Updated: Apr 19, 2022
In Making Black History 2022, we've shared the Mckinsey study on Black Representation in Film and TV: The challenges and $10B impact of increasing diversity. This week, we’re celebrating the bold and inspiring women storytellers, executives, and dealmakers breaking barriers to accelerate change, inclusivity, and economic opportunities in Hollywood.
Accelerating Progress Behind the Camera
MARA BROCK AKIL
Screenwriter, Producer & Director
As the chief creator of TV shows such as Girlfriends, The Game, and Being Mary Jane, Mara Brock Akil helped many of us get through the millennium. Now, the executive producer on The CW’s Black Lightning — Brock Akil has signed a multi-year overall deal to create original content at Netflix, a streamer that has reaffirmed its commitment to diversity both in front of and behind the camera. “I’m excited to have a home that allows me the creative freedom and support to do what I do best: paint portraits and murals of women, Black people, and anyone else whose story is missing from this golden age of television,” Brock Akil said upon signing with Netflix. “Representation matters and so does who you build with.” Source: TVLine
Actress, Producer, Songwriter & Rapper
"Dana Elaine Owens" began a "no-die" clause in her movie contracts after being killed off in her films one too many times. Making her the Queen in our book. Not to mention her astounding music, film, and tv career. Fast forward to 2019, the Queen started the work of the Queen Collective to address the systemic bias and inequality in advertising and media to develop the succession of executives and storytellers. Since its inception, the Queen has partnered to tackle the well-known barriers for women filmmakers of color—access, and opportunity. In the true tradition of the griot, the Queen Collective is building the next generation of filmmakers and giving them a 360-degree knowledge transfer about development and production, finance, budgeting, legal, distribution, and media training, as well as brand and agency opportunities. Thus far the Queen's initiative has been vital to the emerging voices that help diversify the industry through their unique perspectives including Samantha Knowles (Tangled Roots), Haimy Assefa, Nadine Natour (Gloves Off, Associate Producer, RGB), Tina Charles (Game Changer) and Arielle Knight. Meet the filmmakers.
Actress, Screenwriter, Director, Producer and Singer
Michaela Coel is a British actress, screenwriter, director, producer, and singer. Off-camera, she is best known for her rejection of a million-dollar Netflix deal for her semi-autobiographical drama, "I May Destroy You" after Netflix declined Coel’s request for a percentage of the copyright. So she did what savvy powerhouses do - she took the 12-episode series to the BBC, which honored her ask and partnered with HBO to broadcast the 2020 series in the U.S. In turn, critics and fans heralded I May Destroy You as touching and fearless.
Like her character, Coel is a sexual assault survivor, and through therapy and writing, the creator says she has begun to heal and help other survivors. “Part of my heart hopes that people who have had experiences that are traumatic, watch this and feel less alone,” Coel told Screendaily.com. As the only Black woman to win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie, or Dramatic Special at the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards, undoubtedly her next set of moves will be legendary. Source: The Guardian
Screenwriter, Director, Producer &
CEO, Tracy Yvonne Productions
Tracy Oliver’s success as a screenwriter, producer, and director — from Girls Trip, which grossed more than $100 million at the box office, to her Amazon comedy series Harlem and a new TV and film development deal with Apple — can be traced back to her love of theater and making decisions that reflecting the characters authentically. Oliver also created and wrote the BET television series First Wives Club and says it was important to cast women over 40 for the roles in “First Wives Club,” particularly women of color. As a showrunner, Oliver says she works extra hard to make sure there is diversity in the writer’s room and behind the camera. “I made sure that pretty much anybody that could have an influence in a positive way was either a woman or a person of color,” and “I went the extra mile to find that, because sometimes when you’re sent a list of who’s available for a job, especially for positions of directing, it will mostly be men, or mostly be non-people of color.”
For the box-office giant, "The number one thing that I got from people after “Girls Trip” was that it felt real. I think sometimes people think, foolishly, that anybody can write anything. And I don’t think that’s true,” she says. “I think that there is a level of authenticity and awareness that goes into the treatment of characters, the treatment of the story in a world … you can’t quite capture it if you’re an outsider looking in.” Oliver also runs a production company, Tracy Yvonne Productions. Apple landed a multi-year deal with Oliver in a competitive bidding for the deal that will span original TV series and films, all through Oliver’s Tracy Yvonne Productions
Actress, Screenwriter, Director & Producer CEO, Hillman Grad Productions
Lena is an actress, producer, screenwriter with a list of film and episodic projects that include Showtime's drama series The Chi. BET's comedy series Boomerang and Twenties which featured the first masculine-presenting Queer woman of color in a lead role. For her success and massive efforts to elevate marginalized POC and LGBTQIA storytellers, Waithe was presented with Variety’s 2020 Creative Impact in Producing Award and The Hollywood Reporter’s 2020 TV Producer of the Year, making her the youngest to receive the honor. As an actress, Waithe most recently stars in HBO’s award-winning series, Westworld, premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, earning a rare 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating. She also wrote and produced the crime film Queen & Slim and has become the only African-American woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for Master of None: Thanksgiving.
The Executives & Shot Callers
President, Freeform, Onyx Collective, Disney Entertainment
Tara Duncan is the president of Freeform and leads the Onyx Collective — a new brand part of Disney General Entertainment’s commitment to inclusive storytelling from creators of color.
Devoted to amplifying creative content from multicultural creators and people from a range of backgrounds, Tara was enlisted in Hollywood Reporter's 2021 Women in Entertainment Power 100. The impressive leader and former Netflix executive arrived at the Disney network after striking a production deal to adapt Zakiya Dalila Harris’ acclaimed novel The Other Black Girl. While at Netflix, she worked as a creative executive overseeing the most binge-worthy installments of the streamer’s history. Shows like Orange Is the New Black and Narcos, in addition to helping launch Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It; The Get Down; Sens8; and Dear White People. In her spare time, she did a little pilot for Amazon Prime’s first scripted series, Bosch.
The chief executive helps Disney reach closer to the age and color of its young audience. “We’re building a home where creators of color are inspired, empowered, and have unparalleled access to reach audiences around the world. This artist-first approach will make Onyx Collective synonymous with entertaining, brave, and bold ideas told from a distinct point of view,” says Duncan. Onyx Collective will also be home to prolific creators, including writer comedian Natasha Rothwell (Insecure, SNL), all non-Marvel titles produced by Ryan Coogler’s Proximity (Judas and the Black Messiah, Black Panther).
VP, Entertainment Content Acquisitions, NBCUniversal Television, and Streaming
The savvy negotiator does deals involving the licensing of linear television, on-demand, AVOD, and SVOD rights for TV series and films for NBC, Peacock, and USA Network for NBCUniversal’s TV and streaming portfolio. Britney Williams’ A-list deals include the John Wick franchise, the Harry Potter films, and acquiring Modern Family for linear and Peacock.
Counsel, Pryor Cashman
Jamice Oxley is best known for financing, distribution, and production deals for feature film and TV airing on HBOMax, Hulu, and Netflix. She is a member of Pryor Cashman's Intellectual Property, Media + Entertainment, and Digital Media Group, providing strategic counsel to artists, entertainers, production companies, music publishers, new media companies, and film and television studios. Ms. Oxley also advises animation, technology, and digital clients in Media + Entertainment Transactions, Intellectual Property, Digital Media, Technology, Copyright, Licensing, Financing Music, Publishing, Talent Representation, and Trademark. She has provided guidance for more than 25 productions to date and is a formidable power in Entertainment.
Attorney, Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finkelstein & Lezcano
Sloan’s career mission is to ensure that the entertainment industry stops paying lip service to equity and inclusion and industry disruptors finally dismantle Hollywood’s status quo. As an attorney, Sloan helps clients, most of whom are young women, BIPOC, and/or LGBTQIA+ individuals, navigate the entertainment industry and negotiate deals that give them equitable opportunities to create an industry that empowers themselves, the underserved, underrepresented, and the underestimated. As a North Carolina native and die-hard Tar Heel fan and alum, Sloan also shares a passion for sports and how it intersects with the entertainment industry. Sloan views each deal for clients — including DC’s new Supergirl Sasha Calle, bestselling author Akwaeke Emezi and Empire Waist co-creators Claire Ayoub and Crystal Collins — as an opportunity to build the future. Source: Variety.com
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