Game Changer

Charles King Is Changing the Color of Hollywood—and Making Money Doing It

The former William Morris Endeavor partner was behind last year’s Oscar darling Fences with his production company, Macro Ventures.
Illustration: Sam Kerr

“I always had an eye for talent,” Charles King insists. As a kid growing up in the Atlanta area, he’d watch Siskel and Ebert with his mother and then analyze the movies himself, reading more reviews afterward to see how the critics’ impressions compared with his. In college, at Vanderbilt University, he sought out modeling and acting jobs and helped his classmates do the same.

It was a photographer who first suggested that King, a political science major, consider entertainment law. While studying at Howard University in the mid-1990s, King looked to CNN founder and hometown hero Ted Turner and BET creator Robert Johnson for inspiration and developed a 10-year plan to become a mogul in his own right—and, more important, to make the industry less white in the process.

It took him 20 years, not 10, but King got there in 2015 when he started Macro Ventures, which finances and produces film and TV projects from nonwhite creators. Armed with cash from Laurene Powell Jobs’s Emerson Collective and investors from Silicon Valley and Wall Street, Macro premiered its first movie, The Land, at the Sundance Film Festival in 2016. Later that year, Macro’s Fences, an adaptation of August Wilson’s Tony Award-winning play directed by and starring Denzel Washington, was released. It earned four Oscar nominations and won the best supporting actress award for Viola Davis. Macro’s third film, Mudbound, released by Netflix Inc. last November, has earned Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe nominations for Mary J. Blige.

For all the success black-led films have had lately—last year’s best picture Oscar winner, Moonlight, had an almost entirely black cast and creative team, and the racial horror-farce Get Out is seen as a top contender for the 2018 award—Hollywood as a whole is still a largely white patriarchy. While King rose swiftly through the ranks at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment LLC after law school, starting in the mailroom and becoming the company’s first black partner, he also learned firsthand how hard it was to get work for people of color. “There’s a lot of talk” about diversity in Hollywood, King says, but “people don’t want to create real change. Many decision-makers think they have to cast people of color to appease people rather than thinking it’s smart business.”

This year, Macro returns to Sundance with a sci-fi comedy called Sorry to Bother You, plus the web series Leimert Park. Now, finally, King gets to be the decision-maker. “We are investing in and supporting filmmakers and greenlighting what stories are being told,” he says. “We don’t have to go to someone else to ask if this story can be made.”

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