NEW YORK – On the heels of one of the largest and most successful ESSENCE Festival gatherings in its 24-year history, Essence Ventures LLC, an independent African-American owned company focused on merging content, community and commerce and parent company of ESSENCE Communications, Inc., today announced the creation of its $20 million Essence Creators and Makers Fund. The Fund was developed to support and partner with creators and makers of color to alleviate the most common barriers they face in securing financing for their projects and will make investments in development and production. The Fund will create and finance film, television, digital and documentary-style content that reflect the lives and experiences of women of color. It will also seek to collaborate with content creators globally focused on ESSENCE’s diverse and dynamic core audience of Black women, with the content produced encompassing themes that relate and connect across audiences.
“The real value in content creation is ownership, and if you look at the funding challenges that creators and makers of color have – whether in film, television or other verticals – they are not getting the capital needed to develop projects,” said Richelieu Dennis, founder and chairman of Essence Ventures. “More importantly, they are not getting equity in the projects that they are creating. This results in a structure where they basically become work-for-hire rather than equity partners in the content that is driven by their creative ideas and energy around our culture. They are at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to the economics, and that has to change. We and our partners will be focused on creating an ecosystem that does just that and elevates opportunities for the creators and makers who need it most.”
At the 2018 ESSENCE Festival, Dennis and Queen Latifah jointly announced the first partnership for the Essence Creators and Makers Fund with Flavor Unit Entertainment, the production company founded by Latifah and her business partner Shakim Compere. The company has produced films including Beauty Shop, The Perfect Holiday, Just Wright and Bessie, as well as HBO’s Life Support, which earned Latifah a Golden Globe Award.
“Essence has always celebrated our culture and was there when it was hard to find stories and images for people who look like me,” said Queen Latifah. “Shakim and I have built our business on creating content, whether it be film, television or music, for those very same people. We have realized that although they come from our perspective, these narratives are universal, so for us to join forces is thrilling.”
The Fund endeavors to:
- create an economic balance in owning the content that creators and makers of color are developing;
- Provide access to capital where voids exist today so that deserving creators get the opportunity to have their work developed and produced;
- Empower executives to greenlight projects and position the people who are driving culture to determine the content that is being created.
Queen Latifah will serve on the Fund’s investment committee, which will approve of any investment made by the Fund. Additional members of the investment committee will be added as new partners and creators join the Fund.
Compere added, “Latifah and I started in Newark as kids and built Flavor Unit from nothing, accomplishing goals beyond our wildest dreams. Despite our achievements up to this point, at our core, we are still a family business. This is why collaborating with Essence Ventures, Richelieu Dennis and Michelle Ebanks – similarly self-made and entrepreneurial businesspeople – on the Essence Creators and Makers Fund is so special to us. Due to our shared perspective, work ethic and creative ambitions, we are very confident that audiences around the world will be delighted with the incredible stories we will be telling together.”
The Fund will continue to identify a series of content creators with whom to partner and support joint content development and production, and ESSENCE will have the first right to produce and finance future film, television and digital content associated with the creators. In addition to capital, the ESSENCE platform – including print, digital and live events – will be used to market and promote projects funded by the Essence Creators and Makers Fund.
“We are thrilled about the Essence Creators and Makers Fund and the opportunity it provides us to build a platform that allows us to go deeper in owning our narrative and culture and in driving our economics,” said Michelle Ebanks, President of ESSENCE Communications, Inc. “We must continue to develop platforms such as this that ensure we are in a position to control our images, provide content and programming that showcase the full spectrum of who we are, and offer the best creators and makers of color full runway to show their cultural creativity and our vibrancy – not simply an industry’s monolithic view.”