tBR Person of the Week: James Howard - First Time Filmmaker Writes About Managing all the Parts

by The Bloom Report | 06 Jan 2022

The Bloom Report

Pictured above: The Gathering Pictured upper left to right: Elliott Eddie, Mason Williams, Ken Johnson, Albert White. Lower Left to right: LaMont Morris, Charley Harrison, James Howard, David Vonner, Lonnie Johnson

First Time Filmmaker Writes About Managing all the Parts

The stories of Black Inventors will inspire our youth and motivate them to raise their aspirations to become scientists, engineers, and inventors. This will improve American life for us all.”  George Smith, Founder, National Society of Black Engineers


The Gathering was an immense undertaking coming together in a year's worth of filming. Black Inventors got Game (BIGG) began as a story of four legendary black toy and game inventors and designers who have made groundbreaking contributions to the toy and game industry. Lonnie Johnson, inventor of the Super Soaker™ and Nerf Gun™, the late Charles Harrison, designer of the 1958 version of the ViewMaster™, Ken Johnson, inventor of the Phase 10™ card game, and Elliott Eddie, inventor of The Entrepreneur Game™. Along the way, I included two additional accomplished inventors, LaMont Morris, designer of the Real Meal Oven™, and David Vonner, Marvel™ Superhero action figures designer. The Gathering took place in Washington DC on December 14th. It is the realization of my vision where all the legendary Black inventors come together for the first time as in a similar likeness to an Avengers™ movie whereby all the superheroes assemble to save the planet. Except for this time, these black superheroes have gathered in the same space to discuss how best to open doors for future talented, aspiring minority youth in the 33-billion-dollar toy and game industries.


 As an amateur filmmaker, the trick is managing all the parts. What makes this film assignment dubious is that, for the first time, these parts have been made available for managing. I started this project, BIGG, a year ago with no clue on where it may lead as a cinematic outcome. I began with talking heads of each of the inventors. The talking heads included childhood reenactments where each inventor recalled their first encounter with creative mischief. Lonnie Johnson tells of a heart-warming story of where he nearly burned the house down attempting to make rocket fuel on his mom’s kitchen stove as a daring 13-year-old. Elliott Eddie speaks about destroying the family’s heirloom radio in a curious and feeble attempt to explore its components as an 8-year-old. The interviews of each inventor included a dozen questions that explored their respective career journeys. Uncovered in these queries were both subtle and overt examples of racism that many of the inventors encountered. Charles Harrison's son Charley tells of how his father often spoke about there being an unwritten rule for hiring Blacks at Sears™ during the 1960s. Charles Harrison will go on to become Sears's first Black Executive hire. Other discoveries reveal a severe lack of financial support and connected mentor infrastructure, making succeeding in the industry difficult. Nevertheless, these individuals have each accomplished noteworthy triumphs despite the obstacles.


Beginning with Lonnie Johnson, his Super Soaker™ and Nerf Gun™ inventions have been two of the top-selling toys in the past 50 years with over 3 billion dollars in combined sales. Equally remarkable is the sustained success of Charles Harrison’s ViewMaster™ design, which was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 1999. This iconic toy continues to delight children worldwide thanks to Mr. Harrison’s keen vision of form and function which he imported in his 1958 redesign of this iconic classic. Ken Johnson often speaks of how people are surprised to discover that a Black man invented the Phase 10™ card game. It is the second most popular selling card game in the world, second only to Uno™. Mr. Elliott is the inventor of the 1st and only STEM Accredited Entrepreneur Game™ in the world. LaMont Morris has devoted over 25years to the toy and game industry, amassing numerous patents. His Real Meal Oven™ won Parenting Magazine 2003 Best Toy of the Year Award. And David Vonner has been one of Hasbro’s most accomplished Marvel™ superhero action figure designers in recent times, even having an action figure fashioned in his likeness.


The next stop is the NYC Toy Fair 2022.  Where the inventors will be gathering once more to take part in a series of panel discussions.  Thus, the Panels will become yet another part of this remarkable filming journey.  The panels will also follow the premiere of a half-hour short version of the Black Inventors Got Game film. It is the hope of the Toy Foundation organizers, as noted by Ellen Lambert, former Director, that the BIGG film will "provide a pathway towards promoting an agenda of equity, diversity, and inclusion of all talent in the toy and game industry." These sentiments are echoed by Mr. Elliott Eddie, who after participating in the Gathering, says that he envisions "countless numbers of boys and girls being influenced by this film." He imagines them saying, "Maybe I can do something too, that can help to make a difference.”

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