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Carlena Evans

Source: Otter PR / Otter PR

Good Times changed the face of American television when it aired in 1974. It was one of the first TV shows that featured an all-Black cast, and a sitcom that depicted the real-life struggles of African American families living across the United States.

Every week, millions of Black households came together to watch The Evans make due even when times were rough living in Chicago’s infamous Cabrini–Green Projects. They stuck together through thick and thin and they had tons of fun in between. It was “DY-NO-MITE” as JJ would say.

Good Times may have aired way before my time, but thanks to streaming services like Peacock, I’m now able to binge-watch every last episode, reliving the magic the 1970s classic evoked for fans years ago. For me, having access to a show like Good Times in today’s society means everything because these days it seems like there aren’t many positive representations of Black families across primetime television. Popular shows often dilute the Black household with negative depictions of broken or crime-connected families and yes, I’m looking at you Power, but that’s a story for another article.

There’s something incredibly refreshing about watching Florida and James Evans raise three children with courage, strength, and compassion as they battle through eviction and poverty. Perhaps it hits close to home because it reminds me of the same tender love and care my mom and pop raised me growing up in the poverty-stricken neighborhood of El Barrio in East Harlem. Finally, a show where I can see a little glimpse of my loving family portrayed on the big screen.

Good Times showed me and the entire world the power and importance of being raised in a strong and unified Black household and, that’s exactly what Black screenwriters Eric Monte and Mike Evans set out to do when they created the show together years ago.

In fact, in addition to Good Times, the talented duo were also responsible for writing two other popular Black sitcoms in the 70s – The Jeffersons and All In The Family. If you remember, Mike Evans starred in both shows as the hilariously witty Lionel Jefferson.

Now, while everything appeared to be peachy keen on screen, Evans and Monte struggled behind the scenes to maintain the positive Black storylines they worked tirelessly to create.

In a 2010 interview with Up Front, Monte revealed that he and Evans, who passed away in 2007, often struggled with legendary TV producer Norman Lear to keep stereotypical tropes and negative imagery off of Good Times.

“I had to fight and argue with Norman Lear for three years to show a complete Black family on Television,” he said during the interview. “They thought of Black humor as ‘Yassah, boss, I’s wanna go down by da river….’ but I’d fight them tooth and nail. They’d ignore in the offices. Take that ‘Yassha’ stuff down to the cast. John Amos, Esther Rolle, and Janet DuBois would have a fit,” Monte added during a candid chat with Annette John-Hall of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Sadly, Monte and Evans were swindled out of creator rights for some of their groundbreaking creations, and over the years, Lear lead many fans to believe that he was the mastermind behind Good Times and a few other iconic Black sitcoms produced by the duo in the 70s. Thankfully, Monte and the late Evans’ estate still own the intellectual property rights to Good Times, and now Evans’ eldest daughter Carlena Evans is fighting tooth and nail to protect the show’s wholesome legacy.

I sat down with Carlena Evans to chat about her remarkable story behind obtaining the intellectual property rights to the show and the importance of depicting the Black family in a positive light. The youth advocate and educator also spoke about her father’s historic entertainment legacy and why she’s not getting hassled or hustled when it comes to protecting the Good Times brand.

Carlena Evans

Source: Otter PR / Otter PR

 

What was it like watching your father build Good Times from the ground up as a child?

It was an interesting experience because my mother and father weren’t together necessarily. I was raised in Pennsylvania with my grandmother and my mother, so to be honest, that experience was kind of funny because as a child, I was convinced that the people on TV were my family. I was trying to figure out why they weren’t coming over. The TV family was my family in my mind, and that’s how I was raised. When I would visit my father, he lived a very isolated life. He lived in the desert in California and had his own house that he built with farm animals. He made his own water and electricity too. I was born in 81. By then, Good Times was completed, so he was kind of phasing out of it by then. I wasn’t raised in it but I definitely felt a part of it because in my heart that was my family on TV. The characters on Good Times were named after my father. Mike Evans was his own character.

 

Good Times was such an important show because it was an incredible representation of what a strong and unified Black family looked like. That’s something we don’t see often on TV today.

People have no idea what I go through when it comes to preserving this brand. When it comes to the intellectual property of the show, obviously people want to buy it and the reason you haven’t seen a lot about it is that I’m in the background on the battlefield, preserving it. Good Times to me represents family, gratitude, resilience, and humility, and these are things that really can’t be sold. Not only that, our image (positive black image) is something that we absolutely have to protect. When our children turn on the television or when they hear our music, most of the time we’re not represented in a good light. This show still represents wholeness and goodness. And we can’t give that away.

 

How did you obtain the intellectual property rights to Good Times? That’s a huge deal!

It’s massive! So, my father passed away in 2007. My sister, Tammie, is located in California. When he passed, I flew to California and met with my sister. At that time, the estate was unresolved. Fast forward to 2011, I was living in Georgia and I had just started my company Kidsplosion. I was an English Professor and I had just finished our first summer camp season. After camp, I was unable to return to my position. I was terrified and confused over what I was going to do.

I went to church and Pastor TD Jakes was a guest minister that day. At one point during his sermon, he said ‘you’re being shut down for a reason.’ That resonated with me. I started to get quiet and pray. I heard ‘Go to LA.’ Now, mind you I wasn’t thinking that this had anything to do with my father, but I obeyed. I went to LA and knew to visit my sister, who lived in the desert, not too far away from where my father lived. When I went into the house there was a severe kinetic spiritual activity. I was like what the heck is going on here?!

I don’t even know how to explain it. It was spooky but there was definitely some welcoming energy. I believe my grandmother was there (who passed away a couple years before). I know my father was there. And it was just crazy. Anyway, in the house, the energy was saying to “save my land.” At one point, I could hear my dad saying “save my land.” So, I went to my sister and told her what was going on. And it turned out that my father’s house, which he built by hand, had just got robbed! They took anything they thought was important, but they left a lot of documents and paperwork.

The same day, we went to my father’s house and when we got there, paperwork was just flying around in the middle of the desert. I mean I saw baby pictures of myself. There were letters. It was almost like God took a cabinet and just opened it. This was my first time there since I was a child. So, I started picking up things off the ground, anything that looked somewhat important. One of the things that I picked up was from the Writers Guild of America (WGA). It was a Good Times pay stub.

A few days later, I called the Writers Guild and left a message inquiring about the statement. Three weeks later, I got a call from the Writers Guild and they said, “Thank you! We have been looking for someone to claim the other 50% of these rights!” The woman told me that people wanted to do movies and so many things with Good Times, but they never had anyone actually claim Mike Evans’ portion of the rights. I was shocked.

I had to get on my flight home that day, so I got all my paperwork together quickly before my flight. I went to the WGA office in downtown LA, handed her my documents and she said, “That was the fastest turnaround of paperwork I have ever seen.” Just like that, I had claimed my father’s rights to Good Times, I will never forget it!

 

This is a wild story! So, who owns the other 50 percent?

Very good question, Mr. Eric Monte. When you watch the show, Eric Monte and Mike Evans are credited as creators, which means they both have 50% creator rights. Mr. Monte, who is still alive, is from Chicago. The whole show was about his life! He’s the one that grew up in Cabrini-Green projects in Chicago and a lot of those characters, were people he grew up with! He went to California and met my father at the community college. My father at that time was already on All In The Family. He already worked with Norman Lear. So my father brought Mr. Monte to Norman Lear and the two of them together, both having creator rights started to write Good Times.

 

What is intellectual property? Can you break it down in layman’s terms?

Intellectual property literally is ownership of an actual concept. With that, no one can recreate your idea unless you go back to the creators. With TV, we use Intellectual property. So any redos of the show– that can be a stage play, merchandise, or television show, that’s intellectual property. Production rights are also included in this. Norman Lear and his entertainment company Act III were the production company behind Good Times. They funded these shows back at that time, so they have certain rights as well. They have the right to air the show. They also have the right to license it. But it can only be the already-produced show. They can’t recreate the show unless they go back to the IP holders, which is us.

So, let me explain how it works. Mr. Monte owns 50% of the brand. My sister and I represent our father’s estate, so the two of us split the other 50%. In order to do anything with Good Times, we all have to agree. I communicate with all parties on any deals or upcoming projects.

 

So, just to clarify, since you own the IP rights to Good Times, does that mean, for example, producers or songwriters who want to sample the theme song in their music need to come to you for approval as well?

Correct. It’s kinda similar to what recently happened to Kelis and Beyonce’s album. Pharrell owned Kelis’ song, so he had the right to put that song out. Kelis, however, wanted to be respected and at least contacted when doing so, which makes sense! However, because she didn’t own it, these types of things happen. This is why a lot of artists want to own their own masters. They want to own their own voice and their songs, but often times they don’t.

 

That’s really concerning. We’ve heard countless stories of how writers and musicians have been taken advantage of in the entertainment industry because of shady contract deals. How do you even go about obtaining IP ownership?

It’s hard because and the end of the day it’s all about money (isn’t it always?). A lot of artists and entertainers get into similar situations because the person who has the money is usually the one who owns the IP rights.

If you’re new talent with little funding, you’re more than likely going to have a deal where you don’t have that much say. You know, I saw something recently where Taylor Swift re-recorded her whole album, just to protect it. So she had the rights over her music. I love that. So, I always say, when you get the money and the power to be able to do so, own your own stuff.

 

Did your father and Mr. Monte obtain the IP rights for The Jeffersons and All In The Family as well?

My father and Mr. Monte didn’t get credit for creating those shows. The reason that we have credit for Good Times is because Mr. Monte sued NBC, ABC, and Norman Lear back in 1978. We have these rights because Mr. Monte fought for them. That’s another thing that the general public needs to know because, to be honest, Norman Lear and ACT III still kind of make it appear that they own those shows, and legally, they don’t have IP rights to Good Times. Remember Sanford and Son? That was 100%, Mr. Monte. He wrote and created the show. He doesn’t get credit for that. The Jeffersons was my father. He begged Norman Lear for the spinoff and created the script, but he didn’t get credit for that.

 

What happened with the movie that Sony was doing in 2012?

Yes, we had a movie deal in 2012. They hired Kenya Barris to write the screenplay. Here was the problem. They wanted to own the rights. I said over and over, why can’t we just do the project. I’m happy to lease it. They didn’t want to do the project unless they owned all of it. Remember with intellectual property, all parties must agree or there’s no deal. I didn’t agree to sell and just like that, there was no Good Times movie.

I didn’t want all power in the hands of people who never lived it. They don’t fully understand what Good Times represents. They’re looking at the money, which I understand. However, in order for it to be done right, we need to tell our own stories with relatability, understanding, and most love.

 

Tell me more about the youth advocacy work you do with your company Kidsplosion?

What Kidsplosion does is enable youth to Discover, Develop, and Display their gifts, talents, and abilities. Kids need to have a place or a loving, warm environment to help foster their talents whether it’s dance, karate, or politics- we help them ignite their passions.

I bring in career professionals from different genres to work with the kids. We work with everybody from city employees like firefighters, and police officers to technical careers. This gives kids a head start on what it is that they want to do and what they want to be. Then we equip them with the proper tools needed to be successful in whatever career they choose.

I love what I do! We’re 12 years old now! We’re here right now in Georgia finishing summer camp season, but we’ve expanded to Ghana, Uganda and now licensed in Dubai. The goal is to continue to make sure children know their gifts, talents, and abilities, especially in underprivileged areas because they need and deserve it!

 

Are there any Good Times remakes or spin-off shows in the works?

Absolutely. I get offers all the time. We would love to have continued projects on Good Times whether that be a stage play, a movie, or merchandise, etc. But it’s so important to get the right people to fund these projects.

 

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