Prentice Penny Was Initially Hesitant to Appear in ‘Black Twitter: A People’s History’ Doc

The creative team also tells TheWrap why they decided against including former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in the documentary series

Prentice Penny (Getty Images)
Prentice Penny (Getty Images)

Prentice Penny’s appearance and narration in the Hulu-Onyx Collective documentary series “Black Twitter: A People’s History” wasn’t initially a part of the plan, but after some encouragement from showrunner Joie Jacoby and producer Jason Parham, Prentice agreed to participate. All three creatives say his voice helped “elevate” the series’ outcome.

“That was a late addition,” Penny, who directed and executive produced the series, said of his narration in an interview with TheWrap alongside Jacoby and Parham.”I didn’t want it to be like, ‘My story of this,’ right? Black Twitter, they kick up, and so I didn’t want [them] like, ‘Well, who is he to be saying?’ and which, we already got a fair amount of that anyway. But I would always be referencing things like, ‘When I was on Black Twitter,’ or ‘When I was engaging that,’ as we were re-editing it, from the first episode to the second episode, it felt like we needed to infuse it in.”

Even though he was reluctant to lend his likeness to the doc at first, showrunner Joie Jacoby kept pushing for it anyway.

Chiming in, Penny supported Jacoby’s recollection saying, “‘You were the one that was like, ‘Get mic’d up,’ I used to hate it. But she was right. In hindsight, you’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, it needed another thing to it, right?’”

“I was like, we should interview you because when he was doing the interviews, [Penny was] having a conversation — I made sure that we recorded your voice,” Jacoby said. “I knew that we were going to want to use your voice. But [he] didn’t want to be on camera.”

For Penny, it was all about making sure the right voices, elements and visuals were all in place. The three-part series, which is based on Parham’s 2021 Wired article “A People’s History of Black Twitter,” chronicles and explores the rise of the online community of Black Twitter users and how, in between former CEO Jack Dorsey’s reign and Elon Musk’s acquisition, it grew into a phenomenon that would ultimately impact political campaigns, social movements and culture as a whole.

In addition to Penny’s commentary, the team also enlisted some of the most prominent voices from Black Twitter, including former Twitter staffer God-is Rivera, media strategist April Reign, journalist Wesley Lowery and more. Penny wanted to ensure viewers would get the same effect watching the series as he did reading Parham’s literary piece.

Prentice Penny, Jason Parham and Joie Jacoby (Getty Images)
Prentice Penny, Jason Parham and Joie Jacoby (Getty Images)

“I always encourage people to reread Jason’s article, because in the way you can hear my point of view coming out [in the documentary], you can hear Jason’s love of culture, you can read it. Like, yeah, I read an article about Black Twitter, but I was reading his article about Black Twitter and you can feel the love, the care and the passion that he has for it. It just comes through, the article is so clear to me. And I hope that feeling, even though it’s my voice in the dark, that feeling that Jason conveyed to me very clearly in the article also gets that feeling of love and gets portrayed in the doc.”

And that’s the very reason Parham felt it was best if Penny provided narration and perspective from his lens, particularly as the longtime producer was already such a major contributor to Black Twitter and Black culture. Plus, he’d helped lead one of the Black community’s all-time favorite shows, Issa Rae’s “Insecure.” After the HBO show on which Penny served as showrunner concluded in 2021, Penny was looking for his next project when he came across Parham’s article.

“I think it was the right entry point,” Parham said of Penny’s commentary. “‘Insecure’ was such a sort of like appointment viewing. And Black Twitter was lining up every Sunday to fight over it, bicker and debate over it. So to have somebody who was there, and now that we’re making a doc about Black Twitter, he’s almost living inside the doc in a way. It’s like this is the perfect way to get into this story, at least in the beginning to have him take us on this journey.”

The third portion of the documentary details how Black Twitter’s status began to shift once Musk took over as owner, leading to thousands of layoffs, changes in the company’s culture on the platform and most famously, swapping its original name out from Twitter to X. When TheWrap inquired if former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey or current X owner Elon Musk were ever considered as potential interviewees, the group said they ultimately “decided against it.”

“We considered putting a few tech folks in the doc and at one point we were like, ‘Well, maybe if we do put a white person in here it will be Jack [Dorsey],” Parham said. “But I think we ended up deciding against it.”

Penny said he wanted to keep the series focused on the people who created the community.

“It felt like if it’s a people’s history then let it be a people’s history,” Penny added. “But [Dorsey] was someone who was the only person I thought we’d ever consider who was non-Black to even give a remote point of view. But then we were just like, ‘Nah, f—k it. It’s not about him.’”

“Black Twitter: A People’s History” is now streaming on Hulu.


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