This year’s Sundance Film Festival featured a slew of Black directors, most notably Black women directors. This rise is not coincidental; it is, instead, the result of an increase in Black financing earmarked for Black films. The two men instrumental to the expansion and variety of Black offerings at this year’s Sundance Festival are Tommy Oliver and Charles D. King.
Tommy Oliver, who co-created the hit OWN series Black Love with his wife Codie Elaine Oliver, who are both EBONY 2022 Power 100 awardees, had four films accepted into Sundance. King, a 2014 Power 100 awardee, is the founder of MACRO, a multi-media firm specializing in representing Black voices and those of other people of color. One of the opening weekend highlights of Sundance is the popular MACRO Lodge. This years MACRO Lodge, which was presented by Chase Sapphire and hosted by King and his wife Stacey Walker King, held numerous panels featuring notables—including Ryan Coogler, Meagan Good, Sanaa Lathan, Misty Copeland, Lena Waithe, Harlem creator Tracy Oliver—as well as events that featured learning, networking and celebrating our wins at their center.
“Our goals are to continue to find those incredible filmmakers and to provide them with all of the resources, not just financial capital, but also relationships, to ensure that their films are shown as widely as possible,” says King.
The two industry leaders spoke with EBONY about the importance of supporting Black creatives and using the power of the Black dollar.
EBONY: Why is it important for you to bring Black-developed/produced films to Sundance? And how do you decide which films fit the bill?
Tommy Oliver: Confluential Films is a production and finance company, whose mission is art, entertainment and business. We make stuff, we finance stuff and we develop stuff. We only finance work by creators of color. For us, it's about telling stories that we want to tell well and that we know have a place in the marketplace
Charles D. King: MACRO has an inclusive culture in which everyone has a voice, from interns to senior executives. Two of our young executives introduced us to writer/filmmaker Juel Taylor. We began work on a television show called Birth of Cool, which was followed by a film called They Cloned Tyrone, which will be released this year on Netflix and stars Jamie Foxx, Teyonah Parris and John Boyega. Taylor then informed us about an earlier script he had written titled Young. Wild. Free, which he suggested we look into. Taylor then told us about Thembi Banks, a talented filmmaker. Her work on Insecure had earned her accolades. So the combination of this smart script, coming of age story, mental health topic, and Banks' talents propelled us forward.
What was your role at this year’s festival?
Oliver: At the festival, we have four films. We co-produced Young. Wild. Free with MACRO. We produced, and were the primary financiers on Fancy Dance (a Native American film), Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project and To Live and Die and Live.
King: This year, we have a project called Young. Wild. Free as well as brought back the MACRO lodge, where we united filmmakers, artists, executives, tech people and others of color for panels, events and parties. These gatherings are connecting the community in unprecedented ways. BLACKHOUSE was wonderful, but we were able to contribute to the creation of an additional space for more people to enjoy and fellowship.
Black women directors have a prominent voice at this year’s festival. How important is it to help them get the most out of this experience? How can Black filmmakers, and especially Black women filmmakers, get a leg up at Sundance and in the industry overall?
Oliver: It all comes down to intention, patience and having the right people around you. People who provide sound advice. Making a good film is important, but so is following it up with an equally strong film because it will help position you. Someone like director Nia DaCosta, for example, was very deliberate about what they wanted to do next. Sundance is fantastic, but it is not representative of the industry as a whole. You must be able to create commercially successful products. Ryan Coogler is a good example of this.
King: Over half of the twenty films produced or co-financed by MACRO were directed by first-time filmmakers, and a significant number were directed by Black women. One of them was Thembi, and another was Angel Williams. We also financed and produced Mudbound. Dee Rees had previously made Pariah and Bessie, but Mudbound was her largest budgeted film at the time, and it helped catapult her career. There is an awareness of the additional hurdle for filmmakers of color, but especially for Black filmmakers and even more so for Black women filmmakers.