Check out the behind-the-scenes power players who help to create and shape the image of African-Americans in film:
Jeff Clanagan, who is partnered with Lionsgate, is responsible for Kevin Hart’s stand-up comedy films Laugh at My Pain and the upcoming Let Me Explain. He formed Codeblack Films, which released Shadowboxer (the directorial debut of Lee Daniels) and Steve Harvey’s stand-up comedy film, Don’t Trip, He Ain’t Through with Me Yet! In 2012, Clanagan partnered with the studio to create new content for films, television and music for their digital platforms.
For years, DuVernay and her marketing and publicity firm helped get the word out for film projects helmed by the likes of Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood and Michael Mann. Now it’s her turn to direct. At the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, she became the first African-American woman to win the Best Director prize for her second feature film, Middle of Nowhere, starring Omari Hardwick.
Fletcher earned an Oscar for writing the adapted screenplay for Precious in 2010. Now he’s working on the script for Attica. Doug Liman will direct the film that will focus on the 1971 Attica state prison riot, billed as “the bloodiest prison uprising in U.S. history.”
Debra Martin Chase
The producer who brought Sparkle back to the big screen is also responsible for a Dirty Dancing remake, due this summer. Other films she’s produced over the years include The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Cheetah Girls and The Preacher’s Wife.
The founder of the American Black Film Festival (ABFF), Friday helps cast light on independent Black films to a broader audience. Under his company, Film Life, Inc., he acquired the rights to The Acapulco Black Film Festival and renamed and repacked it as ABFF, which now takes place every summer in Miami.
The Hampton University graduate has already collected two Oscar nominations for her costume design work on Amistad and Malcolm X, and last year, she put the sparkle in Sparkle by creating the gowns for the film. This year, her work will be seen in the highly anticipated Lee Daniels’ film, The Butler; in BET’s forthcoming series Being Mary Jane, starring Gabrielle Union; and in Spike Lee’s Oldboy, which stars Samuel L. Jackson and Josh Brolin. Carter got her start working on Spike Lee’s School Daze.
Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil
This happily married couple has become quite the dynamic duo in Hollywood. They were the creative force behind Sparkle, and they relaunched The Game on BET, which has received record ratings. This year, they’ll bring Gabrielle Union back to television as the star of Being Mary Jane.
Will Smith once said that Lassiter is “the brains behind the brand,” and for good reason: The blockbuster star’s longtime pal and collaborator runs their successful production company Overbrook Entertainment. Some of their big hits include The Pursuit of Happyness and Ali. Lassiter also is producing Queen Latifah’s forthcoming talk show.
Salaam Coleman Smith
As president of Style Media, Coleman Smith has helped develop the fastest-growing cable network for women. She’s the power behind hot reality series for the network, includingTia & Tamera, Jerseylicious and Giuliana & Bill.
The 43-year-old screenwriter and producer is behind some of the hottest series on television. She’s the creator, head writer and executive producer of ABC’s critically acclaimed Grey’s Anatomy, and most recently, Scandal, starring Kerry Washington.
Tracy “Twinkie” Byrd
Byrd may be the reason why you’ve thought the casting in a film was perfect. The casting director has helped launch the careers of actors including Laz Alonso, Tika Sumpter and Columbus Short, and has worked on films including Stomp the Yard, The Blind Side and Sparkle.
Cheo Hodari Coker
The former hip-hop journalist has found a way to marry his past life with a new one: He’s the supervising producer for NCIS: Los Angeles, which stars LL Cool J. He recently earned an NAACP Image Award nomination for his work on TNT’s Southland, on which he also worked as supervising producer for three years. Coker penned the screenplay for Notorious, the life and death story of rapper Notorious B.I.G., and is currently teamed with author Walter Mosley to develop a feature film based on Mosley’s thriller The Man in My Basement. Anthony Mackie is in talks to star.
Bobb served as executive vice president of Tyler Perry Studios for years, but in 2012, he launched Bobbcat Films in Atlanta, a film and television production company, and he’s working with other networks. His most recent project was TV One’s sitcom The Rickey Smiley Show, which premiered as the highest-rated show in the network’s history. He also made his feature film directorial debut with a Raising Izzie, which premiered at the 2012 American Black Film Festival.
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EBONY Entertainment Editor