Top 50 Power Brokers in Hollywood: these luminaries wield unprecedented clout in film and television.
BLACK ENTERPRISE has developed a strong reputation for identifying superstars in industries ranging from finance and technology to law and medicine. In this issue, we unveil our Top 50 Power Brokers in Hollywood, a roster of extraordinary entertainment professionals and enterpreneurs from the creative and business sides of the industry. These actors, agents, directors, producers, executives, lawyers, and distributors wield considerable power when it comes to green-lighting multimillion-dollar projects or influencing decisions related to theatrical releases, television shows, and other forms of filmed entertainment. What makes this roster all the more extraordinary is that its members have broken barriers in an arena that historically has been inhospitable to African Americans and, at the same time, served as change agents in every nook and cranny of the industry.
Our team of editors and researchers spent several months researching the activities of these superstars: uncovering the cumulative gross box-office receipts of top talent, the Olympic deals completed by uberagents and master lawyers and the bottom-line contributions of high-powered execs. On the next few pages, you'll find out how our Top 50 Power Brokers are changing the script in Hollywood.
Will Smith/James Lassiter Overbrook Productions * Ages: 38/42
Who on this planet doesn't know Will Smith? With multiplatinum albums, billion-dollar box-office receipts, and production credits on several blockbusters, Smith is a triple threat in Hollywood. But who is James Lassiter? Many don't know that he's the man behind the man. He's the strategist behind the megastar. "The brains behind the brand!" exclaims Smith, during his exclusive interview with BLACK ENTERPRISE.
Through their prolific production company, Overbrook Entertainment, this dynamic duo produced the recent box-office smash, The Pursuit of Happyness, which at press time grossed $138 million. Released by Columbia Pictures in December 2006, this biopic of Chris Gardner's ascent from a struggling, homeless father to a successful stock broker opened at No. 1 and remained in the top 10 for five weeks.
Overbrook is no stranger to producing hits. Theatrical releases such as the biopic Ali (2001), which earned Smith Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations; sci-fi thriller I, Robot (2004); and romantic comedy Hitch (2005) have grossed a combined $475.8 million in box-office receiptsand video/DVD sales. The 9-year-old company has a library of eight films so far and several others in the pipeline. Smith, however, was genuinely surprised at the success of The Pursuit of Happyness, which earned him another Golden Globe nomination. "It's pretty much what we expected," Smith jokes. "No. We absolutely did NOT expect for this film to be this successful at the box office. It's one of those films that connected. The concept was timely and it was done in a way that's easily relatable and comprehensible. Don't even get me started trying to pretend like I know why."
Lassiter breaks in with, "people are really feeling the movie. They come back and say 'I love that movie.' It's gratifying. What we didn't expect is for younger kids to see it. And parents are taking their kids to see it. [Our market analysis showed] that kids really wouldn't want to see the movie."
It's easy to see how the two have built a multimillion-dollar enterprise--with Smith as the flagship brand. They practically finish each other's sentences and refer to each other as business partners. Smith readily admits he wouldn't be where he is today without Lassiter. "J.L does everything," he says. "My sensibilities are dead center and James' sensibilities are much more outside the box. He's looking to break the mold whereas I'm looking to maximize it. So our sensibilities blend into this beautiful, just slightly left of center [team]. I don't choose my movies, so essentially J.L. goes through 50 scripts in the course of a year and says, 'These are the three that are the best. What do you feel?' Then we talk through my career strategy. But for the most part he does the heavy lifting."
Lassiter has done a stellar job mapping out Smith's career, starting with the popular sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Today, Smith reportedly earns up to $20 million per film.
The business partners met while Smith was attending Philadelphia's Overbrook High School in 1985. At the time, Lassiter, an Overbrook alumnus, was a sophomore at Temple University. Although they grew up in the same neighborhood, it took a mutual friend, Jeff "DJ Jazzy Jeff" Townes, to introduce them at a rap audition. A long series of jobs with Smith and Townes led to Lassiter becoming their manager.
Both men learned valuable business lessons the hard way. Smith was nearly bankrupt in 1990 after blowing through all his money from a successful music career, including the Grammy Award-winning singles, "Parents Just Don't Understand" and "Summertime." He recovered by agreeing to star in The Fresh Prince. Lassiter and Smith later fumbled a movie deal with Universal Studios after launching Overbrook in 1998. "We were learning how to produce movies," says Smith. "Unfortunately, our learning time was on Universal's dime."
Today, the duo has a first-look agreement with Sony in which the film studio can bid on material Overbrook develops or acquires.
Their production company is currently working on at least four films for release under this arrangement: Time Share (2008), Tonight, He Comes (2008), Sisters of Mercy (2008), and Lakeview Terrace (2007) with Samuel L. Jackson. "We plan to do at least one Will film and one non-Will film per year," says Lassiter. "Our short-term goal is every year to make [Overbrook] grow. We have several movies in development."
The pair also has a groundbreaking deal with UTV, India's leading media company, to finance a slate of movies. They view the arrangement as a means to expand the international appeal for vehicles featuring diverse casts. For example, Bad Boys was only expected to gross about $5 million overseas but the film generated $75 million in international box-office receipts.
So what's their long-term objective? To build Overbrook into a mammoth production company that will continue to develop high-quality films. Smith's clout and Lassiter's business acumen will be the elements that will help maintain Overbrook's longevity.--Nicole Marie Richardson
Mara Brock Akil Creator-Producer * Age: 36
When UPN and WB merged back in September to form The CW Television Network, it never occurred to Brock Akil to be worried that the show she created, writes, and executive produces about the lives of a group of African American women, Girlfriends, may end up on the chopping block. As it turned out, Brock Akil had nothing to fear. Not only did The CW pick up the popular series, but the network included her new sitcom, The Game, as part of the fall lineup. As a result, Brock Akil became the only African American to have two primetime shows on network television.
Brock Akil pitched Girlfriends to UPN in 1999 when the network came to her asking for a companion show to The Parkers. The former actress had worked with UPN for several years as a producer on Moeshaand conjured up the idea for Girlfriends after watching an episode of Sex in the City a show she admired, but was void of African Americans. Says Brock Akil: 'I told UPN that l would deliver the dirty little secrets of black women, and the biggest secret is that we're just human beings trying to make it like everyone else."
The show became the fastest-growing comedy on network television during its 2000-01 season and played a major part in saving UPN, which was on a downward spiral at the time. Before the merger of UPN and The WB, Brock Akil had already secured the green light from current CW president Dawn Ostroff for The Game, a show about the wives and girlfriends of football players. Her husband, Salim Akil, directed the pilot. The husband-and-wife team developed their own company, Happy Camper Productions, to create independent films.--Nicole Marie Richardson
Byron Allen Chairman & CEO, Entertainment Studios * Age: 45
Why he's powerful: Allen's Entertainment Studios produces, distributes, and sells advertising for 15 television programs, making it among the largest independent producers and distributors of first-run syndicated programming. His millions of viewers receive an eclectic mix of entertainment, lifestyle, and motivational programs, including Comics Unleashed, Kickin' It, Latin Lifestyles, and his flagship program, Entertainers with Byron Allen, which is now in its 12th season. A proponent of digital distribution, Allen offers content through his Website (entertainmentstudios.com), giving a legion of viewers access through their PCs, cell phones, and other mobile devices. He runs a lean, profitable operation, producing his shows on a shoestring budget and dominating the wee-hour, low-traffic timeslots in major markets.
Stephen D. Barnes Partner, Barnes Morris Klein Mark Yorn Barnes & Levine
Why he's powerful: Since 2002, Barnes has been a partner at one of the nation's premier entertainment law firms, representing top artists and companies in film and television. His A-list roster includes Chris Rock, John Singleton, Reginald Hudlin, Katherine Heigl, Vince Young, Nelson George, Mara Brock Akil, Carlos Watson, Brandy, and Jill Scott. Recently, Barnes closed a $16 million deal at Sundance, setting a record as the largest transaction ever completed at the independent film festival.
Tyta Banks Founder & CEO, Bankable Productions * Age: 33
Why she's powerful: As creator, host, and executive producer of America's Next Top Modeland The Tyra Banks Show, Banks is a force in the industry. Under her production company, Bankable Productions, The Tyra Banks Show has managed to capture more than 2 million women aged 18 to 34 each week, making it the No. 1 show in first-run syndication with this highly-coveted audience. She also enjoyed her most successful finale yet for ANTM. This past December, the season-ender for Cycle 7 marked the biggest night in the new CW network's history.
Lorrie Bartlett Partner, The Gersh Agency * Age: 40
Why she's powerful: Bartlett is the first African American to make partner at a major talent and literary agency. She has helped boost the star power of actors such as S. Epatha Merkerson (Lackawanna Blues, Law & Order), Miranda Otto (Lord of the Rings), Djimon Hounsou (In America, Gladiator, Amistad, Blood Diamono), Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer), and Dennis Haysbert (24, The Unit). Bartlett not only negotiates lucrative deals for her clients, she helps them develop their passion projects and keeps them in high demand by studio and network executives.
Halle Berry Actress-Producer * Age: 40
Why she's powerful: Berry has ascended to an elite group in Hollywood--an actress-producer who can influence the approval process. And it's not just because of her cover-girl looks. Her 24 films, including the popular X-Men franchise, have produced box office receipts of $1.4 billion. The first African American woman to win a Best Actress Oscar, Berry has been a force behind the cameras as well since 1999. She served as executive producer for the HBO films Introducing Dorothy Dandridge and Lackawanna Blues. Berry's other productions include Compositions in Black and White, a biopic of Philippa Schuyler, a child prodigy pianist in the 1940s.
Suzanne de Passe CEO, de Passe Entertainment * Age: 58
Why she's powerful: A 40-year entertainment veteran, de Passe has made millions for networks and the syndicated market by producing fare for diverse audiences. Currently, she serves as executive producer of Showtime at the Apollo, the nationally-syndicated weekly variety program, and the annual Black Movie Awards, which airs on TNT. Last year, de Passe joined forces with Zane, the best-selling author of black erotic fiction, to form de Passe/Zane Entertainment, which plans to produce at least six films per year. Their first project will be based on Zane's novel Addicted, which is scheduled for released by Lions Gate Films later this year.
Preston A. Davis President, Broadcast Operations and Engineering, ABC Television Network * Age: 57
Why he's powerful: Although he's not a high-profile professional, Davis is one of ABC's most valuable assets. Without him, many of the network's shows would not air; he oversees all technical components of broadcasting for news, sports, entertainment, and special events. Having joined the network in 1976 as an engineer, Davis now manages more than 1,000 employees in one of its largest divisions. Under his direction, ABC has become a leader in new technology such as high-definition television as he directs its multiyear transition from analog to digital broadcasts.
Laurence Fishburne Actor-Director-Producer * Age: 45
Why he's powerful: With more than three decades of experience in Hollywood, this accomplished actor-producer was the driving force behind the highly-acclaimed indie film Akeelah and the Bee, developing the film through his production company, Cinema Gypsy. His star power was the magnet that drew Canadian studio Lions Gate and 2929 Entertainment, a media company that makes low-budget movies founded by billionaires Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban, to develop the film, which grossed $19 million in box office and DVD sales. With several films currently in production, including A Landlord's Tale, 4Chosen, and The Alchemist, Fishbume continues to add to his box-office draw.
CEO & President, Codeblack Entertainment * Age: 46 Clanagan represents one of the pioneers who used straight-to-DVD entertainment to fill a void for African American audiences. In 2005, the 22-year entertainment veteran took the next step in fully serving black consumers: He launched Codeblack, an African American-owned company that acquires, produces, and distributes urban film content for the theatrical, television, home entertainment, Web, and mobile markets. "A lot of companies want to dabble in the urban market, but not make a business of it. Because our business is solely focused on the black consumer, we know how to service our consumer with a variety of products," he asserts. The firm produced $12 million in gross sales last year and projects gross sales of $21 million in 2007.
After successful stints as president of Mandalay Urban Entertainment and UrbanWorks Entertainment, Clanagan started Codeblack. Using his market prowess through partnerships with industry titans, he brokered a distribution y deal with Visual Entertainment, a division of Universal Music and Video. Codeblack's releases to date have included Monster's Ball and producer Lee Daniels's directorial debut, Shadowboxer, which stars Cuba Gooding Jr. and Helen Mirren and has sold more than 1 million DVD units. Other big releases include Steve Harvey's Don't Trip ... He Ain't Through With Me Yet and Preaching to the Choir, starring Patti LaBelle. This fall the company will release the award-winning film Dirty Laundry, starring Loretta Devine and Rockmond Dunbar, in movie theaters across the nation. And Codeblack will develop films targeting the Christian market as part of its production deal with FoxFaith, a division of Twentieth Century Fox. Clanagan recently announced the establishment of UrbanFilmClub.com, an online retailer of urban DVDs.--George Alexander
Salaam Coleman-Smith Executive Vice President, Style Network
Coleman-Smith resides at the helm of cable television's fastest-growing network for women, Style Network, which recently posted the highest-rated quarter in its history. She's credited with bolstering key program franchises, including How Do I Look?, Clean House, The Look 4 Less and Fashion Police and developing new shows like the upcoming Style Her Famous and Split Ends. The dynamo has also upgraded the network's coverage of New York Fashion Week as well as formed a partnership with singing sensation Beyonce and her mother and business partner, Tina Knowles. The alliance will allow Style to feature an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the introduction of their new clothing line through the program Uncut:House of Dereon.--Nicole Marie Richardson
Kim Fleary Executive Vice President, Comedy Development, The CW
Why she's powerful: Fleary oversees the development of all scripted comedy series for The CW network, a joint venture between Warner Bros. and CBS Corp. launched in fall 2006 when UPN and The WB networks merged. Prior to The CW, Fleary served as UPN's senior vice president of comedy development, developing such critically-acclaimed comedies as Girlfriends, Chris Rock's Everybody Hates Chris, and Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith's All of Us, all of which now air on The CW. Known for her keen creative and comedic instincts, Fleary is helping refresh the network's lineup with comedies that will appeal to its 18- to 34-year-old target audience.
Morgan Freeman Actor-Producer * Age: 69
Why he's powerful: What other actor has played the president of the United States and God--twice? Freeman, one of the most respected people in Hollywood, was nominated for the Academy Award three times before receiving the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Million Dollar Baby. He also delivers at the box office: The 36 films in which he's appeared--including Batman Begins and Bruce Almighty-produced gross box office receipts of more than $1.8 billion. Since 1996, Freeman has been involved in movie production, forming Revelations Entertainment and ClickStar, a broadband entertainment company backed by Intel Corp., which recently entered into digital distribution agreements with Sony Pictures, Universal Studios, and Warner Bros.
Jamie Foxx Actor-Producer * Age: 39
Why he's powerful: An Oscar winner for his performance in 2004's Ray, Foxx is one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood. His six most recent films have grossed more than $398 million and his asking price has placed him into the club of the industry's highest-paid actors. Foxx will be featured in Universal's The Kingdom, this spring. Jumping in the producer's chair, Foxx will develop another Universal feature, The Power of Duff, and Blood on the Leaves for Paramount.
Richard Gay Senior Vice President of Strategy and Business Operations, VH1 and CMT (Country Music Television) * Age: 38
Why he's powerful: A former partner at consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, Gay is responsible for all strategic planning, key strategic initiatives, and business development for both VHI and CMT. He also oversees digital channels VH1 Classic and VH1 Soul. Gay was instrumental in securing the 85-year-old Miss America Pageant for CMT, which drew a total of 21.2 million viewers during its seven airings in January 2006--the network's highest ratings ever. To reinvigorate the pageant, Gay created the reality show, Finding Miss America, and allowed viewers to cast votes for the winner.
F. Gary Gray Director-Producer * Age: 37
Why he's powerful: Gray is part of the elite club of Hollywood directors whose films have surpassed the $100 million mark at the box office. The attachment of his name to a project means that it will include A-list actors and a million-dollar budget. His filmography includes Be Cool, the 2005 sequel to Get Shorty that starred John Travolta, and The Italian Job, the 2003 film with Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron that was budgeted at $60 million and grossed $175.8 million worldwide. Because of its strong performance, Gray was tapped to continue Paramount's franchise, directing The Brazilian Job, which is expected to be released in 2008.
Pearlena Igbokwe Senior Vice President, Original Programming, Showtime Network * Age: 41
Why she's powerful: For more than a decade, this native Nigerian has been instrumental in Showtime's role as one of the leaders of groundbreaking cable programming. She's responsible, in part, for getting a slate of Golden Globe--nominated series on air, including the edgy comedy Weeds; the terrorist thriller Sleeper Cell; and Dexter, the serial killer drama that's the network's highest-rated show. A graduate of Yale University and Columbia Business School, Igbokwe oversees Showtime's Black Filmmaker Showcase, a vehicle designed to introduce the work of up-and-coming directors and producers.
Douglas V. Holloway President, Cable Investments, NBC Universal Cable * Age: 52
Why he's powerful: Holloway is responsible for seeking new investments and identifying strategic initiatives as well as managing NBC Universal's joint cable ventures, which include A&E Networks, NBC Weather Plus, and the Sundance Channel. The 27-year veteran has held a variety of key positions in sales and strategic planning. He currently serves on several industry boards, including Cable and Telecommunications Association for Marketing and the National Association of Multi-Ethnicity in Communications.
O'Shea "Ice Cube" Jackson Actor-Producer * Age: 37
Why he's powerful: Over the past decade, rapper-actor Ice Cube (born O'Shea Jackson) has become more than another film producer. Through his production company, Cube Vision, he's created blockbuster franchises: His trilogy of Friday movies collectively grossed roughly $118 million; his two Barbershop films and the spin-off, Beauty Shop, grossed more than $177 million; and the movie Are We There Yet? grossed about $83 million, sparking a sequel, Are We Done Yet?, which hits theaters this year. His reality television show, Black. White., drew roughly 4 million total viewers and became the highest-rated cable series premiere for adults 18-49 for the 2005-06 season.
Jeff Friday CEO, Film Life * Age: 42
Friday learned early on that continuing to complain about how blacks were being shut out of Hollywood would only foster more frustration. He believed being a player in the motion picture industry would require not just talent--which he knew existed in abundance--but a plan, creativity, fortitude, and the right timing. They all converged for Friday when, in 1997, he, Warrington Hudlin (president of the Black Filmmakers Foundation), and Byron Lewis, (founder, chairman, and CEO of Uniworld) formed an alternative to the Sundance Film Festival, supporting independent Black filmmakers, particularly since he saw the studios as the biggest barriers to black stories in the movies. In five months, they introduced the Acapulco Black Film Festival in Mexico with financing from Lewis.
Since then, the organization, which today is the Film Life and HBO American Black Film Festival (ABFF), has grown into the premier showcase for black filmmakers. He has also developed it into a vehicle for film distribution; a platform for networking with producers, directors, and actors; and a stage for showcasing black talent. Through a variety of strategic partnerships with HBO, Lincoln, Warner Home Video, Wal-Mart, and TNT, Friday has launched a numbur of brand extensions including ABFF on Tour, a DVD series, and the Black Movie Awards. In 2007, Friday plans a feature film to be distributed by his company. His efforts have provided jobs, opportunities, and creative outlets for many aspiring talents in the industry. "The long-term goal is to be a relevant entertainment brand," Friday offers, "similar to Motown. They developed talent, made a lot of people rich, and became an international brand."--Sonia Alleyne
Robert L. Johnson/Tracey E. Edmonds Founder/President & COO, Our Stories Films * Ages: 61/37
They're the dynamic duo who launched the first major black film studio. In 2006, Johnson, the cable television maverick who founded BET, hammered out a deal with Miramax founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein to develop Our Stories Films, a company charged with the development of movies for African American audiences. Backed by a $175 million pledge from JP Morgan Chase, the new studio gives African Americans the rare opportunity to green-light motion pictures. In September, Johnson tapped Edmonds to run the company. As a result, she achieved a milestone that was more than 110 years in the making: first black studio head. Asserts Edmonds: "Our goal is to build Our Stories Films into a brand as ubiquitous as MTV, as recognizable as Disney, and as productive as studios such as Lions Gate and Screen Gems."
The company plans to release six movies in the next two years and 25 comedies over the next five, according to Edmonds. "We'd like to be the go-to studio for urban comedies," she says. Its first film, Who's Your Caddy?, starring Big Boi of Outkast, Tamala Jones, and Terry Crews, is already in postproduction.
Johnson recruited Edmonds because of her successful track record over the past decade. A multiple NAACP Image Award winner for the Showtime drama Soul Food, she has served as executive producer of two of BET's highest-rated series, College Hill and Lil''Kim: Countdown to Lockdown, which reached 2 million viewers in its debut and became the No. 1 original cable series among black households. "Because I'm very passionate about all of our projects, I'm in the trenches," she says. "I'm very focused, and I pay attention to the details."--George Alexander & Anthony S. Calypso
Samuel L. Jackson Actor-Producer * Age: 58
Why he's powerful: Jackson is clearly one of the hardest-working actors in Hollywood. He delivers great performances on screen and at the box office. In fact, his films, which include Coach Carter, and The Incredibles, have grossed a whopping $2.1 billion. He's in such demand that if his name is attached to a project, a studio will develop it--which explains how New Line Cinema's Snakes on a Plane got made. Now Jackson, who in 1994 earned an Oscar nomination for his role in Quentin Tarantino's hit film Pulp Fiction, has signed a two-year first-look deal with New Line and has launched a new production company, Bushwazee Films.
Debra Lee/Reginald Hudlin Chairman & CEO/President of Entertainment, BET * Ages: 51/45
Why they're powerful: The two have taken the largest black-oriented media network, which reaches more than 83 million black households, into uncharted territory. Lee has initiated a strategic plan that has revamped BET's offerings, and moved the company into digital distribution of content. She hired filmmaker Hudlin, who has introduced a slate of new original programming and awards shows, giving BET the highest ratings in its 26-year history. Audience growth came from such programs as the docudrama American Gangsterand reality series featuring hip-hop stars Lil Kim, Keyshia Cole, and DMX.
Martin Lawrence Actor-Producer * Age: 41
Why he's powerful: This comic genius has become one of Hollywood's most bankable performers: his 19 films have earned close to $1 billion in gross box office receipts. In fact, Lawrence's franchise, Big Momma's House and Big Momma's House 2, for which he served as executive producer--grossed $312 million worldwide, while his other popular series, the two Bad Boys films, collectively grossed $414 million worldwide. He's been able to get his vehicles distributed at Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Bros. Reportedly commanding as much as $20 million per film, Lawrence will appear next in the all-star comedy Wild Hogs, with John Travolta and Tim Allen.
Alfred C. Liggins III/Johnathan Rodgers Chairman/President & CEO, TV One * Ages: 41/60
Why they're powerful: Liggins and Rodgers have turned TV One into one of the fastest-growing cable networks. Liggins is the deal maker who brought together Radio One (No. 12 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICES 100 list with $371 million in sales) and cable giant Comcast to form an alternative cable network for African American viewers. In 2003, he brought broadcasting veteran Rodgers into the fold to oversee programming, marketing, distribution, and ad sales. Launched in January 2004, the network features a broad range of original and syndicated content, including reality programs, dramas, sitcoms, music shows, movies, and news. The two increased its subscriber base by 42% in 2006, adding 10.3 million households. As a result, TV One has the largest percentage growth of any cable network.
Debra Martin Chase CEO & President, Martin Chase Productions * Age: 50
Why she's powerful: Name a recent teen or tween hit film, and most likely, Martin Chase has had a hand in producing it. Disney's Princess Diaries? Yep. Cheetah Girls 2? You bet. Diaries went on to gross more than $109 million in domestic box office receipts and sold more than 17 million video and DVD units. More than 7.8 million total viewers watched Cheetah Girls 2 during its premiere on the Disney Channel, making it the highest-rated original movie to air on the network. The former corporate attorney is returning to familiar territory as an independent: This year she will produce Fast Girls for Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Andrea Nelson Meigs Motion Picture Talent Agent, ICM Los Angeles * Age: 38
Why she's powerful: Christmas came early for ICM in 2006 when Nelson Meigs joined the firm as a motion picture talent agent. Nelson Meigs, who represents A-list clients such as Beyonce and the other members of Destiny's Child, singer-actors Chris Brown and. Mario, and actress Tracee Ellis Ross, previously worked for rival firm, Creative Artists Agency. Armed with a law degree from Duke University, she left the Los Angeles District Attorney's office to work in the entertainment industry. Today, Nelson Meigs brokers multimillion-dollar deals like Beyonce's role in the critically-acclaimed Dreamgirls.
Henry McGee President, HBO Video * Age: 52
Why he's powerful: Under McGee's direction, HBO Video has employed the Internet, wireless technology and gaming devices as vehicles to expand the reach of the cable network's entertainment properties into the marketplace. He's responsible for the management of the cable network's DVD and video marketing division and it is due to McGee's efforts that straight-to-video fare is now respectable. As a result of his strategic focus, the division has moved to the forefront of the industry. In 2003, McGee launched an HBO Video label in the United Kingdom, which extended its reach into more than 90 countries.
Darrell D. Miller Managing Partner, Miller & Pliakas L.L.P. * Age: 44
Why he's powerful: For some, it would seem strange that a classically-trained singer would become a lawyer. But for Miller, it was a different way to produce a virtuoso performance. As managing partner at his own powerhouse boutique entertainment and business law firm, he represents a sterling cast of African American performers including Angela Bassett, Courtney B. Vance, Wanda Sykes, OutKast's Andre Benjamin, and Ludacris, as well as corporate entities such as de Passe Entertainment. Miller has successfully negotiated a $75 million package of movie deals for rap star DMX with Warner Bros. Pictures. His upcoming book, The Sixteenth Minute of Fame, details his trailblazing approach to helping entertainment industry clients build and sustain brand success.
Earvin "Magic" Johnson Jr. Chairman & CEO, Johnson Development Corp. and Magic Johnson Enterprises * Age: 47
If any studio wants to open a film, they have to go through Johnson. This basketball icon controls screens in major urban markets such as New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Atlanta through AMC Magic Johnson Theaters, which began in 1994 when his development corporation formed a partnership with Sony Entertainment. Today, Johnson is the nation's only major black exhibitor. In fact, Johnson has used his theaters to give independent African American filmmakers exposure as well as provide a host site for black film festivals. Johnson is a film producer in his own right. Since 1998, Magic Johnson Entertainment has developed television movies and theatrical releases such as Hair Show and Brown Sugar.
--Hyacinth B. Carbon
Partner, Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca, Fischer, Gilbert-Lurie, Stiffelman, Cook, Johnson, Lande & Wolf L.L.P. * Age: 38
When Johnson makes movie and IV deals for clients like Tyler Perry and Tyra Banks, he applies creative bargaining. Johnson is partner at California's top-ranked entertainment law firm, and he doesn't settle for routine. "One of the things I strive for in representing my clients is to bring some creativity into the deal-making process. I never allow myself to be constrained by the standard way in which deals are structured. I am always looking for the opportunity to structure deals in a manner that will be more lucrative for my clients and grant them greater creative control," says Johnson.
In all of his feature-film projects such as the recently-released Daddy's little Girls, playwright-actor-screenwriter Tyler Perry owns the copyright and has a financial participation typically reserved for investors. The master negotiator also crafted all of the deals for Perry's first venture into television, House of Payne. Financing the first 10 episodes himself, Perry gave away these shows to TV stations throughout the country. This free test run proved so successful that Perry and Johnson secured a $200 million commitment for the series' first 100 episodes--a deal unique in television history, Johnson says, since cable networks and syndication traditionally order sitcoms in lots of 13 or 22 episodes. House of Payne will start airing nationally on TBS in June.
Another ground-breaking deal Johnson negotiated gives English actor Sacha Baron Cohen extensive creative control and a significant financial interest in the follow-up to his hit movie, Borat. Johnson also helped renew Tyra Bank's TV talk show through the end of the 2008-09 broadcast year. He's currently negotiating Banks' return for the ninth and tenth cycles of America's Next Top Model. His other clients include actors Michael Ealy, Derek Luke, Ice Cube, Brittany Murphy and Felicity Huffman; and directors Shawn Levy, Tim Story, and Matthew Vaughn.
Vanessa Morrison Murchison
Senior Vice President of Production, Twentieth Century Fox, * Age: 37
Why she's powerful: She acquires the rights to novels and short stories and develops them into theatrical films. It's her responsibility to shepherd a movie through the pro-production, production, and post-production process. Specializing in family movies and mainstream comedies, Morrison Murchison has worked on such hits as Garfield, Cheaper By The Dozen, Dr. Doolittle 2 and Fat Albert. She plays a major role in managing the creative aspects of development and production, including the selection and hiring of screenwriters, actors, directors, and producers for film projects.
President, MTV * Age: 43
Why she's powerful: President of Viacom's MTV unit since May 2005, Norman is charged with the development of the business strategy that will further propel the top-rated cable network for teens and young adults. In addition to her oversight of all aspects of this sprawling operation, Norman is responsible for the strategic direction of several spin-off networks, including MTV2, MTV Hits, MTV Jams, college-oriented mtvU, and the Spanish-language MTV Tr3s. She has made new media a priority in winning the eyes and ears of her audience and plans to do so through the MTV.com Website and MTV Overdrive, the MTV broadband video channel.
Actor-Producer * Age: 45
Why he's powerful: With a career spanning more than 25 years, Murphy remains one of the industry's box-office kings. He has produced gross receipts of roughly $3 billion in the 31 films in which he's starred--his average gross per film is about $97 million and average opening gross is more than $20 million. That's why he's one of Hollywood's highest-paid actors and can influence the green-lighting of his own star vehicles. Further adding to Murphy's cache is the Golden Globe he received for his performance as James "Thunder" Early in Dreamgirls, which was produced, in part, due to his involvement. In addition to voicing Donkey in the third installment of the highly successful Shrek series, Murphy will be featured this year in Norbit, a concept he created with his brother, Charlie.
Richard D. Parsons
Chairman & CEO, Time Warner Inc. * Age: 58
Why he's powerful: Parsons oversees one of the world's most powerful media companies, and his decisions affect what billions worldwide will watch in movie theaters, on television, on the Internet, and on other digital media. His $43 billion entity includes filmed entertainment (Warner Bros., New Line Cinema); television networks (The CW); cable television networks (HBO, TBS, TNT, Cinemax); interactive services (AOL); cable systems (Time Warner Cable); and publishing (People, Sports Illustrated). Since taking on the position in May 2002, he is credited with leading Time Warner's turnaround.
Tyler Perry/Rueben Cannon
President & CEO, The Tyler Perry Co./Producer, Tyler Perry Studios * Ages: 37/61
Why they're powerful: Perry and Cannon have become a major force in the film and television industry. Their motion pictures, Diary of a Mad Black Woman and Madea's Family Reunion, had combined domestic gross box-office receipts of more than $113 million, and both opened at No. 1. This June, the two will launch a new first-run syndicated sitcom, Tyler Perry's House of Payne. With an unprecedented 100 episodes already completed, Perry and Cannon have structured a $200 million distribution deal with TBS, Fox, and Lions Gate. With a newly built, 60,000-square-foot production and editing facility in Atlanta, Perry has effectively created his own studio and controls the development of his media properties.
Nina L. Shaw
Founder & Partner, Del, Shaw, Moonves, Tanaka, Finkelstein & Lezcano * Age: 52
Why she's powerful: As a founding partner of an entertainment law firm, Shaw reviews contracts for her roster of high-powered clients, including Jamie Foxx, James Earl Jones, Laurence Fishburne, and director F. Gary Gray, and her keen eye for detail doesn't miss anything. Most notably, she handled Foxx's contract negotiations for Dreamgirls and the upcoming The Kingdom as well as Laurence Fishburne's deals related to Akeelah and the Bee and Bobby. Shaw's philosophy is to get every representative on the team to work together to seal the deal.
Creator & Executive Producer, Grey's Anatomy * Age: 37
Why she's powerful: Rhimes is the brainchild behind one of the hottest shows in recent seasons: ABC's Grey's Anatomy. With superb writing, spearheaded by Rhimes, and a multicultural cast, Grey's Anatomy offers viewers a different dose of primetime television. Earlier this year, the medical drama--now in its third season--picked up a Golden Globe Award for Best Television Drama. Grey's Anatomy is among the top five primetime shows for the 2006-2007 season. Rhimes renegotiated her production pact with Touchstone Television, the distributor of the show, last June to extend the program through the 2008-2009 season, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The deal is reportedly worth about $10 million, placing Rhimes in the top tier of TV writer-producers.
Director-Producer * Age: 39
Why he's powerful: Over the past two decades, Singleton has created an impressive body of work and substantial box-office sales: his eight films, including the updated Shaft and 2 fast 2 furious, have grossed more than $437 million. Through his New Deal Productions, he and producing partner Stephanie Allain produced the critically-acclaimed film Hustle & Flow, using his own money to finance its $3 million budget. After great buzz from the Sundance Film Festival, the movie was sold to Paramount Classics and MTV Films for $9 million, and Singleton received $7 million to produce two more movies. Hustle & Flow went on to gross $22 million. He recently signed a deal with Universal Pictures to market and distribute five films he will finance and produce himself. First up: the Latino family crime drama Illegal Tender.
Agent & Senior Vice President, William Morris Agency * Age 37
On the walls of King's office are a couple of framed rejection letters. The correspondence is from The William Morris Agency, the legendary Hollywood firm where King now serves as a motion picture agent and senior vice president. Determined to find success in the industry, he ignored the letters and took a job in the agency's mailroom where he was noticed early on for his ability to draw talent. "I'd been developing a client base even before I became an agent," says King, who used his law school contacts to reach out to artists such as rapper Missy Elliot. King was eventually promoted, in part, because he understood the influence of urban culture on the youth demographic. His move from the mailroom marked the first time in the company's history that an African American worked his way from the ground floor up to the television and motion picture arm of the company.
Today, his clientele includes actors such as Academy-Award nominee Terrence Howard, rapper-actor Andre Benjamin of OutKast, and newcomer Paula Patton, who played Denzel Washington's love interest in the film Deja Vu. King's role calls for him to develop concepts with his clients as well as pitch projects to various studios.
King also represents a number of creators behind the camera, such as filmmaker Craig Brewer, the director of the breakout film Hustle and Flow. "[Agents] can be involved in a number of aspects. We try to put as many of the [project] elements in place ... there is a trend now of putting together a project before you take it to someone to finance," he says. "Every day is different, every phone call is something new. You're always trying to create new business models."
--Anthony S. Calypso
Actress-Producer * Age: 37
Audiences have been hailing this rapper-cum-actress for more than a decade. In fact, the 20-plus films in which Latifah (born Dana Owens) has headlined or played a significant role have grossed more than $1 billion, including the animated feature Ice Age. The Meltdown($195.3 million) and the comedy Bringing Down The House ($132.7 million). Latifah's clout and marketability grew after she appeared in Chicago, the movie version of the Broadway musical that earned her an Academy Award nomination ($170.7 million). Latifah will continue to appear in highly anticipated showcases like the upcoming remake of the musical Hairspray, featuring John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer, and Life Support, a dramatic TV movie for Lifetime.
She's come a long way from her first television role in the 1990s comedy Living Single and roles in films like Set It Off. Through her Jersey City, New Jersey-based production company, Flavor Unit Entertainment, Latifah, along with her partner, Shakim Compere, has demonstrated the ability to get both modest and major projects on the big screen. Flavor Unit contributed to the production of films such as Beauty Shop, The Cookout, and the upcoming This Christmas. Recently, her company inked a first-look development deal with Focus Features and its division Rogue Pictures. Her first projects are Welfare Queen, a fact-based drama about a woman who scammed the welfare system, and Reality Sucks, a spoof of reality shows. Partnering with Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment, the company is also producing the highly-anticipated Bad Girls, an action comedy that will pair Latifah with Jada Pinkett Smith. If they can replicate the success of Smith and Martin Lawrence, Latifah's power will reach stratospheric heights.
--Anthony S. Calypso
Executive Vice President, Affiliate Marketing, HBO
Why she's powerful: As the network's highest-ranking African American, Smashum is responsible for directing HBO and Cinemax subscriber marketing efforts in support of cable, satellite, and hotel distributors. Most recently, she oversaw the development of HBO's strategic partnership with Cingular to provide premium content to the telecom giant's 58.7 million subscribers. Smashum also manages branding campaigns for the HBO/Cinemax multiplex networks and new business opportunities related to HBO On Demand and Cinemax On Demand. The 26-year veteran is focused on expanding the pipeline of black talent in media, sponsoring such events as the Film Life and HBO American Black Film Festival.
Actress-Producer * Age: 21
Why she's powerful: Symone is a tween market franchise. Not only has she appeared on the Disney Channel's most popular series, That's So Raven, which draws 2 million viewers a week, and The Cheetah Girls films, which are among the network's highest-rated original programming, she has served as producer on the programs. In fact, her popularity on That's So Raven--the first Disney program to reach 100 episodes--transformed her into a marketable success, branding her name to clothing, cosmetics, fragrances, video games, MP3 players, and other items. Disney execs estimate that her products earned $400 million in cumulative sales for 2006.
Director * Age: 36
Why he's powerful: One of Hollywood's hottest directors, Story has been placed at the helm of Fox's Fantastic Four motion picture franchise. In directing the first film based on the popular Marvel comic book, Story became one of the few black directors to break the $100 million budget barrier. And the film's gross box-office receipts of more than $330 million worldwide made him the highest-grossing African American director in Tinseltown. He's directed the sequel, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, a film with a $130 million budget that is expected to be one of this summer's blockbusters.
Actor-Director-Producer * Age: 52
Why he's powerful: Washington can develop any project he wants. The attachment of this two-time Academy Award winner to a project ensures any studio that they'll not only receive a quality performance but gain a sizable return on their investment. His 34 films have collectively grossed $1.4 billion. Since 1995, he has also played the role of producer, guiding projects that add diversity to the motion picture pipeline through Mundy Lane Entertainment. Most recently, his production company has participated in the development of the critically-acclaimed Antwone Fisher, his directorial debut. His upcoming productions include The Great Debaters and In Black and White, a biopic of the late entertainer Sammy Davis Jr.
Director-Producer; President * Age: 50
Lee is arguably one of the most important filmmakers of his generation. Since revolutionizing cinema with his groundbreaking 1986 film She's Gotta Have It, Lee has gone on to direct or produce more than 20 films including Do the Right Thing (1989), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay, and 4 little Girls (1997), which earned him another Oscar nomination for Best Documentary.
Last year proved to be the most commercially successful of Lee's career. He directed the mainstream crime thriller Inside Man, which earned $88.5 million at domestic theaters and $184 million worldwide, giving Lee his most successful box-office performance ever. The American Film Institute named it one of the top 10 films of 2006. Also last year, HBO aired Lee's critically-acclaimed documentary on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, When the Levees Broke. "I have no complaints about 2006," says Lee. "It was a great year for me. With the success of Inside Man, I've been sent every bank heist script in Hollywood."
With a wide body of work and varied interests, Lee is not one to be pigeonholed. He's in talks to team back up with Brian Grazer, who produced Inside Man and The Da Vinci Code, to direct a biopic on the life of James Brown. "This isn't my first time taking on an icon. We did Malcolm X, so we're ready if it all works out," Lee says. Lee and Grazer are also working on an Inside Man sequel and have entered talks for Lee to direct L.A. Riots, a film centered on the 1992 civil unrest in Los Angeles.
Using his production company, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, Lee has had a major impact on the presence of African Americans in cinema. His productions have served as a launch pad for a number of blacks in front of and behind the camera.
Actor-Producer-Director * Age: 46
Why he's powerful: With his finely honed acting skills, the stage-trained Whitaker has used steady work and brilliant performances as a platform to emerge as one of Hollywood's most bankable black film stars. Theatrical releases in which he starred or played major supporting roles have grossed more than $1 billion. And he is expected to become an even bigger draw since receiving this year's Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture--Drama, for his portrayal of the brutally sadistic yet charming Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. Whitaker has also used his clout to produce and direct an eclectic array of motion picture and television vehicles.
CEO, Harpo Productions Inc. * Age: 53
Why she's powerful: Known as "The Queen of Daytime Television," this billionaire is one of the most powerful people in media, period. Through Harpo Inc. (No. 17 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE 100 list with $290 million in sales), she produces and owns The Oprah Winfrey Show, the No. 1 talk show that reaches 48 million viewers a week, and popular talk shows Dr. Phil and The Rachael Ray Show. Winfrey also develops programs as co-founder of Oxygen Media, which operates a cable television network for women that currently reaches 69 million U.S. households.
The Wayans Brothers
Writers-Actors-Producers-Directors Ages: Keenen, 49; Damon, 46; Shawn, 36; and Marion, 34
The Wayans clan is one of the most powerful families in Hollywood. Their films boast combined worldwide box-office sales of more than $1 billion. Over the past 20 years, siblings Keenen, Marlon, Shawn, and Damon have written, directed, produced, and/or starred in more than 45 movies and television shows.
Their upward trajectory started with Keenen's creation In Living Color, the award-winning 1990s sketch show that launched the caners of superstars such as Jim Carrey and Jamie Foxx. Since then, they have marketed themselves as a package deal, serving as writers, stars, producers, and directors of their vehicles. The formula has proven successful: The 2000 blockbuster Scary Movie grossed a staggering $278 million worldwide, one of the highest-grossing film ever made by an African American. Damon, who has grossed more than $183 million at the box office, has proven to be a force on television as well. As part of Wayans Bros. Entertainment, he produced the successful sitcom My Wife and Kids. He's come full circle by crating the Showtime sketch comedy The Underground--which he calls In Living Color on steroids.
--Hyacinth B. Carbon
The Top 10 Most Powerful Blacks in HOLLYWOOD
1 Oprah Winfrey CEO, Harpo Productions Inc. * Age: 53
Over the past 20 years, this billionaire has grown into one of the most powerful media titans in the world. Her Harpo Inc. empire produces The Oprah Winfrey Show, the No. 1 talk show that reaches 48 million viewers a week and is broadcast in 123 countries; popular talk shows Dr. Phil and The Rachael Ray Show, and TV movies such as Their Eyes Were Watching God. Winfrey also develops content for women as co-founder of Oxygen Media, which operates a cable television network that currently reaches 69 million U.S. households.
2 Richard D. Parsons Chairman & CEO, Time Warner Inc. * Age: 58
Parsons operates a media leviathan that provides billions worldwide with content that they watch in movie theaters, on television, and on the Internet. His $43 billion empire includes movie studios (Warner Bros., New Line Cinema); television networks (The CW); cable television networks (HBO, TBS, Cartoon Network); interactive services (AOL); cable systems (Time Warner Cable); and publishing (People, Sports Illustrated). His decisions run the gamut, from the development of the latest in digital distribution to the airing of the Black Movie Awards on TNT. Will Smith Actor-Producer * Age: 38 He's become known as Mr. July because the release of his movies during that month can be counted to kick-start the all-important summer season. But Smith's movies make millions regardless of when they hit theaters. His 16 films have grossed $1.9 billion domestically, making him one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood and giving him the clout to develop whatever project he wants. Along with his partner, James Lassiter, he runs the fertile production company, Overbrook Entertainment, which developed such hits as the bioDic Ali (2001), which earned Smith Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations; sci-fi thriller I, Robot (2004); romantic comedy Hitch (2005); and the recent box-office smash, The Pursuit of Happyness.
Earvin "Magic" Johnson Jr. Chairman & CEO, Johnson Development Corp. and Magic Johnson Enterprises * Age: 47 This basketball legend controls screens in major urban markets such as New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Atlanta through AMC Magic Johnson Theaters. Since it was formed in 1994 through a partnership between his development company and Sony Entertainment, Johnson's company has remained the nation's only major black exhibitor. In fact, Johnson has used his theaters to give independent African American filmmakers exposure as well as provide a host site for black film festivals. Johnson is also a successful film producer. Since 1998, Magic Johnson Entertainment has developed television movies and theatrical releases such as Hair Show and Brown Sugar.
Tyler Perry President & CEO, The Tyler Perry Co. * Age: 37 With a hand in film, books, television, and plays, Perry is a one-man media conglomerate. Perry has become a powerful force in the industry with the release of Diary of a Mad Black Woman in 2005, which grossed more than $50 million. His 2006 follow-up, Madea's Family Reunion, produced domestic box-office receipts of more than $60 million. Both films opened at the No. 1 spot on the weekend of their release. This June, he will launch a new first-run syndicated sitcom, Tyler Perry's House of Payne, through an unprecedented $200 million, 100-episode distribution deal with TBS, Fox, and Lions Gate.
5 Robert L. Johnson Founder, Our Stories Films * Age: 61 Johnson is a pioneer: he's the maverick entrepreneur who founded BET and became the first black owner of an NBA franchise. In 2006, he made history again by completing a deal with Miramax founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein to develop Our Stories Films, a company that will create comedies for African American audiences. Backed by a $175 million pledge from JP Morgan Chase, the new studio gives Johnson control over developing a range of content and provides an outlet for black talent. In September, he recruited producer Tracey Edmonds to run the operation and, in her words, "build Our Stories into a brand ... as recognizable as Disney."
Douglas V. Holloway President, Cable Investments, NBC Universal Cable * Age: 52
The 27-year veteran manages NBC Universal's joint cable ventures, which include A&E Networks, NBC Weather Plus, and the Sundance Channel. Having held a variety of positions in sales and strategic planning, he is responsible for seeking new investments and identifying strategic initiatives. Holloway currently serves on several industry boards, including Cable and Telecommunications Association for Marketing and the National Association of Multi-Ethnicity in Communications.
7 Denzel Washington Actor-Director-Producer * Age: 52
Washington has the power to develop any project he wants. His involvement with a project not only ensures a quality performance but huge ticket sales. The 25-year veteran's 34 films have collectively grossed $1.4 billion. Since 1995, he has also played the role of producer, guiding projects that add diversity to the motion picture pipeline through Mundy Lane Entertainment. His production company has participated in the development of Devil In A Blue Dress, The Preacher's Wife, and Antwone Fisher, his directorial debut. His upcoming productions include The Great Debaters and In Black and White, a biopic of the late entertainer Sammy Davis Jr.
Eddie Murphy Actor-Producer * Age: 45
Murphy remains one of the industry's reigning box-office kings. His 31 films have grossed roughly $3 billion, with an average gross per film of about $97 million and average opening gross of more than $20 million. That's why he can command as much as $20 million per film and develop his own star vehicles. Murphy's clout will grow as a result of the Golden Globe Award he received for his performance as James "Thunder" Early in Dreamgirls. In addition to voicing Donkey in the third installment of the highly successful Shrek series, Murphy will be featured this year in Norbit, a concept he created with his brother, Charlie, and the next installment of Beverly Hills Cop.
10 Tyra Banks Founder & CEO, Bankable Productions * Age: 33
She's the creator, host, and executive producer of America's Next Top Model and The Tyra Banks Show. Under her production company, Bankable Productions, The Tyra Banks Show has managed to capture more than 2 million women aged 18 to 34 each week, making it the top show in first-run syndication with this highly-coveted audience. She also enjoyed her most successful finale yet for ANTM. This past December, the season-ender for Cycle 7 marked the biggest night in the new CW network's history and beat two of the five television networks on that night.
How We Selected Our Top 50 POWER BROKERS
So how did BLACK ENTERPRISE identify the power players? In an exhaustive search, our editorial team contacted movie studios, television networks, and industry insiders and pored over box-office sales and television ratings reports. We also consulted with national organizations such as the Directors Guild of America, Screen Actors Guild, Film Life and HBO American Black Film Festival, Black Filmmakers Association, Black Filmmakers Forum, Black Entertainment and Sports Lawyers Association, and the NAACP--which hosts the annual Image Awards. As a result, we found people who generate billions in box-office, advertising, and subscription dollars. We identified members of the Top 50 based of the following criteria:
Actors, directors, creators, and producers were chosen for their ability to significantly influence the green-lighting and production process related to motion pictures and television programs. All of them control production companies or have had a hand in the development of their projects. They're all in high demand from studios and networks and command top fees based on a consistent track record of involvement with popular television programs that produce top ratings or blockbuster movies that gross huge box-office receipts. Awards received were considered, insofar as they added prestige to projects or significantly increased box-office draw.
Corporate executives who were selected are top managers at the senior vice president level or higher. All of them are key execs at major studios and networks who can influence the green-lighting of motion pictures and television shows or can make the final decision related to the production, marketing, or distribution of projects as well as the acquisition of talent and properties.
Agents and lawyers who were chosen represent A-list actors, directors, producers, and screenwriters and broker some of the industry's biggest deals. In addition to handling negotiations for their clients, they also play a role in the packaging of production deals with studios on behalf of their clients.
Independent entrepreneurs who made the list must control their own production companies, distribution entities, or studios and have a proven record of developing projects that have been profitable, enabling them to sign multipicture or multiprogram deals with major studios and networks.
When today's black entertainment elite need advice, they reach out to one of two men: industry godfathers Quincy Jones or Clarence Avant. With more than 120 years of experience between them, these icons have paved the way for at least two generations of African Americans in Hollywood, including several of the individuals found on our list. For example, they have served as mentors to many of black Hollywood's darlings including billionaire media titan Oprah Winfrey, box-office champ Will Smith, and versatile actress-rapper Queen Latifah.
Jones is the impresario. The Grammy Award-winning musician has worked with the hottest acts of four generations, from the legendary Count Basle to the electrifying Usher. As a film composer, he has scored a dozen television shows and more than 40 movies, including In The Heat of the Night(1967), For Love of Ivy, The Getaway, In Cold Blood, and more recently, the Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson film, Get Rich or Die Tryin'.
It was Jones who introduced Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg to movie audiences in The Color Purple, the 1985 film he scored and co-produced with acclaimed director Steven Spielberg. When the musical inspired by the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel hit Broadway in December 2005, Jones was part of the production team, this time serving as a co-producer with his mentee Winfrey.
He has also placed his indelible stamp on television. It was through Quincy Jones-David Salzman Entertainment, a joint venture with Time Warner, that Jones first brought rappers Will Smith and LL Cool J to the small screen in their lead roles in sitcoms The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and In The House, respectively. He gave NBC's Saturday Night Live a tough rival with the launch of Fox Television's MADtv. In fact, during the mid '90s, Jones was the only African American to have three shows on network television. He also owned broadcast properties in New Orleans and Atlanta.
Jones takes pride in his role as a father figure for many performers because he recalls that musical legends such as Clark Terry, Count Basie, and Ray Charles helped him during his early years. He stood on their shoulders; now others lean on him.
Avant has opened the doors that many young artists walk through today, including entertainment moguls Russell Simmons and Sean "Diddy" Combs. Even Quincy Jones is considered one of his proteges.
Part of Avant's power comes from his longevity in Hollywood. His deal-making as a record executive is legendary. He's guided the careers of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Antonio "L.A." Reid and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, Stevie Wonder, and Boyz II Men. As CEO of Avant Garde and Interior Music Publishing, his music publishing enterprise, he continues to provide spiritual and professional guidance to young artists who call on him regularly.
His fingerprints can also be found on filmed entertainment, playing a role in such films as Jason's Lyric, the drama produced by Doug McHenry and the late George Jackson; the Quincy Jones documentary, Listen Up; the 1973 concert film Save the Children, and the sitcom New Attitude. The former chairman of Motown Records has helped to guide the career of Queen Latifah through her ascent from musical artist to television actress to movie star. And Avant's counsel is sought by Hollywood studio CEOs, who contact him when they are wrestling with casting decisions on film or television projects.
Avant is also a political power broker who has raised millions for the Democratic Party. Presidents, governors, and others follow his sage advice.
Avant strongly believes the next generation of power players in Hollywood is a force to be reckoned with. He points to this year's Golden Globes, in which African Americans scored awards in the categories of: best motion picture-musical or comedy (Dreamgirls), best performance by an actor in a motion picture-drama (Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland), best performance by an actor in a supporting role in a motion picture (Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls), best performance by an actress in a supporting role in a motion picture (Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls), best television series-drama (Shonda Rhimes, Grey's Anatomy), and best original song-motion picture (Prince, Happy Feet). Not only do these performers become major attractions to studio executives, he says, but they gain clout in selecting and producing their own projects. The byproduct is greater diversity in the industry as black talent demands the elevation of more black professionals. As this scenario unfolds, Avant will continue to play his invaluable role behind the scenes.
--Carolyn M. Brown
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|Title Annotation:||SPECIAL REPORT|
|Author:||Richardson, Nicole Marie|
|Article Type:||Cover story|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2007|
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