By Parminder Vir OBE
In a recent interview with Brave New Girl, I shared my regret of not building a creative business despite working in the film and television industry for over two decades! Instead, my focus remained on producing single film projects.
That is until I met Sanjay Wadhwani, founder, Ascension Media in 2012 who helped me to move away from my addiction to single film projects to understanding the value of investing in companies. As he said, “it is businesses not projects that get sold to larger companies for strategic premiums or can be IPO’ed, generating spectacular capital returns for investors.” I would take this ‘education’ to Africa in 2014, where my focus has been on supporting African entrepreneurs to build businesses across 30+ fastest growing sectors, including the creative sectors, on the continent.
So, imagine my delight when I came across Charles D. King, an African American creative power leader building a Black creative business in the USA. There is much the UK and African Black creative producers can learn from his story.
Charles D. King is the founder and CEO of MACRO, a diversified media and entertainment company launched in 2015 that represents the voice and perspectives of people of colour. The company’s subsidiaries include a Hollywood development and production studio that creates film, television, and digital content, talent and influencer management divisions, a branding and creative agency and an affiliated venture capital firm that invests in media, entertainment, politics, finance, and technology companies.
MACRO brings resources to the development and production process of award-winning feature films and television series such as “Fences” (2016), “Mudbound” (2017) “Sorry to Bother You” (2018), “Raising Dion” (2019), and “Judas and the Black Messiah” (2021).
Through MACRO, Charles is creating an enterprise for purposeful diversity, from its storytellers to those who bring the stories to life, through a belief in the mandate to produce content for multicultural audiences that are typically left out of entertainment narratives. He has been credited with opening the door for other minorities in Hollywood and believes that films can help people find common ground.
Charles formerly worked as a partner and top talent agent for nearly 20 years in the motion picture department at William Morris Endeavor and became the first African American partner at a Hollywood talent agency. The idea to set up his company began in 2010 when he wrote his first business plan. In an interview he said while “he loved being an agent and artist advocate”, he saw a business opportunity to serve the Black audiences – “50% of movie ticket buyers are Black!” In 2015, he took the leap of faith and launched MACRO, raised a round of capital to build the company infrastructure: overheads, development, and verticals – film, TV and digital content. While some investors did not understand, he was patient.
“Be prepared to walk away from investors until you find the right partners for the long haul,” he said in an interview with Variety. Today MACRO is co-studio producer on a slate of projects in film and television with all the new streaming platforms with co-ownership of a library, a seat of power on behalf of artists, and growing real value for its investors – achieved in just six years since the launch of MACRO.
MACRO’s Judas and the Black Messiah,directed by Shaka King has earned six nominations for the 93rd Academy Awards, with Stanfield and Kaluuya both being nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Kaluuya won the BAFTA award for Best Supporting Actor on 11th April 2021. You can read my write-up on Judas and the Black Messiahlater this week.
MACRO is a fantastic example of the business of media and entertainment. Charles was awarded the 2018 Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature, as a producer for the feature film “Sorry to Bother You” and has 25 producer credits to his name since founding MACRO. The company has also produced/financed 10 feature films since its inception. He is an active angel investor and dedicated philanthropist, and sits on several non-profit boards, including Paley Media and the Sundance Institute.
MACRO is a success story, a Black-owned business recording success after success while creating industry advantage for Black people and other underrepresented groups in America. This advantage is vital because the American film and television industry remains a relatively unwelcome workplace for many Black professionals, from writers to directors, producers, agents, actors, and executives.
A recent analysis from McKinsey and BlackLight Collective found that less than 6% of writers, directors, and producers of US-produced films are Black. Senior management is also lacking diversity – 87% of TV executives and 92% of film executives are white. Also, Black talent tends to be shut out of projects unless senior team members are Black. While on-screen representation appears similar to the Black share of the US population, Black actors often work in race-related projects, which typically receive lower investments in both production and promotion. Such films are also twice as likely to have two or more Black professionals working off-screen.
With increasing demands for diverse content and a growing diverse audience to be catered to, studios, networks, streaming companies, agencies, and production companies need to devise representation targets across all levels and track these targets to ensure they are achieved. The industry should also consider committing dedicated funds to increase diverse talent in all areas of the industry. It is also important to consider creating dedicated advocacy groups to advance racial equity in the industry, instead of placing the burden of such labour solely on the shoulders of Black professionals in the industry, so that they are freed up to apply more of their time to their creative jobs, instead of mainly in industry reform.
It is estimated that making such efforts to dismantle the barriers undermining racial equity in content development, financing, marketing, and distribution in the film and television industry could expand the industry revenue by 7%, equivalent to about $10 billion in revenue.
One positive of the impact of COVID-19 on Black communities and 2020’s racial reckoning is that some large companies have launched programs to support Black-owned businesses – good news for the more than two million Black-owned businesses in America that generate more than $150 billion in gross revenue. The funding gap for Black-owned businesses is steep – the average level of startup capital for Black entrepreneurs is just $35,205, compared to $106,720 reported by white entrepreneurs.
In turn, businesses in Africa are a valid investment for American Black-owned businesses. National lockdowns and international travel bans in the wake of COVID-19 have accelerated digitization efforts across African markets. The necessary pivot to digital platforms in 2020 provided a boost for Africa’s creative industries with the democratization of content creation. Africa’s population is also the youngest in the world, notably tech-savvy, and is home to millions of enterprising, innovative entrepreneurs on the lookout for investment and partnership opportunities to scale and find new markets. Black-owned businesses can form a part of this support ecosystem by building mutually beneficial ventures with African startups so that they also contribute to economic empowerment on the continent.
In the UK, the government’s Global Britain vision is an opportunity for the UK film and media sector to embrace an integrated partnership with creative talent and entrepreneurs in Africa and in the US to create new businesses that are both impactful and profitable. Such collaborative approaches could transform the business of creativity for many Black American and African communities, moving the needle forward for racial equity.
About Parminder Vir OBE
Parminder Vir OBE has dedicated herself to positively impacting and transforming lives through a professional career spanning 40 years in philanthropy, entrepreneurship, film and television production, arts and culture, and investment funding. She is the co-founder of the Support4AfricaSMEs campaign and The African Farmers Stories, launched in 2020. She served as the CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, based in Lagos, Nigeria from April 2014 to April 2019. Prior to joining the Foundation, Parminder has enjoyed a distinguished career as an awarding winning film and television producer and private equity investor in film and media.