended up selling to Laguna Art Academy. She continued to engage with her creative side by producing a show titled The Love Lounge, where she interviewed rising music stars, dancers and choreographers. Bennett’s professional reputation opened the doors for her to arrange promotion for noteworthy concerts and events nationwide, such as the annual charity event for Katherine Jackson in memory of her son Michael Jackson. Recently, she earned a credit as an associate producer on the animated pilot Traptown starring rap sensation Trippie Redd and popular comedian DC Young Fly.
Crossing electronic paths with Jones in the heyday of Myspace, Barnett reached out to him to pitch an animation idea, “Since he was doing Boondocks at the time. I was talking to people from [the group] Tribe Called Quest, and I have my character Bonita Applebaum that I was revamping as a cartoon series.” At that point, Barnett became well-known, working as a columnist at Today’s Black Man and Essence magazine; however, Jones focused more on the ending of The Boondocks. The two continued to hash around ideas, but due to circumstances, nothing materialized. Years later, around the pandemic of 2020, Bennett realized there was a void for an animation company that “understood [the] voices, nuances, and [Black American] culture.”
“He was working on all these different shows, and he would still have to explain why a little Black girl has to wear a bonnet or why somebody might stand a certain way, and when they say this, this is the right expression. We’re seeing there are not enough Black artists out there, or they hire a few,” she says. “But there’s not enough so that [our culture] doesn’t have to be over-explained; it makes it difficult to have to teach and create at the same time.”
The two creatives decided to take a leap of faith and open the doors to their studio, “During the pandemic, it made it so much easier because everything was compartmentalized. He knew all the right artists, and they respected him. The first thing that we did was for the Lakers and the Federal Credit Union. Unfortunately, by the time we were done, one of the players got traded, so we weren’t able to put that out.”
Undeterred, as co-founders of Martian Blueberry, a multimedia production company, they flourished and provided services for major networks, NFT companies, and advertising agencies, specializing in high-end 2D/3D animation, visual effects, and visual effects design for episodic television, films, WEB3, and music videos. Jones and Barnett are currently producing animation for hip-hop hottie Megan Thee Stallion. But their most notable project is composing an animation series for the Major League Baseball organization through their connection with Justin Polk, co-founder of Invisible Collective, where Jones serves as one of the production company’s directors.
Polk has a relationship with the MLB. He reached out to Jones to direct several animated programs, such as a series on International Impact, Jackie Robinson, Monte Irvin, and the Women of the Negro Leagues titled Undeniable. The three-part series, narrated by Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and tells the untold story of the history of the Negro Leagues female ballplayers Toni Stone, Connie Morgan, and Mamie “Peanut” Johnson.
“It was a real eye-opening experience because we learned so much. We figured that [through animation] we could bring these stories to life a lot more, and you can get a feel for it versus just somebody narrating the story with some pictures behind you. But with animation, we were able to bring these stories to life. You can see them playing. I think Carl picked a beautiful medium and style to interpret the stories; it just looks amazing,” gushes Barnett. Jones adds, “My goal was to capture the era’s nostalgia and to make it feel timeless, or at least play for a contemporary audience at the same time. So we used these muted color palettes that felt nostalgic and a little old school. Then we also used these thick crude black lines; we use this visual language that can allow the audience to feel the weight of the stories that we’re telling, but also, the heavy black shadows give the characters themselves weight in this so you can feel a little bit more of the context of that era, and what was going on,” Jones explains. “We had many great things happen for us as a people, but this was right in the middle of some trying times. I wanted people to feel the weight of the shoulders of these iconic figures that changed history. So animation gave us many more tools to use to do that, and we went with a cinematic approach to storytelling. You’ll see these dynamic angles’ cinematic compositions, making the animation pop off the page. Even a younger audience that isn’t familiar with who these people are may not even be interested in baseball; they still have an experience that was pretty cool.”
Working on the project, the duo also learned how the women competed, played with, and against the men in Negro League. “I never knew that the Negro Leagues were open; that was amazing,” marvels Barnett. “They didn’t care [about] your race, gender. All they cared about was can you play? Even the fact that Mamie “Peanut” Johnson was the only female pitcher, and she’s like 5’3″, and she’s striking out these grown men, that’s just amazing.” Jones also shared that the women players maintained their education pursuits. Mamie “Peanut” Johnson had a nursing degree, and Connie Morgan graduated with her business degree from William Penn Business Institute.
“These are like educated women who did other things in those fields. But baseball was a secondary thing, and that’s pretty important for people to know because a lot of times also in our community when you see athletes and sports figures, the idea is that this was the only option or the only way to have success,” he says, but further clarifies. “We have many educated athletes, but my point is it’s over-emphasized that sports are usually our only way out of a certain circumstance, but these women, against all odds being Black women, were pursuing degrees in these respective fields and playing professional baseball in a male-dominated league, like, that’s crazy to me.”
Barnett also points out the pros and cons of integrating MLB. She states the economic growth and decline of Black-owned establishments that benefited from the Negro Leagues. However, once integration happened, public interest in the Negro Leagues slowly dissipated and trickled down to the closing down of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. Yet, the lasting impression both artists want viewers to take from the series is to reflect on how much Black Americans have given and contributed to this country.
“There’s nothing more American than baseball, and these people contributed to that story to help racial lines and what they had to go through. To know that Mamie “Peanut” Johnson couldn’t play with the women in the American girls’ baseball league, but she could play in the Negro Leagues that shows what she had to endure just to play a game that she loved,” observes Barnett.
Jones hopes audiences will perceive these narratives as universal, “The world wants to see and hear our stories. For so long, we’ve been taught to think our stories don’t necessarily communicate as universal ideas across the globe. But that’s not true, even when they’re culturally specific stories; these are human stories about heroes up against immeasurable odds. They face these challenges head-on and accomplish a lot despite adversity. We got to stop categorizing them as Black stories; they’re good human stories with characters who happen to be Black. I hope this series will help people to see that.”
Article courtesy of Forbes