The issues swirling around the lack of diversity in Hollywood is still a hot-button topic despite the fact that corporations have concluded that inclusion—across the board—is excellent for the bottom line. Choosing to see the glass as half full, I am taking a page from the corporate philosophy that shapes Codeblack Films, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lionsgate Entertainment, led by 20-year entertainment industry veteran Jeff Clanagan, founder, CEO and president, and Quincy Newell, executive vice president and general manager.
These savvy visionaries understand how to successfully maneuver the halls of Hollywood while still keeping their roots firmly planted in the creative African-American community. Newell made himself available for this Q&A. I didn’t have to navigate through a maze of corporate publicists or unfriendly gatekeepers. A special nod should be given to his assistant Kimberly Ludas, who is both professional and kind, smashing many Hollywood stereotypes.
Newell, a soft-spoken man, made Codeblack’s position crystal clear, and that is to “serve the African-American community, globally, in the development of feature films and other interesting content.”
The company’s success isn’t a series of lucky flukes. It’s part of a strategy based on hard facts and an intimate understanding of the fast-growing African-American consumer market. It’s a global jackpot, and Codeblack knows how and when to pull the lever that delivers.
Newell shared that his team makes an “effort” to find the talent. Keeping their word, they recently announced that Codeblack Films has partnered with the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts to create a fund to support deserving students enrolled in SCA’s Writing for Screen & Television Division. Codeblack Films made their first contribution of $50,000 to the scholarship.
Recently, Codeblack Films signed an output deal with Eagle Films, a motion picture producer and distributor based in the Middle East and North Africa. The historic agreement marks Codeblack’s second output deal and will enable it to distribute the films it produces or co-produces throughout the region.
“Codeblack is expanding its footprint beyond the domestic marketplace,” said Clanagan. “We’re dedicated to providing international growth and visibility for our content partners and look forward to pursuing additional alliances with distributors in markets around the world.”
Codeblack’s first international output deal was with Times Media Films, one of South Africa’s largest distributors.
Here is what Newell had to share about the “code” of good work.
AmNews: How did Codeblack grow and find such filmmakers?
That’s a very simple answer. We paid attention. We paid attention to our business to ensure that we were always working towards profitability and sustainability. We paid attention to the market and learned how to find the niches that could work for our business as it evolved over the years. And we paid attention to our community and made a concerted effort to provide an opportunity for our artists and filmmakers to gain access to the distribution mechanism that our artist community had often been shut out from.
Your next project is with award-winning film producer Effie Brown (“Dear White People”). Care to share?
We are excited to be able to work with her and to be in a position to employ a talented and deserving woman of color. She’s a very talented and creative producer and a consummate professional. She’s a perfect person to help us adapt Omar Tyree’s “Flyy Girl” trilogy into a feature film. … We are hoping to get into pre-production very soon.
Is there anything that you want to share as I close this interview?
Our history has been rooted in opportunity. Creating and providing opportunity to executives, to talent, to filmmakers. We’ve always been very deliberate about identifying talent in our community and working to open the doors of opportunity whether it be to career paths, distribution platforms, information … we feel it as somewhat of a duty. That’s something we’re proud of.
What does diversity mean to you? How does that shape your management team search for intellectual properties and developing talent behind the camera?
Diversity to me is embracing the world around you without exclusion. Diversity is in the DNA of our very existence … people are different … in thought, beliefs, experience, background, geography, culture. If you are not cognizant of the varied influences existing in the world around you, you will not sustain. Diversity is good business.
How does Codeblack fit into the new platform landscape?
Codeblack views itself as a transmedia content company. We are platform agnostic. We understand that we operate in a consumer-centric business environment and we want to ensure that we are catering to that consumer centricity by making our content available in any and all ways that our consumer wishes to engage with it. That’s what we are working towards.
What advice would you give to developing storytellers who want to develop and produce content for the African-American community?
Follow your passion. Know your value and don’t wait for permission. Just do it.